Be gone, vile rectangle!

One day I’ll fulfill my dream of throwing my phone into the ocean*, but for now I’m settling for throwing my phone in my basement.

The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt articulates how the potent combination of smartphones and social media has wreaked havoc on our minds and spirits. While the book focuses on mobile & social’s impact on young people, many of the book’s lessons apply to everyone. It’s well worth a read, especially if you have kids. You can’t help but reconsider your relationship with your phone.

Hot on the heels of reading The Anxious Generation, I read an article (on my phone, naturally) about how millennials will make small purchases on their phone, but reserve larger purchases for their laptops. When I read that, I was like “that’s me!” But this cute little article also helped me clarify the split between my device usage: my laptop is my productivity machine; my phone is my distraction machine.

I’ve long been in awe of people who can be productive on their phones: pecking out emails, connecting dots, making things happen. It’s amazing to witness. But that ain’t me. I’m a laptop guy through and through. So I decided to finally lean into my nature and take action.

I’ve been putting my phone in the basement and keeping it there for nearly the entire day.

Brad's phone sitting on a brown shag carpet plugged into an outlet.
My phone sitting in my basement on a luxurious shag carpet from the 1970s.

The results of this basement banishment were pretty immediate. After only the second day, the constant pull of my phone started to release its grip on me, and I feel like I’m able to better focus on the task at hand and be present with my family and friends. The weird anxious feeling of not having my phone on me has given way to a feeling of freedom and presence. It feels good.

With my phone in basement prison, I’ve been carrying my laptop around the house with me. And you know what, it’s way better! I find myself getting more things done (whether work work or other productive tasks like writing, music, email, etc). And I find myself reaching for “healthier” distractions like my RSS reader, which gives me a lot more substance and a lot less fluff. Even social media platforms don’t have their same magnetic pull on me when accessed from my laptop. Instagram is a big mobile time sink for me, but sessions from my laptop are limited and feel less time-sucky. It feels good.

Overwhelmingly the biggest thing I’m missing from my phone is my camera. I take pictures of EVERYTHING, and I especially love documenting the candid moments in my daughter’s life. There have been quite a few moments I’ve reached for my pocket only to pull out some pocket lint instead of a magical rectangle that captures gorgeous family memories.

I’m gonna try to keep this going and see how I feel after a while. Maybe I’ll reintroduce my phone and just remove distracting apps? That hasn’t worked for me in the past, just like how putting our candy stash on the top shelf hasn’t stopped me from eating candy. Maybe I start carrying around a point-and-shoot camera like a weirdo? Dunno.

How about you? What’s your relationship like with your phone? How do you balance connectivity with focus and productivity? How do you deal with distractions?

*Note: I wouldn’t actually throw my phone into the ocean for obvious reasons.