Taking Back My Life: Smartphone Pro Tips

I don’t know about you, but it’s much too easy for me to lose my life in indentured servitude to a 4-inch screen.  So I’m breaking free.  Here are some effective things I’m doing to fight the good fight:

  • Don’t Drink from the Hose.  Most social networks have a constant stream of information.  If I go to my Twitter or Facebook homepage, I can spend hours consuming information that I didn’t really ask to receive.  It’s addictive and unproductive.  Instead, when I use social networks, I focus on interactions (mentions, replies, tags, etc.).  I also use search functions (especially hashtag searches) to find meaningful content that is relevant to my current projects.
  • Pull, Don’t Push.  To oversimplify, push notification is a system that makes your phone beep or buzz at you when something happens.  BEEP!  Your friend posted a new photo.  BEEP!  You have a friend request.  BEEP!  Give me your undivided attention.
    Push notification is good for some things.  For example, I use Google Voice, and I want push notification so I know when I have a text message or voicemail.  But for other communication that isn’t so immediate, push notification steals time and attention from things that matter now.  I took this a step farther:
  • Delete Social Media Apps.  Yes, I did.  Clearly, this doesn’t mean I don’t use Facebook or Twitter.  But if I don’t want constant notifications, I find that a Chrome bookmark for the mobile versions of these sites is just as good as the apps.  Better, in fact, because when I follow a link from Facebook or Twitter, the browser is already open.  It’s a more seamless experience.  And I control it on my terms.  Instead of a service telling me when to participate, I consciously choose to visit that service when I have time to participate.
  • These Foolish Games…  I have deleted most of the games from my phone and replaced them with apps that allow me to work on projects I care about on the go.  Games aren’t inherently evil, but they don’t provide much benefit.  My most malignant time-wasters were social games, like Words with Friends, which include push notifications and a strong element of peer pressure.
  • Examine Your Schedule.  For other apps that demand attention, like email, you can control how frequently they check for new stuff.  I find that the quality of my life is unaffected if I only check email every hour or two.  If somebody needs to tell me something urgent, they should call or text anyway.  If my email only comes once every two hours, I can easily archive or reply quickly to several messages at once, if necessary, rather than feeling pressure to answer every message as it comes.
  • Pay for your Data.  This seems crazy, but hear me out.  A few months ago, I switched from an unlimited plan with another carrier to a pay-for-what-you-use plan with Ting.  My phone bill is lower, but it has had another unexpected benefit: I actually think before using data.  I don’t obsess about it, but before downloading some useless content to consume, I do ask myself if it’s worth paying for.  Many times, the answer is yes (it’s worth a lot to listen to Morten Lauridsen on Pandora instead of whatever country channel my car radio can get).  But the idea that I’m paying for my data makes me think twice about simple time-wasters.
    (If you’re interested in Ting, use this link to get $25 off and they’ll give me a discount, too.  No pressure.)

What else do you do to keep your smartphone from running your life?

Leave a Reply