I find it very strange that I’m still getting web visitors despite not updating my blog for many months. Maybe they come for nostalgia? For those who haven’t visited in a long while: hello and sorry for shaking up the dust on your subscription feeds! In any case, I’m taking this opportunity to express an idea that I’ve had from reading about minimalism and simplicity. It’s based on the basic concept of self limitation.
During day-to-day life, I’ve come to realise that I spend a lot of time using my phone doing numerous things. Reading news, checking/sending messages and email, taking photos, listening to music, watching video, shopping, using maps, etc… Even when there’s nothing to do in particular, I find myself checking various badges/notifications by flipping though the pages of apps on my phone. For a regular observer, doing any of these activities used to be obvious; watching video was done at the TV, reading news was done at the table with a newspaper, sending email was done at the computer, and so on. However nowadays, all they see is a person who is attached to their phone from the moment they wake up until they fall back asleep. This observation has lead me to question my attachment to my phone, but rather than go through a tech sabbath, I decided to limit myself so that I don’t fall victim to all this “compressed technology” as I’d like to think of it.
Limit the Number of Apps
I started simplifying by thinking about the purpose of a phone; that is to make phone calls —or generally, allow communication on demand. But surely, the iPhone can do much more than that. If you happen to watch Apple’s keynotes regularly, I’m sure you’re familiar with how often they boast about the many millions of apps that exist on their App Store and the hundreds of features that they empower their users with. So with that in mind, if I am to take full advantage of my phone, I would have to think about the core essentials of my phone —the necessities— and select only one or two apps at most, to satisfy them:
- Making phone calls – Built-in Call app
- Messaging – WhatsApp and Built-in Messages
- Calendar Events – Sunrise
- Photos – Built-in Camera and Photo app
- Navigation – Google Maps
- Tasks and Reminders – Todoist
- Keeping notes – Simplenote
- Email – Gmail (personal) and Acompli (Exchange)
- Music – Built-in app or Google Music
- Video – YouTube
- News – Google Chrome and Podcasts
- Security – Google Authenticator
- Finance – Bank App and MoneyWiz
To stay true to the concept, I limited the number of pages on my iPhone to just one. For the iPhone 5 and later, the page grid can hold a maximum of 20 apps (plus 4 in the dock) so that should be enough to start with. One of icons in the grid will be an archive folder dedicated to all the stock Apple apps that cannot be deleted:
Then I went ahead and thoughtfully populated the grid with just the essential apps. Tip: some apps such as FaceTime, Camera, and Stop Watch/Timer don’t need to consume space on the grid, because they are still accessible from other places such as Control Center or within the Phone app. I also keep the App Store app within this folder because downloading more apps would go against the intention limiting the number of apps —deleting and replacing apps is fine. If you still think that having this few apps is absurd, add an intermediate step: keep all your apps in the archive folder and over time, you’ll begin to distinguish between frequently used apps and lesser used apps then move them out or into the grid accordingly.
Limit the Number of ATTENTION REQUESTS
Having limited the number of apps, the second limitation has to do with the “checking” aspect of the phone, namely notifications. Go to Notification Center and go through each app and be sure to disable all notifications. This part is tricker because iOS provides different types of alerts and indicators that grab your attention. Start by thinking about the apps that need your immediate attention by showing up on your lock screen. In my case, I’ve selected “phone” (for missed calls), reminders and calendar events (for time-sensitive alerts). You don’t need immediate notifications for messages, emails, etc.. because most messages don’t require an immediate response and tend to become a distraction. Even in cases of urgency, it’s likely that a response cannot be given because of the user’s preoccupation (eg. while driving, out of the office, in a meeting, having guests over, etc..).
App badges are also a distraction; if you unlock your phone to see that you have a reminder, you will not hesitate to notice a “1” badge indicating an unread email. Remember the golden rule: limit yourself. You can only allow your phone to grab your attention x number of times during the day, therefore badges must go unless it belongs to an item that requires immediate (time-sensitive) attention.
Limit Checking of Your Apps
You are probably wondering, “Hold on, if I turn off all notifications, how do I know which apps I should check and when to check them?”. The answer is simple: set specific times of the day to check your apps and limit the time you check them. For example: Check WhatsApp messages four, and only four, times a day (morning 9 am, afternoon 2pm, evening 6pm, night 9pm) for a maximum of 10 minutes each. For apps that are less active, for example email, choose to check your inbox just twice a day, preferably during times when you are in the best position to be able to respond to them (ie. in your office or near a computer containing all your documents).
I hope that this post has inspired you to think differently about the way in which you use your phone. I urge you to try some of these ideas for yourself and share your experience in the comments. Get out of the habit of redundant phone checking and put an end to excessive distractions!