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Just about everyone has a smartphone nowadays, they have become, for most people, indispensable.
Though there are still a few hardcore resisters clinging to their Nokia, and telling anyone who’ll listen how great it is that they haven’t had to charge it in three months, we don’t generally see or hear from them, as they didn’t get the party invitation as they’re not on FB messenger or WhatsApp, and even if they did, they couldn’t find the venue as they don’t have google maps…
Technology is Almost Always a Double Edged Sword
Of course I’m being facetious, but there is some element of truth in the above.
The impact and uptake of the smartphone has been so huge, and has changed the way in which we communicate and interact so dramatically, that to not have one is, though perhaps not impossible, highly impractical.
Communication is what makes us human, and the smartphone in our pockets enables us to communicate easily, instantly and cheaply with any and all of our contacts from (almost) anywhere, at any time. If you choose to opt out of the smartphone club, you are making it harder for people to communicate with you, and vice versa.
But is this unlimited possibility of communication a good or a bad thing? It’s why most people have a smartphone, but also the reason some people see them as a menace to productivity and good mental health!
Typically, opinions we come across online or in the media are sensationally polarised: Technophiles selling us the limitless possibilities and benefits of every new invention, or technophobes lamenting the golden ages of times gone by, when we lived in peace and simplicity without pollution, distraction, and needless stress.
The reality, however, in my opinion at least, is always somewhat more nuanced.
Pretty much any technology can be used wisely with good intentions, and provide benefits for the users and the wider population, while at the same time there is typically also the potential for unwise, destructive use, be it intentional or accidental.
This has always been the case since the dawn of man and simple stone tools, through to the combustion engine, and now GMOs and AI.
Smartphones are no exception to this phenomenon.
They can have many potential benefits – facilitating communication with friends and family, navigating around strange cities, enabling you to conduct business from anywhere in the world. You can also find the answer to any question, listen to (almost) any piece of music ever recorded, and read any book or watch any film anywhere at any time. Lost or injured in an isolated place, a smartphone can literally save your life.
On the dark side, they can be a source of constant interruption and distraction, potentially causing stress and anxiety. Endless notifications and alarms clamouring for our attention. Potentially important messages from close friends and family get lost in the noise of meaningless chatter. Groups of friends sit around tables in the pub in silence swiping through Facebook feeds, and people forget to look at the actual view while spending 10 minutes deciding on which instagram filter to use. When the user is driving, or even just walking, these distractions can even prove fatal!
The following are my top 5 strategies to ensure that you get all the potential benefits, out of what is, in reality, an amazing and truly revolutionary piece of technology, whilst avoiding the potential pitfalls and downsides.
1) Remove Black Hole Apps
I personally have no games or social media apps on my phone. I use my phone for communicating and navigating, so these features simply aren’t necessary.
I do have some “leisure apps”, in the form of Feedly, Kindle, Google Play Music, Podcast Go and a Guitar Tabs app, so I can read, listen to music or podcasts, or play guitar/ukulele while travelling, but I don’t have any “black hole apps” as I think of them, where you can get sucked into mindlessly swiping for eternity.
If you really enjoy social media or gaming, that’s cool, but have them on separate devices such as a tablet or PC, and just log onto them during scheduled downtime.
If you don’t have any other devices or still want to use such apps on your commute or other such occasions, another option is to just remove the apps from your home screen, so that you can’t see if you have new messages/updates, and you have to open the app drawer to access the application.
2) Switch Off App Notifications
This is particularly important if you’ve left some Black Hole Apps lurking in the background of your phone – a message pops up on your screen to tell you that a vague acquaintance commented on a funny photo of a cat, and next thing you know 2 hours have passed and you’ve got RSI in your thumb from excessive scrolling…
It’s not just time-wasting apps for which you should switch off notifications however, but also for email and Facebook messenger.
Again there is the option to remove these apps altogether. I have actually removed FB Messenger from my phone, and just check on my tablet/PC. Email I have installed on my phone for when I go travelling without my laptop or tablet, and may need emergency access, but in general I never check email on my phone unless I really have to.
Aside from being potentially distracting, reading and writing emails on a small screen is likely to lead to communication errors through misreading/mistyping/distractions. It’s better to sit down at your PC and deal with email at pre-scheduled times and do it properly (after you’ve already got your important tasks for the day done as email is certainly another potential black hole!) .
3) Have Separate Lines of Communication for Clients, Colleagues, Acquaintances, and Close Friends and Family
I recently took out some insurance, and the agent I met with was communicating with his clients via email, phone, social media and WhatsApp. The poor guy didn’t know whether he was coming or going, bamboozled by a constant stream of queries and questions from all sides at all hours. Complete madness!
>Only close friends and family have my personal telephone number and WhatsApp.
>Friends and family who I want to keep in touch with, but not urgently I have on Facebook messenger.
>I don’t have colleagues as such, but business contacts I communicate with via phone and email.
>Clients I only communicate with via email.
Personally, I find that in general it’s best to make it pretty damn difficult for clients to get in touch with you.
Possibly right now you are thinking “Are you mad? I’m going to lose all my business!”.
Obviously, you need to have alternative systems in place, rather than just ignoring potential customers.
But why are clients trying to call you? Most likely to gather information, or to book an appointment/purchase your products or services.
You need to make all these processes easy to do via other means. A well designed, sleek, easy to navigate website and/or some kind of secretary or virtual assistant should be able to handle this for you.
Sometimes a complaint may require the personalised touch of a phone call, but it’s much better that it’s you calling them, armed with all the relevant info and a solution, rather than being caught on the back foot by an angry caller.
4) Limit Call and Text Notifications to Close Friends and Family
I have become a master at ignoring phone calls. Along with restricting email access to 1-2 times per day, never answering an unknown number has been one of the most useful lessons I learned from The Four Hour Work Week.
It’s very unlikely anything bad will ever come from ignoring an unknown number. Just let it go to voicemail, and get on with whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing.
When you’ve finished, you can check the message, and if it is something potentially interesting, you can call them back after doing some research and preparation, and you’ll be in a better position to maximise the benefits than had you taken the call at the time. If on the other hand it was just a time waster, you’ve avoided the hassle.
The chances that someone is randomly dialling numbers to give away their fortune to the first person that answers the phone are fairly slim. Or if they are, it’s a scam, best left unanswered!
A handy tip is that on most smartphones, you can assign different ring tones to different contacts, so you don’t even have to look at your phone to know whether or not you need to consider taking the call.
Also, if you use WhatsApp (which everyone does here in Spain) or other similar internet messaging apps, be aware that you can turn off notifications for group messages (essential for sanity), which leaving them on for personal messages, or even turn off for specific contacts.
5) Use “Do Not Disturb” Mode to Filter Out Unsolicited Calls and Notifications
This may have slightly different names and functionality depending on your device (i.e. interruptions or blocking mode), but on my phone it’s called “Do Not Disturb”, and I have it activated permanently!
Within my Do Not Disturb Mode, there is the option to add exceptions.
This means that any calls from unknown or blocked numbers don’t even ring, they just get instantly rejected and sent to answer phone. Activating this feature will also save you individually turning off notifications for each individual app, which is pretty handy.
Use Your Smartphone, Don’t Let it Use You
So those are my top 5 tips for keeping your smartphone in check.
In this way you can reap all the benefits, without the negatives of constant distraction and time-wasting.
At times it’s good to unplug 100%, so as an extra 6th step, I also like to occasionally switch into “Airplane Mode”, therefore cutting out all possible interruptions, especially if I’m out hiking or meditating.