I’m not against mobile phone technology.
On the contrary, I find smartphones to be very useful especially from a Minimalist’s point of view.
Besides contacting others, you can access many forms of content without having to own stacks of books, CDs, DVDs or magazines all from a device small enough to fit into your pocket. There’s also less need to own certain physical tools such as calculators, stopwatches, maps, or cameras and the quality continues to improve each year.
While this sounds great, it’s not without it’s shortcomings.
The more things you use your phone for, the more cluttered and distracting it can become.
Since around 2009, the amount of third party apps made available has soared through the roof. Alongside that there are even more social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many more each with it’s own set of notifications that demand your attention.
Have you ever unlocked your phone with a very specific intention only to find yourself spending several seconds staring at the dozens of square icons all begging to be clicked?
Have you ever unlocked your phone and forgotten what you had planned to do (even if it was only a few seconds ago) because something else on your screen managed to pull your attention away for a split second?
I know I’ve certainly experienced both of these situations many times and I know just how frustrating it can be.
Of course, you could choose not to own a phone at all. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
But there are many ways of which smartphones can compliment a Minimalist lifestyle but only if they’re used with intention. Let’s talk about how you can do that.
Remove apps you don’t need or use
I look back at 2007 with nostalgia.
Back then, when the first iPhone was released, all of the built in apps fit nicely on one screen and it didn’t support third party apps. Despite it’s lack of function compared to todays standards, it was incredibly simple to navigate.
Now however, with more apps than ever (and numbers rising), you may find yourself littered with apps such as retailers, social media, loyalty cards, utilities, and loads more.
This used to be my greatest frustration of digital clutter.
Having your home screen packed with apps is often unpleasant on the eye and in my own experience caused me to constantly forget what I was doing in the first place.
Does this sound familiar?
Fortunately, if the digital world is generous about one thing, it’s that smartphone apps can always be downloaded again later.
This means, you can delete apps you don’t use without fear of loss.
If there are any apps you’ve held on to just in case you may need them someday, yet haven’t used them in over 30 days, it’s probably best to say goodbye.
Try deleting them and see how your focus improves.
For apps that you do have to use but only occasionally, I’d suggest hiding them in a folder out of sight until the day you need it. The same thing goes for apps that you don’t use that cannot be deleted.
Remember, there are very few online accounts (such as energy bills) that cannot be accessed from the companies website on your computer. This is good if you’d rather limit what you do with your smartphone to minimise distractions.
If you genuinely use a lot of apps and you use them all constantly, then some clever organisation may help. This post shares some good ideas for doing that.
Clear your inbox (and keep it that way)
Email never used to be the problem it is today.
Besides having to sign in on the website of your provider every time, it also required a computer making it nowhere near as convenient as it is right now. (Well, you could do it from older mobile phones but it was often slow and a lousy experience.)
Over the last 5-10 years, email has changed in a number of ways:
• You can access your emails through an app without having to sign in every time
• You can quickly access your emails from your phone
• You can be notified the moment you receive a new email
• More and more companies and websites use your email address as a username
Having quick access to your emails is great and can save you time and energy as it is to this day a very useful tool.
But with more and more companies asking for your email address, the potential for distraction and time wasting is extremely high.
Make sure you unsubscribe from any online retailers especially ones that you don’t buy from but maybe made a one off purchase. Being constantly bombard by promotions can create more digital clutter than anything else.
I like to reserve my email for personal use and to follow blogs I find interesting.
When you need to buy something, you can do so just fine without having Amazon sending you their latest deals that they think you might be interested in.
You’ll also want to make sure your spam filters are working.
By spam, I’m referring to junk emails you never signed up for from an unknown sender, usually offering an illegitimate product that you likely have zero interest in like digital door-to-door sales people.
More than likely your email service has a “mark as spam” feature that learns what junk mail looks like and sends it straight to the trash before it ever gets to your inbox. If it’s an unfamiliar or suspicious sender, I’d recommend doing this rather than clicking to unsubscribe as the links in the email could potentially be malicious and harmful.
Even if this saves you just a few minutes every day, the time really does add up and can really help to improve your focus.
The last thing I’d recommend is turning off audio alerts when receiving new emails. Hearing a beep, ping or vibration every time you receive a new email can encourage you to treat it like it’s urgent.
9 times out of 10, email is not urgent.
You don’t send an email to the fire department when your house is burning down.
If you know somebody who does, I’d say it’s time you had a word with them…
Schedule your boundaries
I’m yet to meet a single person who enjoys being cold called.
But, telemarketers aren’t all you have to worry about when it comes to mobile phone distractions.
As mobile phones have grown, so has the amount of people using them and across a wider age range too.
These days, more people than ever before carry mobile phones with them at near enough all times of the day and on top of that, there are even more ways they can be used to communicate from voice calls to text messages to video calls to email or even social media.
This ubiquitous idea leads many to believe that they have the right to contact you at anytime and that you will always be available regardless of how inconvenient it might be for you.
You may find this idea unsettling. If you do, that makes two of us.
Your personal time might just be your most important human resource and it deserves to be respected and appreciated by others.
In some cases, these interruptions can be resolved the old fashioned way by asking people politely not to contact you after certain hours unless it’s an emergency. Close friends and relatives will more than likely understand.
But if it’s a recurring problem among many different people, you may have to let the technology deliver the message for you.
I know people who flat out put their phone into aeroplane/flight mode whenever they don’t want to be disturbed. While this may work for some, it’s not always practical for true emergencies like when a family member is rushed to hospital.
My own preference is to use Do Not Disturb for iPhone (Android Marshmallow and later should have the same feature). I schedule it so that everyday before 8am and after 8pm, no calls, texts or notifications sound from my phone unless they’re from somebody on my favourites list which is useful if there ever is an emergency.
You can choose which ever method suits you but I greatly recommend having some sort of cut-off if you like savour your personal time without interruption.
It can also do wonders to make your home all the more peaceful.
Simplify social media
Social media is not necessarily a bad thing.
Although it can never truly replace the value of good face-to-face conversation, the ability to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences with other like-minded people is one of the most beautiful things that the internet has enabled us to do in the past 10-15 years.
Of course, there is another side to this coin.
If left uncontrolled, social media has the potential to distract you 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Like email, this wasn’t as much of a problem when social media was accessed almost strictly from a computer and notifications were contained within the site.
With smartphones however, you receive notifications at anytime even if you’re not actively using your phone.
Every time your Facebook status is liked, or someone comments on your post, or tags you in a photo, the ping of your phone can often feel like people are poking you in the arm, constantly demanding your attention for some of the least important things.
Not just that, you could be walking in the middle of a busy street, driving on the motorway (freeway if you’re from America) or even dealing with a family crisis. In situations like these, your phone buzzing and vibrating can be very inconvenient.
Sadly, as long as people can’t see how this effects you with their own eyes, there’s little that can be done to change their behaviour.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t live a simpler, focused and more fulfilling life while still enjoying the benefits of social media.
The first and possibly most important thing you can do is deactivate push notifications.
This will prevent your phone from alerting you every time somebody interacts with you online. You’ll still be able to see who’s liked your photos when you access the app but you won’t be alerted until you decide to be.
If switching off notifications all together sounds a bit far out of your comfort zone, then try disabling all notifications apart from when somebody sends you a direct message (you may have to login to your account via your computer to change these settings).
Another thing you might want to consider is unfriending or unfollowing people who you don’t really talk to in real life but still have to see everything that they talk about on your feed.
Some good questions to ask when doing this are;
• Have you spoken to the person recently?
• Do you have much in common with them?
• Can you picture the two of you going out for coffee and having a fun conversation?”
Sometimes people from work or education may add you as a polite gesture.
But chances are, they already have a group of friends that they regularly interact with and could really live just fine without being friends with you online.
There’s really no reason to feel guilty about unfriending or unfollowing people. You can still say hi to the person the next time you see them even if you don’t interact online.
Again social media is not evil.
Despite how it is used (and abused) by the vast majority of people, it still has the potential to do good for your relationships.
Like seeing recent photos of your loved ones that you don’t get to meet with very often because they live so far away. Or having a funny conversation with your friends to the point where you find yourself laughing hysterically throughout the day making whatever drudgery in your workplace that much easier to endure.
Social media can add value to your life but only if used it intentionally rather than addictively.
Now that your smartphone is simplified and distractions are reduced, here are three things I would encourage that very few people ever do.
First, give the people next to you your attention, make eye contact, listen to them, smile at them and laugh with them. Connect with them in ways that are so engaging that they wouldn’t even consider ignoring you. There’s always time to catch up with people online later.
Second, respect the time and attention of others the same way you do your own. Treat the ability contact somebody like an exclusive privilege and with consideration. Who knows, they might even follow your example!
Finally, whatever you choose to do with your phone, whether it be reading a book, listening to music or watching a video on cake baking, do it with intention. Don’t do it as an indulgent habit to do when you’re upset or frustrated. Do what you do because it brings you joy and be mindful of every word, image and sound.
Smartphones CAN compliment Minimalism
True, a phone is unlikely to be the most important aspect of your life.
But there’s no reason why it can’t serve you with a way to; connect with those you care about, be productive wherever you happen to be or simply entertain yourself in an infinity of different ways to suit your tastes.
And all while decades ago this would have required you to carry around hundreds of things, today it can all be done from just one device.