I was playing with my daughter the other day, I had work to do but I take breaks every now and then to pay attention and play or watch some episode of her favorite cartoons on Netflix as I mentioned on a previous article. So, I was waiting for the alarm to ring and checking the notifications on my phone if there was an important email or slack message to reply to or a VictorOps ping about a production incident, all of that while playing with her Frozen toys to rescue Elsa from Prince Hans who kept her locked in the castle. When the break finished, it also meant the play time ended, the alarm rang and I said something like "oh, it's time for daddy to go back to work" while I started getting up she interrupted me "but we didn't play!", then I said "of course we played, we were rescuing Elsa" and she threw a killer argument "you were on your phone". I took a deep breath and realized it was true, truth was, I spent more time checking on my phone rather than engaging in the game with her.
We live in a very distracted world, in a very connected society, we are always online and not only that, we are always on top of our phones waiting for the next notification to come so that we know what was the latest event on someone else's life or the latest comment on something we posted or, in my case, what's the latest instant message on my slack workspace.
Seems like we are unable to focus on doing a single thing and getting it done in one sit, the ability to focus for a large span of time is lost, no matter what it is, whenever we get a notification or feel the phone vibrating inside our pocket, we dump whatever it is we're doing and check what happened, then we check other apps, then we put the phone away, sometimes we check even if it didn't beep!, why? why does a tiny device have such power over ourselves?
My daughter's statement made me realize I do that, I have that tendency to always check my phone, even if I don't have any notification, it made me feel so bad about myself, I don't want to be dominated by a device, I felt like Pavlov's dog, hardwired to change my behavior whenever I hear a beep from my phone. So, I decided to change.
I started by eliminating all temptation, I muted all notifications on my personal phone except for whatsapp and telegram, the only reason to keep those is my family, if they write I want to reply, but I muted all the groups, I'll check them only when I want to, same for social media apps.
I quit Facebook and Instagram about a year ago and I don't miss them at all, I'm only on twitter, reddit and linkedin, all of them muted on my phone and I only check them when I want to, not when they tell me hey, you have a message or hey, someone liked something same goes for gmail, I check it only when I want to, usually on my laptop.
On my corporate phone I have notifications for almost everything, that is basically slack, gmail and VictorOps, but I have silent hours for slack so I don't get bothered at all times, specially over the weekend.
The most important change is not how to setup your notifications on your phone, is deciding to change yourself and choosing to engage on the activity you're doing here and now, whatever is in front of you is what's important and should get 100% of the attention, engage!, if I'm playing with my daughter, I decided to engage 100% and be all into it, if I'm working on a project, I engage on that and fully focus on it for the time I have or decided to put into it, if I'm talking to someone I'll be 100% into the conversation, not checking my phone. Some app installed on my phone is not going to take me away from here and now, because it's the only thing we have and the only thing we live directly, a message from someone hundreds of kilometers away is not more important than whatever is in front of you, interacting face to face.
Stop letting the algorithm distract you and decide to engage!