As I stared painfully at my personal screen time data, I realized it was long past time to go further in the process of taking back control of my attention. The phone had been given too much control. Four hours and thirty-three minutes still seemed like a ridiculous amount of time to be focused on that mobile screen, considering I spend most of my day staring at a stationary computer screen as well. “Drastic” measures were required.
It should be noted, higher screen times had been reported in the past, most hovering between five and six hours, some weeks considerably more than six hours, before I left Facebook. Two weeks prior to this 4h 33m report I had removed the Twitter app from my phone. I took that action hoping these numbers would drop significantly lower. The resulting decline didn’t satisfy me.
It occurred to me that there could only be one combination of factors leading to the continued high numbers. The problem was my notification settings and, ultimately, my consistent and ongoing willingness to be distracted by them. That seemed crystal clear to me.
When you think about it, it only makes sense. The phone buzzes, you check to see what’s up. You can ignore it outright, you can look and see whether it’s “important” or whether the person making an unimportant request is important. Either way, the buzz is registered. It impacts the day in ways not even measurable by the screen time monitoring.
The notifications themselves are a distraction, attention fully granted or not. in addition, the number and different kinds of notifications sometimes caused me to not pay attention to the important ones. So, I eliminated all of them, except for my text and direct Slack messages, and my Woven calendar app notifications. Without the rest of the notifications, I was forced to specifically seek out the vast majority of what was previously being pinged at me throughout the day. It was a simple change to make.
Guess what? My screen time dropped 79% that first week and another 28% the following week. With that one simple change, I had removed almost 4 hours a day of what was almost entirely distracted behavior. My interactions with the phone became purpose-driven and I began to self-moderate the seeking. The fact was, most of what I was doing wasn’t all that important.
The Greatest Gift
The best part of all of this is that the phone has stayed in my pocket in social settings, which was ultimately my strongest desire. If this pandemic has taught me anything it is this… the opportunities I have to be face-to-face with someone are precious and should be treated as special. One of the greatest gifts I can give someone is the gift of attention. I was giving out fewer gifts of my attention in a time I should have been giving out more. More gifts will be given in the days to come.
The notifications won’t be turned back on. I’ve reclaimed my attention and will be giving it to more important things. To be clear, the important things are the people I like spending time with and the activities that bring me joy.