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Turn your phone into a distraction-free zone

Business man and business women walk among large screens displaying information. These screens forming a labyrinth.

Have you ever turned on your phone to check the weather, become distracted by another app—say, email—and an hour later when you turn it off, you realize you still don't know the forecast?

But hey, you read your email, caught up on Facebook and Twitter, and read a bunch of articles about interesting stuff you don’t really need to know right now.

I do this all the time. (I’m guilty on my computer too, but there I’m less likely to open a program because there’s time involved in the process. To avoid temptation, I close the sneaky culprits when I'm done.) Phone apps open almost instantly, so there’s no psychological barrier. And the little red badge showing how many unread messages I have is like a tractor beam, sucking me in.

Woman mobile phone addicted

A few weeks ago I talked about the time wasted on multi-tasking. Distractions are another time sink/brain drain. Here’s my plan for minimizing my phone’s ability to take me down a rabbit hole.

Turn Off Counters/Badges

Except for my Reminders app—where I actually want to be “distracted” by the fact that I have something to do—I turned off all of the little number badges that pop up on an app icon to show me I have new email/Twitter mentions/Facebook tags.

If I’ve decided it’s time to check my email, I’m doing it deliberately, not because the unread messages tally has lured me in. (This works on the computer too.)

Excited man looking at computer screen

Move Distracting Apps Out of Sight

All of those apps that attract me like a dog to peanut butter? I moved them to another “screen.” (I’m using an iPhone, which supports multiple screen views. If yours doesn’t, maybe you could do something similar by creating a single folder to hold all distracting apps, thus minimizing their visual impact.)

Now, when I turn on my phone, I’m only faced with the apps that aren't a problem for me. I have easy access to log my food/exercise, read a book, find a recipe, check the weather, walk me through meditation (yes, I really started doing it!), etc…

The only exception, again, is the Reminders app (and text messages, but I don't get very many, so I don't worry about it). I only create reminders for to-do items with a deadline. So, that’s one distraction I want.

My distraction-free screen

My distraction-free screen

Use the Search Feature

I’m trying to avoid the “hidden” Screen of Distractions, so I don’t want to swipe over to it. Ever. Instead, I’m training myself to use the search feature (iPhone users can swipe down the center of the screen to access Spotlight Search on the latest iOS) to pull up the app I want without ever switching views.

Distractions averted.

Develop New Habits

I recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed how habits are formed (and either scary or really cool ways retailers are using that data). The gist is that each habit is triggered by a cue, which kicks off the activity, for which you are rewarded.

For example, the email counter catches your eye and you realize you have new emails (cue). This triggers you to check your email and deal with it accordingly (activity). The empty inbox or zero unread messages count—or that little bit of social connection—provides you with a tiny thrill or sense of satisfaction (reward).

To form a new habit, you need to remove old cues. So, if you normally wake up and check your phone before you even turn back the sheets, try putting the phone somewhere out of reach.

man sleeping in bed with cell phone

Now when the alarm goes off, you have to get out of bed to check your email. If you encounter your work out clothes and sneakers before you reach your phone, who knows what wonders might happen? 😉

For more ideas to help you stay focused, check out Productivity Tools For Writers.

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  1. Reply

    I sure understand about this. I pay too much attention to my own phone apps, but most of the time I only have email and messages. I don’t worry about the weather. Facebook is not installed on my phone, but Twitter is. However, I’m afraid to log in to either Facebook or Twitter on my phone. I’ll spend too much time Facebooking or tweeting. In the case of Twitter, I only follow a very few people and I get all their tweets as part of my messages. Facebook sends texts to my phone also, and these form the bulk of my messages. I pay attention to anything from my family, and I try to shut my mind to all the others. It is hard to do. Yes, I can feel Distraction Syndrome encircling my throat. I need to show strength like you do, Gwen.

      • Reply

        I did recently start bicycling to work. My phone goes into my handlebar bag. I’m able to get 30-40 minutes of riding each way. The cycling completely absorbs me and becomes a tough exercise workout. I’m interested in the next hill and what bird it was that I just saw and avoiding the next pothole and whether I am keeping up my pedaling cadence. I think about what I will do at the office/at home. I like that feeling a lot. My phone no longer welds itself to my hands. Extended bike rides may do me even more good. Or so I hope.

        • Reply

          Great, Bob! That’s one of the things I love about running, bike riding, or even walking my dog. I have the phone with me, but I don’t “use” it except maybe to track my distance. Not being able to think very hard means I just relax. It’s like moving meditation and a chance to reconnect with nature. I need both.

          And I love that you’re doing something good not only for your mind and body, but for the environment too! 🙂

  2. Reply

    Yes, I had to turn off those danged alerts on my ipad. They got me every time. Some days I’m better than others at not getting sucked in to all the distractions, but it’s a constant struggle. I’ll keep trying. And on that note, I’m shutting this down and going for a run! 🙂

    • Reply

      Maura: Funny how motivated we get by a little red number, isn’t it? I have them turned off on all my devices, but I was still getting sucked in. Hence, the “hidden” page. So far it’s helping. I still have a hard time getting out of an app once I’ve opened it. I have this compulsion to clear all new items. 😉 Yay on the run! Good luck staying focused. 😀

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