Dealing With Distraction - How I've Simplified My Life

So I was sitting at dinner with friends and of course we were all typing away and staring at our phones, that's what geeks do, right? Anyway, someone mentions we should play the game where everyone puts their phone in a pile and the first person to grab theirs buys for the table.

A game is a good idea, right? This seems like a great idea.

I think the rest of the table must have thought so because just about everyone unanimously picked me as the loser before the game even started. While nearly everyone I know has a problem with putting down their phones apparently I have a bigger problem than all of them.

There's more to life than your cell phone.

Heck, there's more to life than a screen on any computer, phone, tablet, TV or whatever device you prefer. Some folks know this better than others and I am most definitely one of those "others."

What happened to my plans to get in shape? To spend time with friends and family? To walk my dog at least once a day? To simply have a conversation with someone in person, enjoy a book or some music or anything that doesn't involve computers?

It was time for me to deal with my addiction.

Lets face it, social media and the internet in general for so many of us is an addiction. It's the easy way out from "real life" encounters or other actions we don't want to participate in. For me turning to my computer or my iPad or phone had become almost compulsive. After all, what if I missed something? What if.... well, you get the idea.

Not only has the web become mindless entertainment for me but the endless, and mostly pointless, updates from nearly every source imaginable had become more important to me than real people and real activities. It was time for a change.

Step 1: Turn off the noise

Some people can quit something cold turkey. I did it with cigarettes myself when my son was born but stepping away from the screen for me has been a lot harder and, unlike cigarettes I must have access to many of the most addicting sites and networks for my career. Therefore, instead of just turning everything off completely I've started by turning off the noise. This means no notifications on any device or computer for anything except my phone, text messages and what I absolutely need to get my job done. Even those go off from 8:00pm to 8:00am Monday through Friday with very few exceptions.

While trying to figure out how to work my way out of my addiction two things came to light. First, when my phone beeps for anything I had it in my hand and unlocked faster than a dog has a stray piece of chicken dropped on the floor. Second, I never stopped at the incoming message (or whatever set my phone off). Sometimes I never even checked what cause the ring and immediately went for other apps to "check something." Turning off notifications instantly removed the trigger that, when I did put my phone down, always brought it right back to the forefront of my mind.

Step 2: Reduce the static

How many of us are members of dozens of social media sites yet only ever really bother with 1 or 2? Worse, how many of us stalk Facebook or Twitter or something else even when we don't have anything to post. I know I'm guilty of both.

The truth is there is no need for this and my answer has been to really trim my networks. I started by deleting everything I've posted to Facebook since 2009. This included all my photos, updates, likes and even people whom I didn't actually know. The idea here is not only did I see nothing but noise on Facebook but I was also part of the problem. The number of garbage political and other memes I've re-shared over the years is just mind-boggling. It had to go. In addition I've set a rather strict rule for myself that I will not like, comment or share on anything except for sharing my blog posts or responding to threads in the one or two professional groups I'm a member of. The result is I have no real reason to go there anymore. Once every few days to a week is fine and I know longer feel like I'm missing anything now that I know I won't be reacting to any of it anyway.

After Facebook their was Twitter. I took the opposite approach here as my use of Twitter is almost totally professional. Instead of deleting years of content I deleted the list of all 800 or so people I was following and started re-following only people who have something to say. So far I'm back up to following about 130 people and I still have room for more without losing any chance at interaction. Now I can get through my Twitter friends' posts in a few minutes each night and actually get something out of them instead of just scrolling through the endless garbage that had been filling up my feed for far too long.

Step 3: Turn off the rest

OK, I'm not quite here yet but I'm getting close. I still have Instagram, UnTappd and Foursquare on my phone and still use them all regularly. I need to dump those like all the games I've managed to get rid of (I'm proud to say I no longer have a single game on any device). I think what this comes down to is I need to stop worrying about competing for points in some app instead of saying hello to a good friend. The apps are not important. If I'm going somewhere where I will have time to kill I have a Kindle with close to 50 books I haven't read on it. In other words, there are better ways to occupy my time.

The Result

While I still have a long way to go I've gotten so much better. If this means that I don't reply to your comment on this post right away or to your Tweet or other communications within a few minutes, I'm OK with that. I've been reminded that I can interact with friends and family in real life without forgetting everything else that comes through. Now that I can get the important messages without all the noise I think that both life and work will be a lot better.

So next time I see you at a restaurant or the bar lets play that game where the first person to grab their phone buys. I could use a free drink as, this time around, I won't be the loser.