My Phone as a Brick

I always tried to convince myself that I am controlling my phone and not the other way around. That I am using social media only once, twice, or thrice a day and not getting pulled into the infinity pool of whatever app is hot now.

What should I say? I am not. Or better said, I don't want to use my willpower anymore to fight tech giants that do everything to keep my attention on their app. That's like David against Goliath, whereas it's possible to fight, but the chances are spare.

Here is how my phone became a brick or how I brought the "smart" back into the smartphone.

Wipe everything

I tried this experiment multiple times, starting with Instagram and stopped before LinkedIn and email. Damn, I am a professional, I need them, that's what a responsible grown-up guy does, linking-in and emailing I thought.

But since the twitch to check my phone doesn't go away as long as one of them is installed, everything had to go.

It's easier to tell you what remained on my phone than what I have deleted.

Here is the list of apps:

  • Things: my task app
  • Notion: my daily tracking (more on that in a bit)
  • Instapaper: reading articles
  • Freeletics: working out
  • Trello: weekly planning with my spouse
  • Spotify: obviously, music
  • Audible: I mean, come on, who doesn't love audiobooks
  • Drafts: Instead of carrying a paper notebook all times, I prefer to use drafts
  • Messengers: More on them later
  • Random Tools: a password manager, maps, reminders, calendar, files app (the smart in smartphone)
  • Camera: a really good one!

Sorry Safari, you had to go. As you can see, there is no browser on the list. A browser on the phone is the worst of all tools. Even if not convenient, it still opens up the possibility to go endlessly doom-scrolling or log in to the next best infinity pool.

It helps me stay on task and in conversation, as I am not "googling anything quickly." I have gotten OK with not knowing it. If it's something fascinating, I will write it into my to-do list to research it when I am back at my laptop.

Make it smart, make it helpful

What makes a smartphone "smart" for you? I am sure it's not to scroll for an hour on Facebook or Twitter. Does it?

For me, it's being helpful and making my life easier or connecting me to other people, or to take quick notes, or to track something and work on it later, or having an excellent navigation system in my pocket. But definitely not to get my attention dragged away from the moment.

The selection came together through precisely this question, "What makes my phone useful and doesn't rip me out of the moment?"

Messengers remained there simply because I have very few contacts on my phone and don't receive more than many messages from people I really care about. Plus, you can mute people quickly.

The Sound of Silence

Question the defaults of your phone. Does it really have to ring? Does it need notifications at all?

For me, the answer was easy: No. No apps except text messaging and calls can send notifications.

Additionally, my phone does never ever ring. It's always silent. In 99 percent of cases, it doesn't matter if I answer the phone right away or call back in half an hour.

If people really need you, they will call again or call somebody else. As Tim Ferris says, "You are not the president." We are all not that important that we need to be reachable 24/7. Not me, not you, nobody.

Use a Real Device

In the end, I want my iPhone to be the sidekick for my laptop. Maybe I have an idea while being outside and want to work on that later, so I can note it down on my phone.

"Working on a phone" mostly remains shallow work, as it's a small screen, and it's highly ineffective to do so. The lack of a real keyboard slows me down too much.

Also, answering emails and messages is slow and not adequate compared to an actual device with a keyboard. Even if you can type really fast on your phone, it is more pleasant to use a real keyboard and not hurting your thumbs.

The same goes for LinkedIn and other apps. I am slow to respond on the phone, so I am resisting checking it in the first place. It would be a waste of time.

I always have a paper notebook lying around for quick ideas or notes, but mostly I default to my phone as it is distraction-free now and doesn't have any infinity pools anymore.

Give it a try

I am still just getting started with my phone as a brick. I am about a week or two in the process, but it already feels good; I feel more present.

One last tip; Don't value any screen time measurement too much. A distraction-free phone doesn't mean it's a battle for having fewer minutes. I still have about an hour every day where I get really good use of my phone, and that's fine.

How is your relationship with your phone going?

Daniel Hauck

Daniel Hauck