My war on phone distraction

At the risk of turning into a blog-stalker that only talks about his boss, I wanted to write up something I did in June as a direct result of watching a speech Joe gave on our “culture of distraction“. Joe’s entire speech is worth listening to, as it touches on a number of issues that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately:


Joe identifies that much of the reason we’re so distracted of late is the increasingly powerful devices we carry in our pockets — our phones:

  1. all of us have a device in our pockets that is a very potent, addictive distractor
  2. the more we train our brain to pay attention to this distractor, the more distracted we become.

Immediately after watching this, I radically changed how I use my phone: I turned off all notifications for everything except my calendar and Google Voice (for SMS messages). That means my phone no longer proactively checks my e-mail, it no longer checks for Facebook activity, it no longer checks for G+ updates, no longer alerts me when I have new @replies on Twitter. This doesn’t mean I don’t read e-mail, post to Facebook, or catch up on G+ or Twitter. When I want to do those things, I can manually update the apps — it takes just a few seconds to do. But what it does mean is that my phone is no longer constantly interrupting me to tell me I have new mail, new comments, new posts to read.

The result? I decide when to pay attention to the phone. I pull my phone out of my pocket when I want to engage, not when the phone demands my attention. I have more time to think, I spend less time being interrupted by my phone, and I am much less likely to get distracted. I pay more attention in meetings, I’m never tempted to open my phone up while driving, and as a bonus, the battery on my phone lasts much longer now that it’s not checking for new data every few seconds.

I shared this idea with Brian Fitzpatrick a few weeks ago, and he pinged me this morning to tell me that not only is he far happier with his phone, he’s also stayed at inbox zero for longer than he’s ever done before. That’s been my experience too: turns out when you decide when to focus on your inbox, you control it instead of the other way around!

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