Do you control your mobile phone, or does it control you?
It’s okay. You don’t need to answer out loud. I don’t want you to embarrass yourself (yet).
So I’ll start.
Way too often, I feel like my phone controls me. Which is totally preposterous considering I’m some 73 inches tall and a couple bills worth of weight — how does a little device that’s roughly 5-inches by 2-and-a-half-inches control me?
Because I (we) let it. And over time that conditions me (us) to become, essentially, addicted to it.
Well, it’s time to take back control and eliminate the oppressive elements of hyperconnectivity from our lives.
In this post I share with you a couple of steps I took a few years back (plus one new one) that helped me harness my own hyperconnectivity. It’s still an issue, but these three steps have helped a ton. I hope they can help you too.
But first, let’s define the problem itself.
The problem of hyperconnectivity
A few years ago I read a great blog post by Jonathan Fields titled “Creative Kryptonite and the Death of Productivity“. The basic point of the article is that in today’s hyperconnected world, it is far too easy to become distracted, and these distractions end up limiting our ability to be creative and even close to our productive best.
A quick excerpt:
“Hyperconnectivity has become one of the purest forms of intermittent reinforcement ever to exist. Which is a bit horrifying, because in addition to pulling us away from activities and relationships we claim to hold dear and degrading “real” productivity, it all but eliminates the opportunities for disconnection that are crucial in the creation of great art, business and life.“
Fields defines intermittent reinforcement as “a behavioral pattern where repeated reinforcement of a behavior over time programs your brain to crave more and more opportunities to express that behavior.” As he says, it mirrors addiction.
When I read this, ding-ding-ding bells started going off in my head immediately.
Raise your hand if you…
- Check your cell phone, especially to return texts, when stopped at red lights (or worse, while driving — you jackwagon)
- Stop to immediately check every call and text message you get no matter what you’re doing at the time (working, reading, writing, etc.)
- Simultaneously love and loathe the hyperconnectivity your phone gives you … yet you do nothing to manage it in your favor.
My hand used to be raised for all of these. Yours maybe (probably) is too, and I could go on and on coming up with examples.
We live in an age of hyperconnectivity, and it can drown us if all we do is tread water, because then we’re just at the mercy of the current. We shouldn’t at the mercy of anything but our own priorities.
So here’s what I did a few years back, which has worked in helping me take control of my phone.
A few simple ways to start overcoming hyperconnectivity
Previously, I had one ring tone for everyone and one text tone for everyone.
So when the phone rang, it could have been anyone from a random 800 number to mom or dad to my girlfriend, etc. I wouldn’t know until I looked. Thus, I had to look no matter what I was doing.
The same is true for texts. Any time the text tone rang out, it could have been an important text from someone at work or my brother, or just something random that did not demand immediate attention. How was I to know?
Here’s how …
1. Use ringtones to communicate relative call urgency
I created three new ring tones and assigned them as such:
- People whose calls I always take (family, close friends)
- Business-related contacts (business partner, co-workers, important clients)
- Everyone else
Now, if I’m sitting reading a book and I hear ringtone number three, I know that it’s not a call I need to jump up for. I’ll certainly check it later and return it, if necessary, but I don’t need to stop what I’m doing right-now-omg because the likelihood of it being urgent is very, very low.
If, on the other hand, one of the carefully selected people who have ringtone one or two is calling, I will probably stop to check and answer the call (although, on a weekend, perhaps I’ll be a little slower to the work calls).
Instantly, I’ve created a situation in which I’ve minimized distractions from calls.
2. Use text tones sparingly and strategically
Calls were only a small part of my problem. Text messages were actually a bigger part of my problem.
I would always check texts right away, which is a silly policy because text messages are rarely urgent. In the event that they are urgent, it’s reasonable to expect that a call would follow soon after a text was not responded to.
So what the hell is the point of jumping to check the phone every time the text tone rings? Especially when you’re in the middle of doing something?
It’s hyperconnectivity at its worst and most distracting.
It’s also easy to manage, because you can turn your text tone off as a global setting, but then give individual people a tone.
So I did just that.
Now text messages do not create a distracting tone on my phone, except for a few select people I gave a text tone to. This includes most of the people who have ringtone number one above, and a few people I work with, who sometimes send important texts when they cannot talk due to meetings or conference calls.
For everyone else, the vast majority of whom are not going to ever be sending a text requiring an urgent response, I’ll see their text message when I check my phone. Scratch that. I’ll see their text message when I choose to check my phone, which now will be in between tasks rather than during them.
3. Be ruthlessly selective with push notifications
From Twitter to Instagram to iHeart Radio and so many other apps … push notifications can become as frequent as texts from a good buddy if you are not ruthless in your management of them.
Just remember that every push notification is a potential distraction. What’s worth being distracted for?
For me, I track several Twitter accounts for work, which I sometimes need to respond to immediately. That’s worth a push notification. But do I really need to know right now that such-and-such is following me? No. So that’s not worth a push notification.
You’ll have to make these determinations on your own, but my advice is to err on the side of cutting, slashing, eliminating push notifications. You can always go back in and add it later if you realize you really need it.
Primility as a mindset for positive change
Whenever we are attempting to make a change, big or small, it’s important to humble ourselves with the thought that there is no way to get a different result by doing what we’ve always done.
Because, as a former boss once told me:
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
You can’t expect change without changing first. The action must be taken before the new state comes into being.
What can you change today to help beat back hyperconnectivity from controlling you?
Flickr Creative Commons Image via David Blackwell.
[Editor’s note: This is an update to a post was originally published on July 10th, 2001.]