I’m in the midst on an experiment. I encourage you all to join in. The experiment is designed to highlight just how distracted I was by my mobile phone, and highlight how effective app designers were at diverting my attention.
Tristan Harris is an ex software designer at Google and Facebook. I won’t opine here about his work on the philosophy of App Design and our overall well-being in engaging with technology, because you can access it better via his excellent TEDTalk here:
Or, if you have more time (and I advise this), spend a car journey listening to this podcast:
What I want to recommend you do here is to follow a few basic steps to stop your mobile phone distracting you. In doing so you can get back control, be more focused on what matters, and be much more productive.
Apparently (according to Tristan) a phone notification, designed to lure you into an App (e.g. Facebook) will distract you for an average of 23 minutes! Here are the crucial steps designed to vastly improve your time, and prevent this from happening:
- Go into settings, then notifications, and turn off all notifications relating to machine updates. Keep on those relating to people. E.g. turn off Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (all social media), App updates, News updates etc, but keep on Texts, WhatsApp, Email, Calendar etc. Remember you can go into these things and check when you have time and your focus on something else will not be harmed.
- Move all Social Media and non-essential Apps from your Home Screen. Put them in folders in the 2nd screen, and reserve your home screen for Tools only (Camera, Maps, Calculator etc).
- To enter an App pull down and use the search facility. This means you are making a conscious choice and won’t be distracted by an adjacent App. For iOS users, turn off Siri Search suggestions as well.
- Periodically shuffle around the order of your Apps and App folders. That way muscle memory won’t sub-consciously take you into certain, commonly used Apps, you’ll have to reacquaint yourself with their location. Again a crucial step to enforce your conscious agency.
- Notification vibrations and noises induce stress. To minimise the pre-identification uncertainty associated with these pings and buzzes customise these signals to differentiate from home and work for example. Give certain regular contacts their own unique signals.
It’s working for me already, yet what has disturbed me (as someone that hopes to possess the zen of a budding philosopher) is just how bad I must have been before! Those silly (but hilarious) accidents on YouTube, those sodding likes and re-tweets on Twitter, and those irresistible “someone has tagged you” messages on Facebook. Who knows how much time I have wasted down these attention sapping rabbit holes!?
These steps won’t affect your general conscious and premeditated use of these Apps and Sites. They won’t stop you missing out on anything, as you can go in when you like on your own terms (I must admit I was worried that I’d miss the latest newsflash, but lets face it, if WW3 breaks out someone in the office is bound to tell me!). These steps will mean that your sub-consciousness won’t be cunningly manipulated by psychologically advanced tricks and traps designed to grab the maximum “attention real-estate” for site owners in order to make money from a queue of eager to exploit advertisers.
Give it a try, I am pretty confident you won’t regret it.