Peering over the top of my smartphone I caught my daughter doing something incredible but heart-breaking. Perhaps not incredible in the sense you would imagine, she never did anything otherworldly or precociously brilliant beyond her tender years. No, it was incredible because she was competing for my attention. She was literally banging her drum louder and louder until my attention was both captured and ensured. Having won my attention, smiling back at me, she continued to play and sing in the same manner with her now captive audience of one.
As I sat enjoying the moment it immediately filled me with guilt and made me question how many times she’d done so previously but didn’t have something as attention-grabbing as a beating drum to wrestle my attention away from the ever more seductive world behind the black screen of my phone. How much had I already missed and would I one day look at my daughter through the screen on my phone despairing at all the years missed by being engrossed in the frivolous nonsense that filled my inbox or newsfeed?
Not just in my personal life, but in my professional as well, increasingly I’ve noticed that small distractions have infiltrated my daily routine and created an imbalance preventing me from achieving everything I have set out to. Whether this is in my personal or private life the struggle to escape the shackles of technology becomes harder as its use becomes further entwined in the fabric of everyday life.
I’m continually fascinated by a quote from Mark Zuckerberg about why his wardrobe is filled with identical clothing: “I’m in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than 1bn people, and I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that way I can dedicate all of my energy towards just building the best products and services.” This fascinates me for two reasons:
- Firstly it fills me with admiration for being able to simplify mundane decisions to ensure unilateral thinking is focused on creative endeavours.
- Secondly, and more importantly, it fascinates me because his method of serving more than 1 billion people is perhaps the silliest and frivolous service in the history of mankind. I challenge you to find a more time-sapping endeavor.
Because of all of the above, I’ve taken several steps to escape the overwhelming pit of distraction. Simply put: Technologically I’ve devolved. I’ve taken several steps backward in order to achieve clarity of thought and provide my mind with the cathartic release from the imprisonment of technology. Ironically the very technology intended to simplify our lives and increase productivity is the very things preventing us working to our full potential or enjoying the most important things in our lives.
I’ve increasingly found email to be counter-productive. Instead of getting stuff done I felt myself drifting into the abyss of writing emails for email's sake. I was literally writing emails about emails instead of tackling the issues discussed. There is but one universal truth of the email; every email leads to more emails. Breaking free of the monotonous cycle took two steps.
- Only checking emails once per day. Some of you may question how this is possible or believe it would force me to miss important messages through the day. In truth, it made me far more productive. It allowed me to focus on the task at hand more clearly and if anything did come up I started receiving phone calls which allowed me to tackle the problem quicker, easier and without the need for additional emails.
- I stopped sending as many emails. It sounds simple because it is, but I was able to drastically reduce my emails received on a daily basis by as much as 40%. No more emails to emails that didn’t require a reply. No more emails to people I could phone and get an answer from in ten seconds. The freedom gained is truly invigorating.
The first thing I would confess, and the first stage of recovery, is that I am a Smart Phone addict. How am I tackling this addiction? I just bought this. Seriously. I haven’t divorced myself from smartphone entirely, yet, I still use it during the day while at work but will often try to leave it in the car when I get home at night. Now when I’m at home I carry the Nokia having transferred the sim card over with an adapter. If something that requires attention comes up someone will call; you wouldn’t email the fire brigade to inform them your house is on fire.
It’s part of my growing belief that smartphones are the best worst invention in the history of Mankind. Your shoes don’t need to clothe your entire body so why does your phone need to do the job of 18 pieces of kit? I see a growing trend towards unplugging from the network. The thought of being permanently connected truly frightens me as does contributing data to big business with ever decreasing controls on my privacy. I believed in the next 5 years we will see huge push back against the technological intrusive norms of today.
We are constantly bombarded with rhetoric that you now carry in your pocket more computing power than was needed to put the man on the moon. I would question, with that being true, why on earth would we ever require such capability?
By technologically devolving I have been able to increase productivity, reclaim those precious moments with my family while simultaneously becoming a better professional, husband and father. I’m still able to access everything I require while at home but my choice to connect is now a conscious decision and not an involuntary reaction to boredom. The clear differentiation between the two worlds has also freed my mind and allowed creativity to flourish. My mind has come to enjoy the detachment from the digital world and this has manifested itself in the establishment of new relationships and new more creative pursuits.
Contrary to what I assumed when I undertook this experiment I have been able to achieve far more in far less time while missing absolutely nothing which affects my quality of life. I think it’s human nature to continually scroll your news feed as a reaction to fear of missing out. The truth is we don’t miss anything. By turning off, detaching from the network and divorcing ourselves from the digital allure of our shiny smartphones we see the very things that should have our full concentration. Ultimately its is productivity, both privately and professionally, which dictates the quality of our work and relationships.