August 9th, 2016
Late last year I was inspired to try and get back some focus and clarity in my life. I wrote an article explaining the reasons behind it. It was (unsurprisingly) called Removing Distractions. This is part 2. It’s now six months on and my life has changed because of it, but I do have a confession to make first.
I fell back into bad habits. After around 4 months Twitter found it’s way back on my iPhone. I should have removed it, but I didn’t. Twitter stayed on my phone all through May, June, and July. It’s crazy how easily I just fell back into it.
Once Twitter was back on my phone, the usage started to creep back up. I started checking in more frequently. I got that feeling that I might be missing out if I didn't just check in. In part, this was what prompted me to write this follow-up article. Use it as something to get me back on track. As of this week, Twitter is no longer on my phone (again). Hopefully, I can keep it that way. Here’s what's currently on my iPhone:
Now let's move onto the more positive aspects. Even though I had a slight relapse with Twitter, the last six months have seen a lot of positive changes. I definitely use my phone much less, I'm more present and more productive because of it.
I used to think about taking photos just to post on Instagram. It was one more thing to think about, and let’s be honest, who really cares about what I’m posting anyway? Who was I doing it for? A few weeks after deleting my Instagram account I stopped thinking about it. The same goes for status updates. I used to find myself walking around and if something popped into my head I’d think “oh I should post that to Twitter”. I don’t think like this anymore.
It might sound funny, but not having to worry about posting updates or seeing if people have “liked” my photos, has given me more head space to actually focus on what matters.
I’ve also started reading more books, like a serious amount more. When I go to bed I read a book instead of checking social networks. I know this sounds stupidly obvious, but I’ve learnt so much by just reading more. The books I’ve read have already improved and shaped my life immeasurably. I’ve been keeping an up-to-date list of the books I’ve read since the end of last year. Only the good ones make it onto the list.
When we twiddle on our phones, refreshing feeds for countless social networks we don’t learn anything. All we get is bite-sized snippets of useless information.
I didn't stop at social networks. As I read more and thought more about why I felt stressed, I started to look at other areas in my life. I started to make other changes, in what now seems to have turned into an ongoing quest to lead a simpler, less stressful, and more focused life. Here are some of the other changes:
I stopped reading and watching the news sometime last year. Nothing good ever happens in the news. Reading it just makes me feel incredibly sad and scared. There's nothing I can do about any of it. When was the last time you read a news story and acted upon it? Probably never.
Episode 69 of the Ask Altucher Podcast sums this up pretty well: “Why reading the news is a waste of time”.
If a newsletter comes in from a company that I'm not interested in, I always unsubscribe from it. I don’t just trash it, I unsubscribe. Because, unless you make a habit of unsubscribing, they’ll just keep coming and the problem will compound until your inbox is out of control. Same goes for notifications from online services, I unsubscribed from all but the most useful ones.
I did this ages ago, and I’ve never looked back. My voicemails used to build up so I had a backlog of messages to listen to and act on. Not anymore. If someone calls I deal with it there and then. If I don't recognise the number I usually ignore it. If it’s really important they’ll call back.
Switch off all non-essential notifications. I only keep Phone, Messages, Passbook, Calendar, Reminders, FaceTime, and Map notifications on. Everything else is switched off. Now I only get pinged for the things that matter most.
On my Mac, I often switch on “Do Not Disturb” during the day. I find this invaluable when I need to stay focused. I also have it turned on automatically between 8pm and 8am on both Mac and iPhone.
I’ve always been tidy. I like everything to be just so but it can get stressful. It feels like there’s always something to tidy or sort out. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo, and it suddenly clicked. It all made sense why I’d been feeling like this. It was hard to keep the house tidy because we have too much stuff. Stuff we don’t need, stuff that we’ll never use.
We keep things because we think they might be useful one day, or that we’re going to need them at some point. But the truth is we won’t. Stuff just seems to accumulate and clutter up the house.
I haven’t done everything Marie suggests in her book, but I’m making progress.
I decided to write out some guidelines to try and stop me falling back into bad habits. They are here for my reference mainly, but you're more than welcome to follow them:
I know it sounds like a very strict set of rules, but it needs to be. If the apps are on your phone you will use them. The best way to avoid temptation is to not have them installed.
Just to be clear, I’m not anti-iPhone. The iPhone is an incredible device. I just think I fell into the trap of mindlessly checking social networks to fill every spare moment. It's been an interesting six months and I've learnt a lot about myself and those around me.
I’m going to try and continue to focus on what matters. Because I know — and deep down I think we all do — that whenever we’re endlessly scrolling through social networks, we’re just wasting our time.
If this article has inspired you, I’d recommend reading The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer.
“Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.” — Pico Iyer
See you in six months for part 3.