Distractions are slowly destroying our ability to focus. It’s difficult to fully appreciate the effect phones and social media have on our productivity when we are so used to the constant stream of notifications, the infinite feeds and live-streamed news.
Most of us would probably recognise the compulsive urge to check something on your phone and the odd tension that comes along when you don’t do it. After years and decades of being interrupted dozens and hundreds of times a day, it’s easy to dismiss this as a feature of living in the 21st century, something to get used to. Who would trade their phone for a fax machine anyway?
When Neil Gaiman sits down to work on a book, he has one rule: he can either write or do nothing. He’s not allowed to call a friend, read a book or the news. He makes himself bored and eventually, writing becomes the preferable option to staring out of the window the whole afternoon. I love that. What a simple yet powerful way to turn the odds in your fight against resistance.
With a phone in your pocket, this is nearly impossible to do. The endless supply of instant gratification, carefully optimised to suit your preferences, is the very antidote to boredom. And when writing gets really, really difficult, you won’t be able to resist.
So how can you keep your phone and your sanity at the same time? Here’s what I do.
Since April last year, I’ve been using an app called Forest to prevent myself from using my phone when writing. In the app, I ‘plant a tree’ which will fully grow after a set period. In case you leave the app before the time’s up, the tree will die.
Since December, my phone has been in do not disturb mode permanently. I got so fed up with notifications that I had to do something. At first, I was worried that I would miss something important. I haven’t. I still receive calls so people can reach me in case of a true emergency. Everything else can wait until I’ve finished my writing session and am free to check my phone.
I’ve gone through a major shift of mindset over this. I want to use my phone when I want, not when somebody else wants me to use it. And if someone demands an instant response, I probably don’t want to talk to them anyway.
Austin Kleon’s new book arrived in the post last week. It’s a fantastic read, by the way. He dedicated a number of sections to disconnecting and takes the idea even further.
“Airplane mode is not just a setting on your phone: It can be a whole way of life.”
Since then, I’ve been switching my phone to airplane mode every night, and I will only disable it when I’ve finished my writing the next morning.
New technology is great, but at some point, we have to look at the impact it has on the life we want to live—the good and the bad. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. By being more intentional about how we use these devices and services, we can keep the good and discard the bad.
As Wi-Fi access proliferates on commercial flights, there may be no use for Airplane Mode in a few years time. In case the name needs to change, Get Your Life Back Mode gets my vote.
What I Am Reading
You might have noticed that I have been reading many short stories by Franz Kafka recently. This week, I’ve finished the entire collection. It was as depressing and as well-written as I expected it would be. I ordered The Trial which I’m hoping to read soon.
I also finished The People vs Tech by Jamie Bartlett. This was a quick but very good read. I’m interested in the intersection of technology and everyday life. This book is primarily about how new technology affects politics and society — from social media to bitcoin.
In an extraordinarily productive reading week, I also read Keep Going by Austin Kleon which arrived rather unexpectedly. It came out on Monday, but I pre-ordered it ages ago and forgot about it.
I’m just about to finish Normal People by Sally Rooney, and then I’ll be reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata which I picked randomly in the bookshop yesterday.
- A Report to an Academy by Franz Kafka
- First Sorrow, A Little Woman by Franz Kafka
- A Hunger-Artist by Franz Kafka
- Josefine, the Singer, or The Mouse People by Franz Kafka
- Aeroplanes in Brescia, Great Noise, The Coal-Scuttle Rider by Franz Kafka
- The Blue Fox by Ian Green
- Mr. Cosby Made Me Do It by Lisa Gordon
Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, leave a comment or share it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or email.