Look Up! – Less Screen Time, More Productivity

For the past 3 months I have been spending 3-4 hours per day physically separated from my iPhone. On top of that, I deleted all social media from my phone. Just by making these couple of “small” changes, I have noticed a massive change in my productivity, presence, and overall daily enjoyment.

The inspiration came from Cal Newport’s bestselling book, Digital Minimalism.

I had previously read and enjoyed Cal’s other books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and Deep Work. So when a client suggested that I take the leap and read this one as well, I went for it. I find a common underlying message in all of his books: We live in a world of constant distraction; with shiny objects, stories, and videos flying by our faces every few minutes. Those who can push these distractions aside and dive deep into their vocation will be rewarded now more than ever.

The mediums through which these distractions fly at us have us so hooked that we’d likely have better luck quitting cigarettes. The scary part is that these mediums are designed that way.

In Adam Alter’s Irresistible, he tells the story of a former gaming addict, Isaac, who at the end of his Junior year in high school scored a 2200 out of 2400 on his ACT, among the top 1% in the U.S. (he was also a 1st string linebacker). Alter says “Isaac’s first dangerous binge began during his junior year in high school. (Isaac) “I had picked up and dropped World of Warcraft(WoW) many times, but this time it became my sole means of socializing and my sole release. I got a small dopamine hit every night, and it helped me overcome my anxieties.” He stopped sleeping, his grades plummeted, and he became physically sick when his mother insisted he go to school.”

Later Alter explains how “different additions demand different routine overrides.What works for people who can’t stop checking their emails over lunch may not work for WoW addicts.” Much like how cigarette smokers need to replace their deadly habit with a less destructive one (say chewing gum), people addicted to their technologies must replace whatever specific need that is being filled by their addictive behavior. For the cigarette smoker it is oral fixation, for Isaac that was loneliness, which is why creating a vibrant social life ultimately helped him overcome his addiction.

Newport suggests an overarching idea on how we should replace the hours we are wasting on our devices.. The Bennett Principal. Essentially the Bennett Principal says that choosing demanding activities over passive activities leads to increased feelings of fulfillment and ultimately happiness. Demanding activities more specifically means producing valuable things in the physical world with our skills and doing activities that require real world social interaction. For me, some of these demanding activities include: construction projects around the house, making creations from elk antlers, landscaping, cooking, looking at nature, and trail running to name a few.

So why the heck am I talking about this??

Nearly all of us have bought in to the idea that being hyper-connected is a worthy use of our time and energy. We spend HOURS each day scrolling through meaningless garbage. Instead of greeting a stranger, we look at our phone. Instead of being with our family we “be with” a random network of acquaintances. How the hell did it go from being rude to look at your phone during a conversation to being rude to call someone out for looking at their phone during a conversation?!

At some point don’t we need to ask ourselves what we are sacrificing?

  • ~Do many shallow connections really replace the value of a few deep relationships?
  • ~Are we concerned about the lack of empathy that is shown from kids who have grown up in the digital age?
  • ~What happens when we don’t allow our brains time to process and be in solitude?
  • ~How much is our quality of work, ideas, and creativity, being sacrificed by being constantly distracted?

I believe that we owe it to ourselves, our families, and our careers to ask these questions.

A few books that may be helpful for you to answer these:

  • ~Digital Minimalism -Cal Newport
  • ~Irresistible -Adam Alter
  • ~Reclaiming Conversation -Sherry Turkle

I hope that you’re able to dive a bit deeper into this topic and become as alarmed as I have by the information that you will find. It takes some serious willpower to take back your time and attention from these easy, passive, and addictive places that we are turning to.

You will thank yourself when you confront these habits as you begin to find all sorts of time for being productive, spending time with family, and creating meaningful hobbies.

Go get your time back!!

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