Distraction-free phone

I reconfigured my phone to reduce distractions. Now I spend less time on my phone, and more time doing things that are important to me.

The problem I was trying to solve

Checking certain apps on my phone had become a default action for me. I’d feel an urge to check them many times a day. Email, Slack, Twitter and The Guardian are my guilty pleasures.

Sometimes a quick check could turn into 20 minutes of browsing and reading content. At the same time, I was struggling to find time to do other things that are more important to me.

Make Time

A few months ago I read Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky (the guys who wrote Sprint).

Make Time describes the apps that suck up our time through endless streams of content as Infinity Pools. They’re designed to get you into a dopamine-induced loop that keeps you checking for updates,

For some of us willpower isn’t enough to stop going back to them. You have to break the loop by changing your personal defaults.

The book describes 87 tactics for prioritising things that matter to you and staying focused on them, by reducing distractions and increasing your energy levels.

I’ve been trying some of these tactics, including #17 Try a Distraction-Free Phone.

Reconfiguring my phone

I did the following to reconfigure my phone:

1. Remove social media apps

This was easy. I’ve been gradually removing these anyway, and only had Twitter on my phone. I’ve removed that and re-added it a few times in the past.

This time I’ve terminated Twitter for good.

2. Remove news apps

I have a love/hate relationship with news.

I’m a sucker for US political news right now, in the age of Trump. But I’m not convinced how healthy it is to know what’s going on thousands of miles away, all of the time.

The Guardian app is now gone.

3. Remove email and Slack

I spend enough time in these when I’m on my laptop. I don’t need them on my phone.

4. Remove browsers

I removed Firefox, and then disabled Safari via the ‘Screentime – Allowed apps’ settings.

It feels a bit weird that I can’t click on links that people send me via Whatsapp. But if I really need to look at something, it’s easy to re-enable Safari.

You might ask what the point of having a smartphone is, given I’ve just removed these apps from it. But I still use my phone for loads of useful things, like:

  • getting directions
  • buying train tickets
  • listening to music
  • moving money
  • taking and uploading photos

I’ve just removed some of the things that were distracting me.

Combining with other tactics

As well as removing these Infinity Pools from my phone, I also tidied it up. Tactic #20 Clear Your Homescreen, left my homescreen looking like this.


This is nice and clean. It also means that if I open my phone to check a message, I’m less likely to get drawn into looking at other apps.

Tactic #19: Nix Notifications left only those 3 apps on the homescreen with any kind of notification enabled. I have to manually check all of my other apps.

One of the main reasons that I would pick up my phone (and then sometimes be distracted by it) was to check the time. The battery died on my watch and I never got around to replacing it.

So I tried Tactic #21: Wear a Wristwatch. I bought a new watch, and now I check my phone less. Simple.

I removed Twitter and The Guardian from my phone, but I was still checking them pretty regularly on my laptop.

So I also tried Tactic #28: Put a Timer on the Internet. I set up Leechblock on my laptop, to only allow access to those 2 sites between 7am and 5pm. Now I don’t get distracted by news and Twitter in the evenings, or first thing in the morning.

Making time

Through a combination of these tactics, I spend a lot less time distracted by my phone and laptop now.

I have more time to do things I value. I’ve started reading more books. I exercise more.

I’m more aware of my surroundings. If I’m waiting for a bus, for example, instead of pulling my phone out, I can just stand and notice the things going on around me.

I’m more present with other people. When I’m playing with my son, I don’t feel the draw of my phone in my pocket any more. Instead I can focus fully on more pressing matters, like building a “big big big big big Lego T-rex”.

And I’m writing a little more too. Like this blog post. More to come 🙂

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