Constantly checking your phone? Sidetracked by emails and apps? Use these tips to change bad tech habits to good

Hack back your smartphone

Change how you check the time


As someone who hates being late, I used to glance at my phone throughout the day, causing me to get sucked into a notification on my phones lock screen. Instead, I started wearing a watch again. Just because your phone can seemingly do everything, that doesnt mean it should.

Rearrange your apps


Tony Stubblebine was the sixth person to be employed at Twitter and is fully aware that the platform was designed with human psychology in mind. Now editor-in chief of the popular Medium publication Better Humans, he recommends sorting your apps into three categories: primary tools, aspirations and slot machines. Primary tools, he says, help you accomplish defined tasks: getting a ride, finding a location, adding an appointment. There should be no more than five or six. He calls aspirations the things you want to spend time doing: meditation, yoga, exercise, reading books, or listening to podcasts. The third category, slot machines, are the apps that you open and get lost in: email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Rearrange your phones home screen so that it includes only your primary tools and your aspirations, continues Stubblebine. If the app triggers any mindless checking from you, move it to a different screen.

Stop notifications


In 2013, Apple announced that its servers had sent 7.4trn push notifications. Six years later, few people do anything to avoid those external triggers. According to Adam Marchick, CEO of mobile marketing company Kahuna, fewer than 15% of smartphone users adjust their notification settings, meaning the remaining 85% allow app makers to interrupt them whenever they like. An audible notification is the most intrusive. Ask yourself which apps should be able to interrupt you when you are with your family or in a meeting; I only grant text messages and phone calls this privilege. After sound, visual triggers are the second most intrusive form of interruption. I only allow the red circles on the corner of an apps icon, and I grant this permission only to messaging services (email, WhatsApp, Slack, Messenger).

Hack back email

Cut out the spam


Some spammy marketers make it hard to find the unsubscribe button, or keep sending you emails after youve opted out. For these, I use SaneBox, a program that runs in the background as I use email. Whenever I encounter an email I never want to hear from again, I click a button to send it to my SaneBlackHole folder. SaneBoxs software ensures that Ill never hear from that sender again.

Slow down the email ping-pong


The key to receiving fewer emails is sending fewer emails. Instead of banging out a reply and hitting send right away, email programs such as Microsoft Office and tools like Mixmax for Gmail allow us to delay a messages delivery. Whenever I reply to an email, I ask myself: Whens the latest this person needs to see this reply?

Never open an email more than twice


Checking email isnt so much the problem; its the habitual rechecking that gets us into trouble. Does this sound familiar? An icon tells you that you have an email, so you click and scroll through your inbox. While there, you read message after message to see if anything requires a reply. Later in the day, you open your inbox and, forgetting what was in the messages you read earlier, you open them again. If youre anything like I used to be, you might open and reopen some messages an embarrassing number of times. Instead, the first time we open an email, only do one thing before closing it answer the question: When does this email require a response? Tagging each email with either Today or This Week attaches the most important information to each message (those that dont need a response at all should be deleted or archived immediately). My daily schedule includes dedicated time for replying to emails Ive tagged Today. In addition, I reserve a three-hour timebox each week to plough through the less urgent messages Ive tagged This Week.

Hack back feeds

Eliminate automated feeds


Just because Big Tech uses sophisticated algorithms to keep us scrolling doesnt mean we cant hack back. A free web browser extension called News Feed Eradicator for Facebook does exactly what it says: it replaces alluring external triggers with an inspirational quote. Another free technology called Todobook, which works across several other social media sites including Reddit and Twitter, replaces the feed with the users to-do list; only when it has been completed does the News Feed unlock.

Embrace bookmarking



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