distraction-reduced iphone

published 17 Apr 2013

I recently tweeted about a life-hack article titled “The distraction-free iPhone (or ‘Why I’m happier since I disabled Safari’)”. The general gist is that our phones are taking over our lives, and acting as not only a procrastination device, but a distraction from what is going on around us.

“Checking email, checking Twitter, checking news. Wondering if something interesting was happening anywhere in the world. Wondering if anybody was thinking about me.”

Although I love how powerful our phones have become, this is definitely something I have started to feel over the last couple of years. It is especially disturbing when going out to lunch with fellow software engineers and only making conversation when someone comes across an interesting tweet, or an amusing image on instagram. This consumption of information is somewhat of an addiction, and while I tend to focus on consuming only what is relevant from the business side of things – I avoid the social aspects of twitter and similar services – am still guilty of indulging in it.

On reading this article I decided it was definitely a time for a change. Due to my commitments to osu!, osu!stream and puush, I knew that I could not completely lock myself out of services which brought incoming real-time communications which could require immediate response, so after some very deep consideration I began to form an action plan. I felt it was worth writing up exactly what I have decided on, and my reasoning behind each decision.

So, this is my iPhone’s only home screen:

my new home screen

Using Springtomize (a jailbreak tweak) I am able to hide not only icon labels, but any apps which I don’t want appearing on my home screen. I am also able to disable spotlight and pagination completely. Using this technique, I am able to hide Tweetbot and Facebook while still receiving incoming notifications via notification centre. There is no way to access these application (which would be the main sources of information) as long as I do not receive incoming communications.

Let’s run through each of the apps I have left visible and installed, from top-left to bottom-right:

  • Messages my primary method of communication with nearby friends.
  • authy two factor authentication for services such as google/gmail, cloudflare, dropbox etc.
  • 1password password manager. technically also a web browser, but i don’t use this in anything but emergencies.
  • Photos because people always want to look at your photos, right?
  • Fantastical my calendar app of choice. quickly able to schedule events and check what is coming up.
  • puush easiest way to get photos off the phone when necessary (i don’t like to sync with a PC).
  • osu!stream mainly just for display or showing people when they ask about it. i considered removing this but it’d just feel wrong.
  • Clock alarms are handy.
  • Google Maps maps are also handy.
  • Naver en-jp Dictionary the simplest yet most comprehensive english-japanese dictionary (imho).
  • Reeder this is a weird one, since it’s a 100% procrastination tool. it is an exception to the rule because i only use it before sleeping to get my daily dose of news and comics.
  • Simplenote cloud-synced memo.
  • Mailbox i actually prefer Apple Mail for serious mail, which is why i chose to use mailbox. it limits what i can do, and has a very optimal workflow for scheduling mail for later perusal.
  • Clear the absolute best to-do / bucket list app out there.
  • Music i couldn’t live without music.

You may be wondering where system setting are. I actually have a few more apps hidden in an invisible folder, which are utility-class apps that are necessary for maintenance of the phone itself (Cydia / App Store / Settings) or useful in emergency situations (iTap Remote Desktop / Prompt SSH / Dropbox). Out of sight, out of mind, until the day they are necessary.

So far I have not looked back. It sure does limit what I can do with my phone, but I don’t see this being an issue. I have already noticed a reduction in the number of times I mindlessly reach for my phone when I don’t actually have a particular task I need to perform.

I urge others to give this a try. You don’t need to go the full way (like Jake in the original article) but why not try cutting back what you use your phone for, and spending more time paying attention to what is going on around you; interacting with those that are close to you; taking in more of life. We already spend so many hours in front of a PC screen, after all.