Last month, the unthinkable happened. In my haste to catch my early morning flight, I forgot my cell phone at home. My phone is my tether to everything – family life, office work, meetings, CrossFit sessions, and ordering Reisens. As I started to board my flight, it was clear there were no other options – I had to get on my flight without it.
I rely on my phone for almost every aspect of my life, despite knowing its drawbacks. According to research, that the more I use it, the dumber I get. Smartphones impair our ability to remember, think creatively, or do deep analysis. They’re addictive and make us anxious. Regardless, I find myself constantly checking for new alerts within minutes. I can’t seem to quit my phone.
I’m not alone. Here are some smartphone facts by the numbers:
In this attention economy, whatever gets our attention, even for a moment, wins. While we used to wear our “multitasker” badge with honour, now we use it as an excuse to flit between app like magpies, never getting one particular thing accomplished. My wife, a psychologist and very smart person, often tells me that when it comes to cognitive function, we “use it or lose it” as we age and “what wires together, fires together.” Smartphones make matters worse by making it too easy for our brains to get quick stimulation instead of solving problems or digging deeper into issues.
So, as I sat down in the plane without my trusty companion, I decided to use it an opportunity to wean myself off my phone for at least a few days. Here’s what I learned:
With no phone to guide me to my meetings in the city, I relied on my questionable sense of direction. I even asked people – actual humans – for help. It was nerve-wracking, so I quickly made an effort to leave early in order to get to my meetings on time in case I got sidetracked.
Since I was used to checking my phone all the time, it took days to shake the desire to look at my phone in a quiet moment. Once I got used to not looking at my phone, however, I started to enjoy not getting alerts every five minutes.
In this digital age, there’s an implicit urgency to communications. Deadlines are shorter, and responses are expected right away. Since I couldn’t wade through every message, I prioritized what needed to be done on the road and what could wait. The best part? When I got home, I realized I hadn’t missed much. The world turned without me responding in lightning speed.
Without all those distractions, unsurprisingly, I was more productive. Instead of poorly multitasking, I went deeper into my work and actually accomplished things. It was an amazing feeling.
The brain is a funny thing. I can remember my best friend’s phone number when I was 13, but I didn’t know my colleague’s phone, a number I called regularly. It highlighted the need to keep my brain working and at least memorize a few numbers.
Work continued in the office without me checking in all the time. I realized that the best thing I can do as an entrepreneur is to try to make myself obsolete. I can do more for my business by doing less.
After a couple of days, I didn’t miss my phone at all. There were plenty of things to keep me connected, like my Apple Watch and my laptop. It’s easy to think that, because we’re connected, we’re also productive. The trip without my phone taught me a valuable lesson: connectivity does NOT equal productivity.