A Distraction-Free Phone

Several people looking down at mobile phones.

Lately, I’ve wanted to be more intentional instead of more productive.

Why check off another item on the to-do list when you can focus on completing the right task? Getting there means improving habits, and creating the space for the right things. The biggest opportunity for making that space sits in my pocket or next to me almost 24 hours a day. My phone.

Inspired by the book, Make Time, which I finished recently, I decided to radically alter my phone, a Pixel 2 XL. I disabled all the apps that prove most distracting. The ones that lure you in with a feed that goes on endlessly. These apps remove you from your place in life. They put you half in, half out, like some sort of spirit caught between two worlds.

No more. Here’s how I did it.

I downloaded the Digital Wellbeing app from the Google Play Store. This will be released later this fall as part of Android. The app allows you to set timers for all your apps. Once you run out of time, it locks the affected app. I set a zero-minute timer for all the apps that distract me the most. They are:

  • Chrome
  • Gmail
  • Twitter
  • Slack
  • YouTube
  • ESPN

That way, if I want to use these tools, I have to be intentional about it. I can’t just mindlessly click into them and lose time.

So far:

  • Having an extra barrier does help. I’ve spent a bit more time on my laptop, but I’m being more intentional there as well. Getting a task done and moving on.
  • I’m spending less time fiddling with email or opening up an app without a strict purpose.
  • I have more mental space for thinking and writing.

This isn’t my first foray into a more distracted-free lifestyle. I started reducing the number of apps I use on my phone two years ago, and have mostly stuck to that.

Image by Robin Worrall.


I stumbled across a cool project about now pages, thanks to cheking out Melanie Richards’ site. You focus the content around one conversation starter:

Think of what you’d tell a friend you hadn’t seen in a year.

I dig the idea so I made my own, converting an old reading list page that I hardly used.

I’m aiming to check on it once a month and update it as necessary. It fits in nicely with the minimalist living I’ve strived for in the last year or so.

Less Apps, One Week In

A week ago, I came to the realization that I’d hit app overload. So I took action.

I deleted a number of apps from both my iPhone and iPad, my two primary iOS devices. The hitlist included Facebook, Twitter, MeetUp, Google Plus, Tumblr and more. In the last week, I’ve used only the web versions of Facebook and Twitter on those devices. It has felt both freeing and only slightly restrictive. To be honest, I don’t think I’m going back to the native apps.

I think I only had notifications enabled on Facebook and Twitter, and I probably used those two the most out of the deleted bunch. That said, just glancing at my home screen feels much less stressful. Every app there has provides more value than novelty. When I pop open my phone, I’m much less likely to get sucked into mindlessly browsing content, which is amazing. I now have small chunks of time for more important things.

It’s not that I think Facebook or Twitter don’t provide value. They do. They connect me with both real-life friends and online friends in a way I can’t achieve on my own. It’s more that I want to nuture and engage with those connections on my time, rather than know the second someone leaves a comment or like.

This new experiment has its faults though. My friends in town have a Facebook group that we use to coordinate events and fun stuff. A friend posted late one afternoon that he’d like to go to the movies that night. It balooned into a quick, last-minute event that I missed because I saw it too late. That likely wouldn’t have happened had I had the app, enabled with notifications.

But I still think a missing the occasional news or event is better than missing out on some of life’s little pleasures. I plan to keep this up, and see how it goes in the future. Maybe it will stick, and maybe it won’t.

App Overload

I’ve hit app overload.

I realized this when I glanced at my phone recently. I saw quite a few apps I hardly used. Turns out, people have a limit. Users are spending more time on mobile apps each year, but the number of mobile apps actually used each month hasn’t changed much over the last few years. I experienced the next level of this at a recent tech event, where I tried out a few app prototypes. I’m normally excited to try out new apps and talk to designers and developers about how they’re made, but here my interest waned.

Then this week I listened to a talk by Christian Heilmann called, A New Hope: The Web Strikes Back. In it, he dives into how the Web is catching up to apps and their abilities. It reminded me why I love working on the Web – it’s ubiquitous and open. All you need to get it is a browser, and you’re not at the mercy of anyone. Beautiful.

Inspired by wanting to use the Web more, I’ve decided to delete a lot of apps from my computers and devices. I want to only keep the ones I use at least once a week or need in certain situations (like traveling). The ones I delete, I’ll try to use its Web version – I’m looking at you Facebook. We’ll see how it goes! Delete, delete, delete.

Minimalist Living, Starting Now

I started this year with simpler goals than in years past. Watching a documentary on the cost of human progress a few days ago has made me want to simplify even more. So I’m taking some of the advice in this post on Zen Habits about simple living.

I’ve already made a list of my most important four to five priorities in life, created a simple to-do list system with Reminders, and knocked off 50-plus blogs from my WordPress.com Reader. Next up? My desk and workspace. Here’s to hoping that doesn’t take most of the weekend. 🙂