Jul 21, 2020

Win back your attention and focus

I bought my first smartphone in Apr 2013. It must have been a similar entry time for most of you in India, +/- a couple of years. In a time span of less than a decade, we have become addicted to this device. Some of us even take it to the restroom. No, I don't do that. Except for restroom, smartphone travels with me everywhere around my home 🙂

It's worth thinking about how we have become so addicted to our phones in such a short period of time. It isn't entirely correct on our part to blame the device. Our smartphone has made our lives easier in multiple ways - be it cab booking, grocery shopping, navigation, instant payments, capturing photos and keeping in touch with our loved ones. When we use it as a functional device, we seem to be in control of it. But when we start using it as an emotional crutch / boredom banisher / a way to escape from reality / coping mechanism to distract from uncomfortable feelings, that's when we yield the control and we feel we are completely addicted to our smartphone.

Because of mobility, form factor and multiple use cases it caters to, it might seem like smartphones are addictive. But in reality, the apps we install on them are what makes them addictive. 

As a first step, review the apps you have installed on your phone. Using a tracker (like Digital wellbeing on Android), identify the apps where you spend most of your time.
Uninstall the app(s), if possible. 
Set a usage time limit, say 1 hour for Youtube. 

More than the "Screen time", I believe we need to keep track of the number of "screen unlocks" per day. How many times do we pick up our phones in a day? On average, I pick it up around 45 times a day. For a 16 hour wake time, this comes to around 3 times an hour. What's the need for me to pick up my phone every 20 minutes?

The solution isn't only about cutting back on apps or setting time limits. We need to win back our attention and focus. Remember our school days or the nights before an exam - we would sit and study for hours at a stretch, completely focused without any distractions. I remember there were days when I used to study for 3-4 hours at a stretch. How many times in the past 4-5 years did I ever focus on something for that long? Maybe, a handful of times to be honest. 

We haven't lost our ability to focus. It is just that we have stopped training it. It is like muscle memory. It isn't gone away, we can bring it back. 

I have been trying this focus challenge for myself and I can see it is helping me quite a bit.

Whenever you are doing a task, focus completely without checking your phone. The task could be reading a book, cooking, going for a walk, washing dishes, writing an article, working on a report, watching a movie(duh, I know! We check our phone while watching a movie too!). 

Jot down the times for each day. Pen and paper work best.
Date | Activity | Focus time
19th July | Cooking | 45 minutes
19th July | Reading | 30 minutes
19th July | Writing | 25 minutes
If you would like to use an app to track such activities, I'd highly recommend Forest app. I had mentioned it in an earlier blog post as well.

The objective of this challenge is to increase "Total Focus time" as days pass by. If in Week 1, you are clocking 2 hours of focus time per day, then aim to increase it to 2.5 hours in Week 2. Gamify this experience for yourself. 

As for me, I want to bring down the number of screen unlocks to around 20 per day. My current "Focus time" is around 4 hours per day. I plan to increase it to 6 hours.

If you try this challenge, do let me know how it went for you. Would love to hear your experience.

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