As you know, my 30th birthday is less than a week away and I’m on a major kick to improve my life. Remember the book Good to Great by Jim Collins? I consider my life improvement objective to be more of a great to greater thing.
I love my life as it is. I have a great life. I’m fortunate in so many ways, and incredibly happy in general. But my life can be better and I can happier, and I know it. It’s not going to happen, though, not if I’m not proactive about it.
And isn’t seeking a better life and more happiness ultimately why we get up every day? Or, at least, shouldn’t it be?
Of course. Okay, now to the point.
This morning, I decided to do a little thing that I think could provide a large benefit. I’d like to share it with you.
Image source: Kristen Murphy/AP via W-Cellphones.com
The Problem of Hyperconnectivity
When I woke up this morning, I decided to do some reading from my Google Reader, which I am slowly but surely packing full of my favorite writers, specifically people who will inform and inspire me.
As an old boss once told me, our minds are like computers, and the output is dictated by the input. I’m trying my best to be more proactive about what I’m putting in so that better and more productive thoughts can come out.
Today 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. It’s a theme I’ve seen covered numerous other places, and Fields does it as well as any of the others.
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 times 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, God forbid, while driving)
- 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 is raised for all of these. Yours maybe (probably) is too, and I could go on and on coming up with examples. I think the point has been made though.
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. Today, I decided to actually start swimming, in one very particular way, essentially creating a current of my own.
Here’s what I did: I took control of my phone.
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 my mom or dad. I wouldn’t know until I looked, so I had to look no matter what I was doing (because, let’s face it, if it’s mom or dad they deserve to have the call picked up in anything but the most exigent of circumstances).
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?
First, I spent a little time creating three new ring tones. I wanted them to be fun songs that I enjoyed, but not anything too good because I don’t want to get sick of a song I really like.
And I already knew what each ringtone would be for:
- 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 #3, 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 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 1 or 2 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.
But calls were only a small part of my problem. Text messages were a bigger part of my problem, one I’ve been trying to manage better for some time now. I always check my texts, but this really is a silly policy, for one very simple reason: text messages are rarely urgent. And in the event that they are urgent, it’s a 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?
Answer: there isn’t one. It’s hyperconnectivity at its worst and most distracting.
And here is what I realized this morning about iPhone text and contact settings that I did not realize before: 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 will not create a tone, except for a few select people I gave a text tone to (most of the people who have ringtone 1 and the 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.
So how does this all tie in with primility?
Primility as a Means for Overcoming Hyperconnectivity
Whenever we are taking pride in making a change, 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. This simple concept makes perfect sense, yet I often overlook it. I wonder why change does not come easier while completely overlooking the fact that I’m expecting change without actually doing something differently to cause change.
Humbly reading Jonathan Fields’ blog post today made me realize that I was falling victim to exactly what he was describing. But instead of lamenting that and simply blaming our hyperconnected world, or feeling powerless, or simply hoping I could overcome this issue, I decided to have some pride and do something with my newly found knowledge and perspective.
And that is why now I will control my phone, rather than the other way around. All by practicing a little bit of primility.
How can you, in your own life, use primility to overcome the hyperconnectivity of the modern age?