I’m stood on the platform, waiting for the train and I don’t know what to do. I look down at my phone, unlock it and immediately my thumb reaches out for the ‘Instagram’ app like a small child would his/her favourite chewed-up blanket. I stop. ‘What are you doing Justin?’ I ask myself.
After a brief moment of reflection – I finally commit. *Cue cheesy Hollywood line: ‘I should have done this a long time ago’.*
Then, I hold down the application and hit the delete button. I do the same for the Snapchat application.
‘It’s finally done’ I tell myself as I sigh of relief and smile to myself. I had finally deleted all of my social media apps on my phone. The awaited train then arrives and I spend the next 30 minutes on the train both reading and taking notes from my current book: ‘Touch’ by David J. Linden.
This action was not only one that brought me relief but was also one that was coupled with fulfilment for a counter-intuitive reason. Let me explain:
Wait, why ‘finally’? And didn’t you only delete two apps?
Back when I was in university, I first started to really notice how much procrastination was involved in my day-to-day. I had told myself for years how I was good at avoiding procrastination and how I was not like others, but this was a really just a self-conducted lie. I was getting important tasks completed, but I knew deep down that I could have been completing the work to a higher level and a lot faster too. During university a close friend and I decided to not have any social media applications on our phones for a week or 2. The intention behind this was to rid of procrastination.
Being more focused and more productive during those two weeks were results that I expected but was pleasantly surprised to actually have obtained. But, once the two weeks were over – I reinstalled the social media apps and scrolled through the endless backlog of notifications like a drug addict having their first guilty high. It was an odd temporary satisfaction that then had me feeling lazy and unproductive after the initial high ended.
Months later I committed again to not having social media apps. This is something I have actually stuck to till this day. One day I decided to delete Facebook and Twitter off of my phone. These are apps I refer to as ‘scrollers’ – apps that have an endless feed to them… thus emulating the endless spiral of procrastination. I only kept Instagram and Snapchat knowing that they were apps that I had to have in order to post anything. As whilst Facebook and Twitter had web counterparts that allowed me to post on them, for Instagram and Snapchat – the app is the only way of actually posting and engaging with others.
But now I’ve finally deleted those apps too…
The best and worst device in the world
The invention of the smartphone is a funny one. The device has allowed us to connect with people all around the world with such ease, yet it’s also the very device that has made real, social interactions harder to tackle. The situations weren’t any less awkward before the dawn of smartphones, but we simply didn’t have the option to pull out a quick game of Flappy bird in a quiet elevator.
This is also the device that has allowed us to be extremely productive and get an awful lot of complex tasks done very easily… but of course, it’s also a massive procrastination centre that we carry around with us EVERYWHERE! There is a multi-billion-dollar industry in grabbing our attentions on our devices and keeping it for as long as possible. Allowing this to consume us, is really what I have a problem with. I want to be able to use my phone for helping me and enabling me to execute tasks that I may have not been able to without a phone – all whilst maintaining great focus and concentration. With social media apps existing on my phone, I knew that this was going to be a difficult task.
Deep Work and A Practical Tip for Focus
In the incredible book Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about his concept of focusing and working with a great depth of time and concentration rather than working on a shallow level. Deep work is a valuable skill which doesn’t come from habit, but instead comes like any skill, if it’s not recently practiced – you can’t just pick it up at will. Cal compares this deep level of work to how you wouldn’t be able to just pick up a guitar and be great at it if you hadn’t played and practiced before. So my understating take away from hugely insightful book is that to execute deep work constantly is extremely important and like a muscle, should be worked on and pushed consistently to enable you to tap into it at any time.
For me, I knew that the notifications on my phone were something that took me out of ‘deep work’. Even if my phone was on silent, the quiet vibrate of my phone was enough to take me out of focus for a second – which according to studies shown in Cal Newport’s book, show that it takes only a few seconds to be brought out of deep work, yet it will take almost 20 to 30 minutes for the brain to work at that same level of focus, concentration and execution that it was undergoing before my phone buzzed to let me know that my auntie wanted to invite me to play candy crush.
A practical step I took in order to prevent any of these kind of distractions that would pull me out of deep work: was to simply turn the ‘Do not disturb’ setting on my iPhone on. You’ll find the little moon crescent icon located in your control centre. More on how to turn on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.
Engaging with boredom
Deep work is what produces results and makes great work – both of which I wanted. But as we learnt earlier, deep work was something that had to be practiced and could not just be summoned at will as our brains were not designed to keep distractions at bay. We must instead take action and eliminate distractions ourselves. I achieve this by turning on the ‘do not disturb’ mode but also by deleting my social media applications.
One reason I did this was because of I knew I had to ‘engage with boredom’. Let me explain:
Whenever I’m ‘bored’, I immediately open up either Instagram or Snapchat (my two remaining social media applications). This could be whilst waiting for the next train to arrive when stood at the platform, whilst waiting for the kettle to boil when making delicious green tea and even sometimes when I’m simply waiting for a friend to arrive at a destination when I’ve arrived slightly ahead of time. This creates a big problem.
If the next day, I want to perform deep work and write something without being interrupted and distracted – I may lock myself in a shed. This is what a lot of famous writers are known to do – with the intention to be undisturbed and extremely focused. However, as we have not consistently practiced deep work and we have engaged with distractions during our everyday, when it actually comes to being focused – (EVEN when we are locked in a shed without our phones) we crave a distraction and our mind wonders.
Unfortunately a lot of writers actually disguise this issue as ‘writers block’ – as if it were a problem which they cannot move past with ease, when actually there is really a simple and very practical solution. Delete all social media and distractions from the device that sits in your pocket all day and instead ‘engage with boredom’. Now that I’ve deleted my social media applications, when waiting for my kettle to boil, I briefly meditate or just look out of the window – which has proved to be extremely effective for innovation and being creative. When waiting for a friend at a destination, I look around at buildings, architecture and sometimes shop marketing techniques – I try and learn something in those few minutes.
This ultimately gives me the ability to be comfortable when boredom strikes. I can just bring my attention swiftly to the main activity and continue on, without triggering a habit impulse in my brain to scroll through something and see who my distant, third-cousin is going to take to his prom in 6 months time on Facebook and Instagram.
Deleting my social media applications and putting my phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode gave me back the control over the one device that we tightly hold onto wherever we go, like a baby and their milk bottle. I can now engage with boredom and make it my b*tch! Being extremely focused and productive along the way. Statuses about the weather, selfies, candy crush invitations and old relatives sharing articles about sex ed… you won’t be missed.