How to use a smartphone productively

You’re not getting more distracted or more stressed out. You’re not less focused.

We all are.

Smartphones and the social media we access through them have created an attention economy that is wrecking havoc on our brains.

You and your attention are the product that billion dollar corporations are fighting for. Your smartphone is the biggest battleground.

They win when you scroll the feed.

Entrepreneurs win when they create value in the world.

Value creation takes patience, commitment and focus. Checking your conscious focus out of the attention economy makes focusing on your goals much, much easier.

In order to create, you have to unhook and detach from the firehose of social media.

The same devices you use for content consumption are the ones you’re supposed to use for entrepreneurial creation.

And that’s a big problem.

With billion dollar companies hiring thousands of top computer and behavioral scientists dedicated to keeping you as “engaged” as possible… you can no longer afford to treat your phone like a non-entrepreneur “civilian” treats their phone.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, you must make a conscious effort to opt-out of the attention economy.

You have to prevent yourself being the product these companies sell to advertisers.

Here are five ways – ordered from easiest to the most “nuclear” option of all – to free your mind:

1. Gain self-awareness

Psychotherapist’s often tell their clients “consciousness is the first step”.

Being aware of a problem that was previously outside of your conscious-mind awareness is the first step to actually solving it. You can’t apply willpower and push yourself to change something, if you don’t know you’re doing it!

Ironically, there’s an app for that.

The iPhone app Moment – try Checky for Android – literally records the number of times you check your phone.

Install it, and the results might just horrify you.

If you’re a big desktop social-media user, google around for a similar tool to track your usage on your laptop’s OS. There are dozens.

The mind-blowing part of measuring your phone use comes when you think about what you were supposed to be working on during those times where you stopped – several times per hour – to check something on your phone.

Once you see how much it’s happening, you’ll realize how disruptive (to your entrepreneurial effectiveness) this knee-jerk conditioned behavior is.

2. Purge Your Smartphone apps

The next step is to literally change the definition of what’s possible – or at least what’s easy – on your smartphone. Get those icons wiggling and start deleting.

Facebook, Twitter… any social media platform that makes money by selling your eye-balls to advertisers. Get rid of it. Get rid of them all.

Most entrepreneurs these days NEED to use some aspect of these platforms for work-related, important goals. You don’t need to completely shun them… they’re useful tools for reaching customers. You just need to treat them as precisely that: Tools.

Social media belongs on your desktop computer as a place where you sit down to do serious work. Keep your phone for one-to-one communication (messaging, phone calls) and other on-the-go tasks. Turn your usage of social media into work not leisure.

By not letting the boundaries blur, you can better be a creator … rather than being trapped in the rat-maze of content consumption that turns you into a product yourself.

The next level app purge is to actually do the same for news-media: Get that stuff off your smartphone too. Either go on a total news-diet, or check your preferred publication once or twice a day – formally – by sitting down and navigating to the site on your proper laptop.

Better yet, just subscribe to a quality print newspaper and never read the news online.

The shift in your clarity of thinking, mindset and overall reduction of your anxiety and cynicism about the world will blow you away.

The goal here is to eliminate the mindless checking-and-scrolling behavior that occurs random intervals throughout the day.

Reclaim that time and give it back to your projects. Your overall general anxiety will also decrease, at roughly the same pace as your mental energy explodes.

3. Optimize for creation (apps for input, not output)

Now that you’ve eliminated the algorithmic, psychologically soul-sucking distractions from you phone… it’s time to optimize it as an entrepreneurial creation device.

A smartphone is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Da Vinci would’ve killed for one. And you can bet your business that he wouldn’t have used it for playing Candy Crush.

There’s a very simple mental shift you can make to turn your smartphone into a creation tool:

Optimize for input, not for output.

Download the apps that are tools for you to put your thoughts/content into the phone, instead of apps that put thoughts/content from the phone into your head.

For example:

  1. Use spare moments throughout your day to profoundly improve your self-awareness via the practice of journaling.
  2. Use any of several beautifully designed writing apps to articulate your most meaningful thoughts about your work. Write stuff that’ll matter to your customers or employees, right now or in the future.( There are scant few businesses that won’t benefit from the founder producing content in some form.)
  3. Most importantly, use to-do list and notes apps – either simple repositories or complex archival systems – to record your best ideas. Shower thoughts, ideas-while-driving, useful quotes, nuggets from inspired conversations… they’re all only as good as your ability to remember and act on themThis is why at Commit Action, we include our priority task-planning web-app as part of our Executive Aide service.

A smart phone can be a powerful augmentation of your biological brain. Think of it as a futuristic cybernetic enhancement merely accessed via eyes, ears and fingers.

Are you using yours to make your brain better, or is the phone using YOU for someone else’s agenda?

4. Turn off push notifications

(… for messenger, email and any communication apps)

Your made-up sense of stress and busyness is driven entirely by the speed and urgency of digital communication.

Pause for a second.

Consider that Rockefeller and Carnegie built empires via snail mail.

Answering that email within minutes of it arriving will do nothing to further your business success.

To return your powers of focus, calm and centeredness you must remove the ability for practically anyone you’ve ever met to interrupt you at practically any time.

Almost everything can wait. And if it can’t? They’ll call.

Switching off message notifications doesn’t mean opting out of digital correspondence. It simply frees you to check and process such messages with intention.

Sit down – like the great leaders of business who came before you – to attend to your correspondence exactly when you mindfully intend to.

Ideally, do this after actually accomplishing something with your day.

There’s a critical difference between the value you create as an entrepreneur versus the act of merely talking with others about the value you create.

Taking control of your messaging habits means knowing this, and prioritizing the meaningful actions that actually grow your business.

5. Get a dumb-phone or smart-watch. Or just… escape.

Lastly and most horrifyingly of all – for any smartphone addicted readers – is the idea of unhooking from the remotely accessible internet.

For the last few years the only way to do this was to commit a sort of social harakiri: Trade in your iPhone for some sort of numeric-key-pad dumb-phone.

Today, even Apple themselves have identified the need for people to unhook from the firehose of data iPhones spew ceaselessly into their mind’s.

Their answer: The Series III Apple Watch.

(I’m not an Apple affiliate, just a huge fan!)

A smartwatch with independent phone and SMS abilities can be tweaked to ignore all other forms of notifications. The first thing you should do, if you own one, is drastically reign in it’s ability to ping your wrist.

You can use a Series III Apple Watch (or equivalent) to combine the tips in this article. Do all of the above and strategically guard your actual phone number itself, so that only a handful of crucially important people can text or call the old fashioned way.

Doing this means that your smartwatch can free you from distraction, like only a dumb-phone could.

You can untether and go out into the world: Sit in a park or coffeeshop, work, read, thinkand do all of these things uninterrupted by trivial digital distraction.

When was the last time you read a book for thirty minutes without checking a device?

(I believe the honest answer to this question is one of the most disturbing truths about human focus and effectiveness in 2018.)

Of course, you could just realize the truth: That these elaborate focus games we’re playing with ourselves are totally unnecessary if we can just develop the self-awareness and confidence to unplug, switch-off or simply leave the phone behind.

You could realize that spending time each day outright disconnected isn’t just a quaint and relaxing vacation idea but is an essential part of clarifying your thinking, your focus, your execution and your ability to create something of substance.


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