In an ideal world, I don’t need to resort to taking my own distracting toys away in order to be present or to concentrate on what’s important to me. But there came a time- yesterday- when I needed to face the problems I’ve been having with discipline and focus and take some action.
I Wasn't Always Addicted to My Phone
Lemme rewind for a second. There were a few very disciplined years of my life, and they were the most peaceful and functional ones I’ve experienced as an adult. Please do notice that I said peaceful and functional, and that I did not say productive or busy; though they were also largely productive. Those closest to me tell me that they view me as a disciplined or at least moderating personality, probably based on these years. I have learned that I do well emotionally, physically, spiritually, creatively when I actively cultivate discipline and routine.
But I’ve been slipping. Over the last year and a half or so I’ve lost a good deal of my consistency and will power. I think it was a necessary foray into the arenas of comfort, leniency and distraction, personally, and I am doing my best not to reproach myself about it (one of the lesser traits of my personality.) I feel that this phase is no longer serving me, however, and it’s time to get back on the horse.
So what happened one and a half years ago? Well, it was right around the time that my entire life fell apart. A relationship I was sure was going to end in marriage ended in a break up. I started two new jobs simultaneously. I had to start again with nothing. And, I got a smart phone.
Smart Phone Addiction
Recently I've realized that the key element of what separates a day that feels fulfilling and a day that gives me an empty feeling as it draws to a close, is how much time I spend on my phone. This observation has taken time, attention, and some testing. It's held up. I'm not a person who inherently rejects technology, fun, or even distraction. There's a time for everything in life, but it's generally accepted that the constant use of smart phones has rapidly become ubiquitous and intrusive. Intrusive, and possibly addictive. When a behavior is compulsive, when it's difficult to stop, and when it interferes with other aspects of life, its an addiction. I personally can only name a small handful of people who I think do not have an addiction to their phone.
I've started to feel that every time I'm doing anything other than idly using my phone, I'm winning. In fact, pretty much whatever I'm doing is perfect so long as it isn’t check-check-checking texts, email or social media. Now, that’s not to say I don’t have other bad habits I’d like to break, but this has just leaped to the foreground of the most prominent and destructive one. My name is Hallie Rose Taylor, and I'm an addict.
What I Deleted
I just deleted Gmail, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and a few other applications from my phone. My goal was not to make my phone useless or only for phonecalls, as that’s simply not practical for my life or business. My goal was to take away at least several of it’s directionless entertainment aspects. It’s not entirely benign now, but it’s much more boring and less attractive; less useful for those dopamine shots that get us addicted to a repetitive behavior. If I were to check on everything I have to check on, it'd now only take a moment rather than potentially 3, 5, 10 minutes or more if I had emails.
My use of some of these apps was already very little. I didn’t scroll through Twitter reading everything (or even a sizeable chunk) of what was said, clicking links and going down the rabbit hole. I would open it to check any notifications, compose a Tweet, and maybe look at anything if it’s at the top of the list and happens to catch my eye. This is pretty minimal usage, sure, but also entirely unproductive and useless for me. And yet, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been doing this probably 5-10 times a day. That adds up to probably 5-15 minutes a day, or 35 min-almost 2 hrs a week. Isn’t that depressing? That one had to go. If I want to utilize it, my account still exists and I have a computer.
Tumblr I hardly use anymore. I posted daily in 2014 when I completed a painting or drawing everyday, but since then my use of the site has pretty much tanked. Still, I’d just open it and scroll for a minute a few times a week when I didn't want to face my tasks for the day or an uncomfortable feeling. No use in that one sticking around.
Pinterest was something I used before I really found my direction in life. I had a few glorious, exploratory years when I was cooking everything from scratch, gardening, and DIYing all over the place (yes, there's an overlap here with the years I spoke of earlier), so it was useful then. After a while, it briefly took over a chunk of my day, so I quit using the site pretty much cold turkey. After a couple days I had almost completely forgotten about it. Recently I’ve taken it up again purely because I’ve found it to be useful during the R&D phase of some illustration projects. For some reason it was installed on my phone, which I just don't need because I'm usually around my computer during these kinds of work sessions.
The other applications were just things that I used once or twice and don’t need cluttering up my screen, such as Lyft. You’ll notice that I don’t have a Facebook (and haven’t for about 5 years, with a similar negligible withdrawal period as Pinterest), or I’d probably remove that as well.
Then, there’s Gmail. This is the doozy for me. Work inquiries, follow ups, reactions, and trouble-shooting happens through email for me. It’s a huge part of operating my business. But I found myself checking my email (with either hope or dread- usually a mixture) while out with friends in the evening, before bed, early in the morning before work, while taking a pee, and perhaps most sacriligiously, while out in the woods or by the river. These are not the times for professional input or output. I have work hours for that. It had to go. Since yesterday I have gone to compulsively check my email on my phone a few times and it's taken a second to remember the removal.
What I Kept
I kept all my utilitarian apps that I use not as a distraction but as legitimately helpful tools.
I also kept several apps that I lump into loose category called “education.” This includes my bird and constellation identification apps and Duolingo to practice Spanish. It also includes GoodReads, where I add to my booklist anytime I hear of a title that sounds fantastic.
Instagram. Oy, vey. With some of the changes they’re making to the app, I may end up deleting it sooner than later because it may become substantially less useful for me. But, for now, it’s a huge part of my business. I'd still consider removing it, but I can’t post from a computer (kind of the point.) I’ll need to find some ways of disciplining myself with my overuse of this app while I still have it. I’ve found some success already with my refusal to check my phone for the first hour I’m awake, and I plan to expand on that.
If only Dribbble had a mobile app, I'd keep that one as well (sorry Dan and Rich.)
The Goal of Deleting These Apps
One of my goals is to have more of a distinction between work time and non work time. The actual creation of art appropriately straddles that line, but administration work is what needs to be efficient and compartmentalized to avoid letting it take over more of my life than it needs to. This is also a tactic for anxiety management.
Another goal is to keep my use of the internet and social media intentional and valuable rather than something that takes away from my life. I’m restarting an old habit of making a note anytime I want to look something up or learn about something on the internet, then setting aside a definitive time to do that. About four times out of five I find I actually have no interest in reading about the thing I wrote down, but it was likely a way of procrastinating.
As always, the meta-goal is a meaningful and happy life.