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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.