Not so long ago we all carried a minimalist phone. They served for calls and text and maybe a few minutes of Snake here and there.
But in 2007, everything changed…
Steve Jobs unveiled the future: the iPhone 3 marked the beginning of the mobile revolution, the era of the apps and streaming.
Prepending smart before “phone” in the process, our devices are a constant source of amusement and distraction. We now spend more than 3 hours per day using our phones, a staggering 90 hours per month!
Wouldn’t you like to get 90 hours of your time back every month? I sure would!
And so we must dumb-down our phone. Make it less interesting. Less appealing. Revert the years to when phones were tools for communication, rather than time and soul-sucking devices.
And that’s exactly the goal of the minimalist phone setup. To craft a better relationship with your phone. To be in control and stop living in a reactive mode.
Getting your time, and life, back.
The Minimalist Phone Setup
The minimalist phone setup changes three paradigms of how you interact with your phone:
- Your phone is a tool that helps you get things done rather than distract. It amplifies your productivity, rather than trying to kill it
- You’ll only use this tool when you need it, rather than when it needs you. You’ll no longer live in reactive mode but consciously decide when you want to use this tool. And you put it down as soon as you’re done
- When you decide to use your phone, it requires little time from you to achieve what you set out to
Each of the next steps is designed to follow these simple principles.
Step 1: Eliminate Non-Essential Apps
“You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.” — Tom Kite
We are distracted by your phones because we seek distraction. Phones happen to be the most convenient way to get our “fix”.
So the first step of the minimalist phone is to make it less appealing. Simplifying starts with removing.
Start off easy and remove apps you haven’t used in the last three months.
Then tackle the big offenders. We spend almost two hours per day across the 5 most popular social media — YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. That’s more than 5 years across a lifetime!
The simple fix is to remove all of them. You’ll still be able to access them on the computer (if you want to kick it up a notch, remove them altogether) but not having them on your phone will immediately get you two hours of your day back. Not bad, right?
Finally, consider keeping as few infinite scrolling apps as possible.
These are apps that provide a stream of new shiny things as long as you keep scrolling. Example: news, aggregators, email, and forums. Do you really need to read the news every half an hour? While the feeds are infinite, your attention is not. Keep this type of apps to a minimum.
Now everything on your phone serves a purpose and amplifies your productivity.
Step 2: Turn Off Notifications & Sounds
“There is never a time when new distraction will not show up; we sow them, so several will grow from the same seed.” — Seneca
Notifications are someone else’s agenda.
It’s the digital equivalent of an annoying coworker tapping your shoulder and interrupting you mid-way through a Deep Work session. Or a telemarketer call trying to sell a new credit card.
Notifications feel like the Ring calling Frodo all the time. It’s time to live in a reactive mode and switch to an active stance. A minimalist phone does not tolerate someone else’s agenda.
Remove all the notifications but phone calls and text messages. Trust me, the world won’t come to an end. If it’s truly urgent, people will call.
When you want to check something, open the app and do so. Don’t let the app control you.
Then it’s time to turn off all sounds. And yeah, vibration is a sound too. Go to Settings and then Sounds and turn off the “vibrate on silent” feature. Then scroll down and set all the sounds and vibration patterns to “None”, except for your ringtone.
No more flashing lights or buzzing with new shiny things to check.
Now you control when you truly want to use your phone.
Step 3: A Minimalist Home Screen
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci
The final step of the minimalist phone is to make your home screen empty and unappealing.
When you unlock your phone, the endless supply of apps and the constant barrage of notifications and badges overwhelm you. More often than not, I would forget why I picked up my phone and would get lost in it all.
First, choose three apps to keep on your dock. I have a note-taking app, WhatsApp, and calendar. Pick your three.
Now move all the other apps into a single folder called “Apps” and place it on your dock as well.
Your phone should now have only one screen and all the apps on the dock. Pick a clean and minimal wallpaper that you love (I like Miniwallist).
The final step is to use Spotlight Search to find everything.
Unbeknownst to most people, Spotlight allows you to find not only the apps you’re looking for but also the content within them. For example, you can search someone’s name in Spotlight if you want to give them a call.
As an added bonus to convenience, using search helps you use your smartphone more mindfully. Search is your new best friend.
The Minimalist Phone Benefits
The minimalist phone setup is a simple change that has brought me immense rewards to my life, attention, and focus.
First, my productivity improved. Since there isn’t really a lot to do on my phone, I spend a lot less time “playing” with it.
When you’re constantly feeding your brain small chunks of focused attention, you lessen your capacity to focus. By using the phone less, I improved my focus and I’m able to focus for longer periods of time.
Getting so much time back allowed me to focus more deeply on my work, hobbies, and relationships. What seemed as a simple change turned out to be a life-changing moment.
What will you do with those extra 90 hours per month?