Ditching your smartphone – is it for you?

I’ve written before about digital detox, and the benefits that reducing electronic clutter and dependence on devices has had on my productivity, and mental health.

This weekend, I was interested to read a story that started in the tabloids about Simon Cowell, who has reportedly given up his mobile phone for the last ten months.

On the surface, this seems like a great story, but it got me thinking. Here is a successful businessman, taking control of his dependence on devices and looking after his mental health. Cowell says he spent a lot of his time ‘irritated’ at his phone and then annoyed at others using their phones while in meetings.

Simon Cowell is not alone, plenty of notable names have talked about detoxing from devices, but the truth is that these people can afford to do that.

Ditching your devices is the ultimate luxury – giving back time and privacy in one fell swoop.

I’m sure that I could ditch my phone if I had people around me that would use theirs instead.

The reality is that most of us run our lives ourselves, using our phones as an essential tool to stay in touch with work or friends, access goods and services and sometimes get entertainment.

However, there has to be a balance.

Its fair to say that there are definite issues with over-dependency on smartphones and tablets, data tells us that many people look at their phones within 15 minutes of waking up and work-life balance can be severely impacted by intrusions into leisure and rest time.

Solving this requires an investment of time and effort, but there are simple steps that you can take that will help.

  1. Reduce the number of notifications and alerts that disturb you or break concentration. Switching off pop-ups, removing red ‘badges’ and uninstalling apps that generate alerts are good steps.
  2. Schedule periods of time without your smartphone nearby. These unbroken times of concentration can drive high productivity.
  3. Remove smart devices from the bedroom, to encourage better rest and sleep.
  4. Carefully ‘curate’ the things allowed into your inbox so that when you do handle email, you are not processing pages and pages of ‘junk’ email.

All of these steps have helped me become way less dependant on my smartphone, and more aware of the people around me.

So, whilst ditching the smartphone may not be an option for most of us – we may be able to reap some of the benefits without creating a dependency on other people to do work for us.

Digital Detox 2

As part of a spring clean – a series of posts where I document my ‘digital detox’ – reducing the clutter and streamlining my digital life. Previous here. 

Going through a Digital Detox requires a bit of discipline. The idea of reducing your interruptions, streamlining your digital footprint and making sure things are optimised means that you need to do some work to get there, but the results are good.

Since working on my IOS devices, I’ve been amazed at how much less I am drawn to my mobile devices, switching off notifications and reducing unwanted clutter and apps has made me much less reliant.   Then making sure I keep the discipline of keeping devices away from the bedroom has changed my relationship with my phone and Ipad.

Next – my Windows machines

This step was relatively easy.  I’m pretty good at keeping my PC environment clean and tidy.  I have a blocker in my calendar once a week for what I call the ‘”three d’s”.

Desktop – Downloads – Documents

Once a week I prompt myself to clear down those three folders, making sure that only the things I am working on are on my desktop.  Then I check my downloads folder and purge any temporary files that I’ve worked on.  Finally, I make sure that all the work documents I need are in my Documents folder, stored on OneDrive.

On my personal windows desktop at home, I do the same – using Dropbox to store my personal documents securely, in the cloud.

During the same process, I also run ccleaner from Piriform, a handy utility that does a bunch of cleanup activities on my PC and keeps any wasted space down to a minimum.   You can automate ccleaner, and run it on a schedule, but I prefer the full manual control.   Ccleaner also cleans cache and cookies from browsers and keeps those tidy.

I also run a full scan for viruses – using the built in Windows tools.

Removing Unwanted Apps

A final step here is to make sure that I don’t have any unwanted or unused software on my PC.  I might install something for a specific task, or to solve a particular problem.  Using your regular detox slot to remove those apps.

Desktop Notifications

A final step I’d recommend, in line with the detox completed on IOS devices last time around, would be to reduce the number of popups that you get.

I run my PC in quiet mode, by clicking on the notification icon in the System tray and selecting the quiet hours icon.

In my browser (Chrome), I am very deliberate about which notifications are allowed – you can check this by clicking on:


From there you can review which sites are allowed to pop up notifications and you can set your browser to always ask you if notifications should be switched on.  I have switched most of mine off, save a few work specific ones on my laptop. My home desktop has NO notifications at all, allowing me to focus on writing when I need to.

Digital Detox in Windows

By completing these steps, I’ve made sure that my Windows machines are clutter free. I regularly schedule much of this work and keep a close eye on anything that might disturb my workflow.

Have you undergone a digital detox – how did you do it? Share your ideas and wisdom in the comments, I’d love to learn from you. 

Digital Detox 1

A series of posts where I document my ‘digital detox’ – reducing the clutter and streamlining my digital life.

I am lucky enough to work for a Global company, with head offices in New Zealand.  The 24-hour cycle of stakeholders and communication make it tempting to be ‘always-on’.  However, responsiveness quickly eats into work-life balance, and with a small organisation, it’s not always easy to delegate.

In addition, personal projects and a general love of news & reading mean that my various devices can ‘pull me in’ quite a lot.

So, as part of a household spring clean, I’ve decided to look at some measures to declutter my digital life and be more deliberate about my tech usage.

I have five main devices that call my attention constantly:

  • iPhone 7
  • iPad Air
  • Apple Watch
  • Windows Laptop – my work device
  • Windows Desktop – mainly used as file storage for the house

Clearing down my iPhone

Whilst thinking about my digital detox, it occurred that I should start with the device that seems to cause the most issues – the smallest, but possibly most used. Home and Work, Commute and Leisure – my phone is never really far away from me.

I started with the iPhone and took a ruthless approach to removing apps that are no longer used or are better used deliberately on a desktop machine.   Checking flight prices whilst mobile? Very rarely done.  Old games? Time to go. Apps that got used once? Gone.

I pared down my phone home screen to the things I use every day:

Then I turned off nearly all the notifications and badges. I already set my phone to silent most of the time, but the dopamine hit from many notifications is pretty pointless and distracting when you are trying to focus.  I’ve left on work email alerts and WhatsApp – but set a do not disturb for between 2200 and 0600.

I removed myself from a number of old WhatsApp groups – and archived all my conversations to give me space back.

I archived all my photographs up to Google Photo – and cleared down my photo roll.

Clearing Down my iPad

I use my iPad mainly for personal things, around the house and whilst travelling for pleasure.  I read the news every day, read various RSS feeds, browse the web and look up information. I often control Spotify or Sonos with my iPad and sometimes look at social networks.

Despite that leisure focus,  I found I had installed Outlook to review work emails, and many of the tools I use at work.   So it was easy to find myself looking at work items, whilst I was in my leisure time.

This was an easy fix, I spent an evening turning my iPad into a device that I would purely use for leisure and personal time – removing work-related apps, and being as ruthless on the remaining apps as I was on my phone.

After removing Outlook, I installed my personal Gmail on my iPad – allowing only personal mail to come into my personal time, more on that in a follow-up post.

I followed the same process with notifications, reducing things down to an essential few – sports scores, news headlines from my trusted source, banking alerts and very little else.

So, now my iPad is 100% focused on leisure time:

Building a new habit

The final part of my digital detox for my iOS devices is to implement a new habit.  No phones, no tablets in the bedroom.   We all know the blue light is harmful for your sleep, and it cannot be healthy to keep these things on your nightstand, even with the night-shift or flux function to change the light.

My previous habit was to keep my iPad by my bed, reading in the evening but then creating the temptation to pick it up when the alarm goes off and start reading work email.  I’ve recently found myself scanning mail at 5.30 in the morning when what I really want is a slow wake-up and some exercise without the thoughts of work questions.

With work email gone, I now have no way to read it on my iPad, and less reason to keep it in the bedroom – so now, before bedtime I put it on charge in my home office. With no alerts of notifications, it stays silent.

This gives me one hour in the morning without a screen, to exercise and get ready for work – the first time I look at my mail is during my morning commute, to see if there is anything urgent for the day.

The next steps – my laptop and desktop, and then a focus on email and news feeds.

Have you undergone a digital detox – how did you do it? Share your ideas and wisdom in the comments, I’d love to learn from you.