There is some staggering research that shows how much our electronic devices are stealing away our attention, success, and even happiness.
To combat this, I challenged myself the past two weeks to work on improving my focus by limiting my usage of social media, email, and electronics in general.
If you didn’t read my last post, the basic setup for the experiment was limiting my email and social media usage to only specific times of the day. In addition, I limited my podcasts usage and started implementing “focus walks” regularly.
This short experiment was simple but far more challenging than I anticipated. However, I noticed some very interesting effects that can help both you and I improve our focus.
Top 10 things I learned from my social media experiment.
10. Get to sleep earlier.
Most of us would admit that we play on our phones before going to bed. For me, I normally catch myself checking out some Snapchats or watching a YouTube video or two before calling it a night.
When I first cut that out of my nighttime routine, I felt like something was missing.
I would brush my teeth, change, and hop in bed to settle down for the night. After getting in bed, I felt the urge to instantly grab my phone and start scrolling before falling asleep. When I resisted this urge, I had a strange feeling that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do instead…oh yea, go to sleep!
Since I wasn’t looking at my phone before going to bed, I got to sleep 30 minutes earlier, on average, than usual. This difference may seem small but can be the difference between feeling rested in the morning and feeling drained.
9. More purposeful mornings
The very first morning of this experiment I messed up! I woke up, turned off my alarm, and popped open Instagram all in one swoop, without even thinking twice about it.
Just as quickly as I opened my socials, I realized what I was doing and put it away. However, it was crazy to see my natural tendency was to just open the phone and start scrolling.
After this minor road bump, the rest of my mornings were quite nice.
I would wake up, realize that I couldn’t use the phone at all, and instead just dive into my morning routine.
This got my day started on the perfect note.
8. Restricting social media reduces the urge to get on it at all.
In this experiment, I didn’t completely remove social media, I just gave myself very specific and short periods of time to use it. One such period of time was on the ten minute shuttle ride from my parking lot to work.
I noticed that when I only had ten minutes to get on social media and scroll around, I felt less inclined to get on it at all.
I thought I would be using that time to go “binge mode” on everything I missed, but my mindset was different. Instead, I found myself thinking, “I’ll never see everything I missed in only ten minutes anyway, so why bother at all?” This actually gave me a breath of fresh air and led to some nice conversations on the ride to work.
7. Not all podcasts are created equal.
Since I could only listen to podcasts in the car, I became far more picky with what I selected.
A single two hour podcast ended up taking at least four car rides to finish. This made me have to decide whether or not certain episodes were worth my time.
I quickly saw which podcasts gave me real value and which were just filling the air.
In case you’re wondering, I ended up listening to one episode each of Tim Ferriss, James Altucher, and Jocko Willink, along with several sermons.
6. Notifications are a trap.
Several times I opened my phone for a specific reason (to find a picture, send a message, or schedule something in my calendar) and found myself back on social media, before I even knew what happened.
Sometimes, I didn’t even make it to the original task before being pulled in by the red notification flag. I had to constantly remind myself what I was trying to do before.
This really drove home the point that notifications are what suck us in.
5. Using a “distraction list” can save your focus.
During the work day, there were times when something would pop into my mind that I wanted to look up.
Normally, I would pause what I was doing and pop open another tab to look it up.
This time, I tried something different.
Whenever a distracting thought popped into my mind, I would just note the thought in a word document for later.
By the time I was allowed to get on the internet, I would have a list of things I wanted to check out. Looking up every item on the list, however, would take far longer than the time I was allowed to use the internet. Just like with picking podcasts more wisely, I had to decide which things were most worth my time.
Using a distraction list saved my focus!
4. Less phone = better work
I didn’t trust myself to not use my phone during the work day. So instead, I placed my phone on the other side of my desk, out of my immediate reach.
This allowed me to completely detach myself from the phone and put all my focus on my tasks.
Without exaggerating, these were some of the most productive days I’ve had at the office.
I snagged a green tea, threw on some house music, and then dove into my work.
With this separation from the phone, I was able to complete a project in two days that would have normally taken a week.
The quality of my side hustle work also drastically improved.
In an effort to improve my writing, I’ve been using the the question and answer platform Quora. On Quora, people post questions about life and other people can go write answers. The answers with the most “upvotes” go to the top and therefore get seen by more people.
This is a great place to work on your writing since it gets seen, and judged, by other people.
In this two week period, I accumulated over 1600 upvotes and over 100,000 views on articles I wrote!
This felt amazing considering that I just started writing 7 months ago.
These results proved to me that undistracted work is of far greater quality.
3. More time to read.
This increased productivity spilled over to my time outside of work.
Without distractions from my phone, I knocked out my list of priorities quicker than I anticipated. This gave me extra time at night to read and relax, which almost never happens.
Reading is a huge part of my life. Having extra time at night to dive into my books was alone worth the difficulty of this entire challenge.
2. Increased presence with people.
Without having to worry about notifications, I was able to be more present with the important people in my life.
One example was swimming with my girlfriend on the weekend. During our swim, I had a sense of complete presence that I wasn’t used to.
Nothing that was going on in the world of the internet mattered.
All that mattered was the sun, the music, and our conversation.
Another time occurred when I helped my mom pick up some shrubs she cut in the yard.
Without my phone on me at all, I was able to give her my full attention and enjoy this rare but meaningful moment.
The people in our lives are what make our days meaningful. Don’t let your phone rob you of the limited time you have with them!
1. My new favorite habit – Focus Walks
One part of the experiment was to regularly take “productive meditation” walks or “focus walks” as I call them. This is where you take a walk with the intention of focusing on only one topic.
These walks quickly became one of my favorite new habits.
Much of my daily stress comes from being so “in the weeds” with my work that I don’t have time to think deeply on topics that are important to me.
These walks became my safety valve for thinking.
I became less anxious during the day because I knew I would get to take a walk completely devoted to thinking.
While I haven’t had any life changing epiphanies yet, there were other awesome benefits.
My favorite effects were my calmness and creativity after each walk.
By taking time out the day to do nothing but think, I found a more space and peace in my mind.
When I would get home from the walk, the ideas began to flow. I would get home and go straight upstairs, open my laptop, and let the ideas flood out of my mind with no hesitation.
You name it and they were flowing!
Ideas for business, relationships, fitness, articles, spirituality and much more all effortlessly transferred from my brain to my fingers and my fingers to the keyboard.
This will be a habit that I make a staple in my life. I suggest you give it a try!
- The beginning and ending of each day becomes more peaceful and purposeful without a phone.
- Limiting your time on social media and the internet makes you far more intentional about what you look at.
- Physically separating yourself from the phone increases your productivity on work and presence with people.
- Focus walks can increase your calmness and creativity.
Overall, the benefits I got my from this experiment far outweighed the challenges.
So much so that I’m going to use these principles to limit my technology usage more often.
I recommend you try it too!