This makes our behavior automatic and unconscious. And this is exactly what notifications do. They prompt you to come back to your device over and over and over again, up until your behavior becomes automatic and unconscious.
According to Kahuna report, 87% of Android users and 48% of iOS users opt in for receiving app notifications on their devices. Or, in other words, all these people allow their devices to decide how they will behave.
Once these chains are formed, it takes quite a long time and effort to undo them, and relying on your willpower doesn’t help.
I certainly learned it twice. For the first time, when it took me five months from the decision of giving up my smartphone to actually doing it. And for the second time, when after about a year of not owning any smartphone I got one back, which I thought, I would only use as a spare device, in case my laptop breaks down and I need to talk to clients over Skype.
And in no time, I found myself using it all the time. The neural path was still there.
Now, it felt incredibly embarrassing, because at the time I was already conducting digital detox trainings. I obviously was not walking my talk, but it also gave me great insights into the real challenges that people who do not want to give up their devices altogether face.
So I developed four principles that helped me take back control over my time and my life, and I want to share those principles with you.
These are: time management, space management, relationship management, and self-management. These principles help reestablish the boundaries that technology removes between our work and private lives, or between our public and private lives.
So, let’s talk about them.
We need to give up on the idea that we have to be connected or accessible 24/7. Now, of course, developers will try to convince you that everything is very important. The truth is very few things are.
Remember what we said before. It is your attention that is a real scarcity in the information age. It is a little bit like with food. You can have all the food you may want to have in your fridge, but this does not mean that you need to eat it all, all the time.
So my top tip is to disable all notifications on your devices, use delayed email function to avoid being distracted by emails, and use blocking apps to make sure that you’re accessing certain websites only at a certain time and not being distracted by them at other times.
This way, you are in charge of where you’re getting information, as opposed to being dictated by technology.
And to give an example, Eric Schmidt, who is Executive Chairman of Alphabet, the Google’s company, switches off both of his smartphones on most evenings during dinner time. And, believe me, he’s a much busier guy than most of us.
Also, do not multitask online. So, do not switch between different tabs or between different devices.
A Stanford experiment proves that the more we multitask, the worse we become at it, we unlearn our brain to do that.
Well, you will still likely get distracted, but you can plan for it. So incorporate five minutes of distraction time every now and then in your work routine, but only after you’re done with a chunk of work and as a reward only.
Again, this way, you are taking back control over your time.
Space management is all about where you want to have connection, and where you want to have silence.
Have you ever thought why the most expensive areas in the city are usually the quietest ones?
Why is it that, in airport business lounges, there is hardly any sound or music or advertising?
Why is silence valued so highly? Well, this is because it’s only in silence that our brain gets an opportunity to process information that we have been feeding into it.
We cannot take good conscious decisions or be creative if we are overwhelmed. And we are always overwhelmed when we go online, because our brain is not good at multitasking.
So, do not bring the devices into the areas where you process information, where you have rest. This includes your bedroom, your bathroom, and your dining table.
Also, if you keep your phone next to your bed, this puts your brain into the state of alarm as shown by research by Harvard Medical School. And, of course, you will feel tempted to check it first thing in the morning.
Now it’s like keeping a chocolate brownie next to your bed; of course you will eat it. So, get an alarm clock.
Your device is just a tool. It is not part of you. You can carry around your saw or your hammer, you don’t take them to the bedroom – hopefully!
As any tool, your devices need their own places. For example, I try not to carry around my devices, and also remove them out of sight when I’m not using them. This way I feel less tempted to check them.
When I was still working for an advertising agency, we had a client who kept sending us hundreds and hundreds of emails daily to make sure that we’re on the track of delivering the project.