Five Steps to a Distraction-Free iPhone

I don’t use the word addiction lightly. But for a long time I was addicted to my iPhone. I ignored the people around me in favour of emails, tweets, games, and videos. Without my phone I felt uneasy. I’d panic, searching everywhere until it was found. Sometimes I’d arrive at the office only to discover I’d forgotten my laptop at home. I never forgot my phone.

I had a false sense of importance. What if someone needed to get in touch with me immediately? What if an important email came in and I missed it? Heaven forbid.

More than that, I’d forgotten how to be bored. If I was waiting in line, I’d stare at Twitter. Sitting on the toilet? Checking email. Riding on a busy streetcar? Playing whatever IAP-filled game I’d downloaded that week. I had trained myself to reach for my phone constantly.

It was time for a change. I decided to do a 30-day experiment. I was going to break my iPhone addiction.

Step 1: Delete/Hide Apps

If it had a useless feed, it was gone. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, you name it. Ditto for games. If an app wasn’t bringing a ton of value into my life on a daily basis, I got rid of it.

Here’s what remains:

  1. Photos, Calendar, Clock, Maps, Music: I love seeing photos of my niece, knowing about my events & meetings, waking up time, being able to figure out where I’m going, and listening to music.
  2. NYT Crossword: Nothing gets my brain moving better in the morning than cranking through a crossword. Okay, maybe coffee.
  3. Banktivity: Keeping a close eye on my finances.
  4. Kindle & iBooks: Much easier than lugging 100 books around in my backpack.
  5. Overcast: I’ve pared my podcast subscriptions down to the bare minimum. No longer do I feel the need to keep up with shows I don’t care about.
  6. Medium: Teaches me something new every day.
  7. 1Password, Banking, Uber, and Evernote: Sometimes I need a password, to transfer some cash, hail a cab, or find a note.

That’s it. Digital clutter is a lot like physical clutter. You don’t realize how much mental energy it was using up until it’s gone.

Step 2: Turn Off Notifications

I was constantly bugged by notifications. Sorry, distractions. How many apps truly need to get my attention immediately? Damn few.

A message from my wife? I want to know about it.

New phone call? Ditto.

Calendar reminders? For now. Those might go too.

I turned everything else off. And I’ve been enjoying the silence. Want to reclaim your time and attention? Here’s how to turn notifications off:

  1. Open
  2. Tap on Notifications
  3. Consider which apps on the list truly need your immediate attention on a daily basis
  4. For every app that doesn’t make the cut, tap on it and switch “Allow Notifications” off.

Step 3: Remove Mail

Most emergencies aren’t emergencies at all. And any true emergency isn’t going to show in my inbox. Compulsively checking my email wasn’t a productive use of my time. Now I batch it — usually twice a day during the week. And never first thing in the morning. I often go all weekend without checking my inbox.

Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Open
  2. Tap on Mail, Contacts, Calendars
  3. Tap on each account and switch Mail off

Stick the Mail icon somewhere you won’t look. I use a folder labeled 📵 for those pesky, un-deleteable apps.

Step 4: Hide Safari

Controversial, perhaps. If you’re anything like me, your mobile browsing is less “exploring the infinite world of knowledge made possible by the internet” and more “checking IMDB to see if that actor really was on ER once.”

If I really need to look something up, I’ll ask Siri or briefly re-enable Safari. But it hasn’t come up much. Browsing can often wait until I’m at my laptop.

To disable Safari, you’re going to have to dive into the Restrictions settings.

  1. Open
  2. Tap on General
  3. Tap on Restrictions
  4. Tap Enable Restrictions
  5. Enter a Restrictions Passcode
  6. Switch Safari off.

Step 5: Disable iTunes Store, App Store, and In-App Purchases

The killing blow. I’m trying to be more intentional about how I spend my time, attention, and money. These three weren’t helping me accomplish that goal. They had to go. In-App Purchases are particularly troublesome. We’re all smart people here, but I’m sure I’m not the only who has regretted buying a sack of coins, or gems, or whatever.

Here’s how to deep-six ‘em:

  1. Open
  2. Tap on General
  3. Tap on Restrictions
  4. Enter your Restrictions Passcode (or create one)
  5. Switch iTunes Store, Installing Apps, and In-App Purchases off

I’ll be the first to admit — some of these steps were really hard to take. I’m still trying to shake the habit of reaching to my left pocket when I have a spare moment. But I’m more present with the people around me, spend less time consuming mindless crap, and feel less stressed.

I no longer allow my phone to run my life. I use it intentionally, and only in ways that support how I want to spend my day. It’s made a huge difference in my overall happiness.

If any of this resonates, I encourage you to give it a try, if only for a week. You can do anything for a week, right? After seven days you can go back to your old habits.

But I suspect many of you won’t.