Working smarter by dumbing down your smartphone

by Mark on November 14, 2010

Aren’t smartphones great? Many people seem to think so since more and more of them own one these days. You can make phone-calls, send text messages, process your email, read the news, look up information, play games that are much cooler than Snake or check out the latest YouTube videos. Not only are they a fancy accessory that let you show off how cool, trendy and rich you are but the best part is you never have to miss out on anything again; you’re always connected and up to date! Great right? Nope,.. WRONG!

In love with gadgets

I have always loved gadgets and innovative technology. I loved owning the newest phones, game-consoles and PC’s that I could afford. Of course I liked the fact that people thought it was cool that I had that stuff but mostly I loved trying out what it could all do to enhance my life. But, as most things go, the novelty wears off and what’s left is “just another thing”. But somehow it’s different now…

Me being a little bit of a geek, I loved the features that have been appearing on the new mobile phones over the past years. How amazing to be able to get in contact with people wherever you are and, even better, wherever they are; (nowhere to hide anymore!) How great was it to take pictures and videos of random things you ran into while on the road? I really enjoyed the increasing connectedness and the ability to get in touch with friends in so many new ways. Recently however, I’ve noticed that this increased connectedness seems to be turning on me.

Always connected

Not only are we connected by phone-call, text-message and email, all the social networks have also crept onto your smartphone. Great right, now you can tell (random) people all the random things you encounter throughout your day, without the need to go home and fire up your computer. To be honest, I still thought this was pretty cool. But to be able to be updated about current (random) events in the world, the amazing tech-people introduced to world to…. Push messages! No more need to even fetch and open your messages, they just download themselves and open themselves right away! Can you believe it? Someone sent you an email or posted on your Facebook wall and you knew within 5 seconds. (*Quick! Reply! He/She is probably still online anyway because you noticed so fast!)

No more!

And this is where it started turning on me. People were starting to expect me to read every message they had sent me and reply instantly. Sure I could understand that because, truth be told, I used to like being able to do that.
However, I was working on a project a while back and had my phone lying on my desk (in silent mode). It was then that I started to notice HOW MANY TIMES I was actually interrupted from the actual work at hand by that annoying buzzing of the phone. *Bzzz.. Email* … *Bzz… Email* … *Bzz WhatsApp-message*,.. *Bzz*..*BZZ*..BZZ..BZZ..BZZ..BZZ.. ARRGH!


I’m not sure why I never noticed before but since then I started to pay more attention to it and it started to scare me. My best gadget-friend had turned from something that used to enhance my productivity into something that was actually sucking the productivity out of my day. The possibility to browse the internet, watch videos and get in touch with people are already enough to consider your smartphone an enemy of productivity; It’s pretty much Procrastination-heaven waiting in your pocket. But as long as it’s in your pocket and shuts up, I can deal with that temptation. However, thanks to the brilliant technicians our smartphones are now push-messaging their way out of our pockets.  (Next-stop, Procrastination-heaven!)

Fighting back

Thank goodness I still remember that I am supposed to be in charge of my life (and pants) and I decide what deserves my attention. So what I did was: I remembered what it was I thought was so great about my smartphone. It was the ability to access people and information anywhere, at will. And I guess the magic is in the “AT WILL” part. Everything was perfect until the phone started thinking it knew better than me, and this started me flooding me with things that were supposed to be interesting and required my immediate attention.

I guess my smartphone got a little bit too smart for my (and eventually its-) own good. I decided to remove all push-functionality from my phone. Whenever I want to read my email, I’ll just open the application and wheel it in. I did the same for my Facebook and twitter apps, although I’m even considering removing them completely. (It’s harder to procrastinate on social networks if they’re no longer installed) The only push-functionality I left in place is WhatsApp, since it works just like a normal text message.

Wrapping up

I’m really happy with the choices I made to take a technological step back and dumbed down my smartphone a bit. All the good stuff is still there but I decide when it gets my attention instead of it screaming for mine.
Having messages buzzing and beeping for your attention is a real killer for your concentration and thus your productivity. Take a moment to decide if you really need to get all that pushed information right now or if it can just wait until later. Some of it can wait until you get home, some of it can wait until you completed your to-do list or perhaps until you’re on the bus/train/metro.

Don’t let your phone outsmart you into broken concentration and procrastination, show it who’s boss!

Previous post:

Next post: