It was a cold and dark Saturday morning in December. I was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast with my girlfriend. It was when I decided to go ahead with an idea I had been floating in my head for some time. I removed Facebook and Reddit from my phone.
This morning was the start of the latest chapter in my never-ending struggle against one of my greatest weaknesses, my tendency to procrastinate.
I had noticed that during a typical day I would take out my phone multiple times over a day. I would do this at any point if I felt even a bit tired, bored, or distracted. At school, in the office, on the metro, waiting in the line at the grocery store, sitting on the toilet. Everywhere I would whip out my phone, open Facebook (or Reddit), and get lost in the endless stream of status updates and news stories. I didn’t use a timer but over a day the total waste of time must have been hours. The damage done to my productivity went beyond just the time wasted as every time I checked my phone whatever I was thinking of before taking my phone out would be replaced by funny memes and cat photos.
The apps that consumed most of my time were Reddit and Facebook. Even though I rarely posted anything on either platform, they were my go-to distractions when my brain started to grave an instant gratification instead of focusing on whatever I should be doing. I realised that this duo needed to go.
So, I decided to try to put a stop to it. It’s been over three months now, and I want to tell about how my experiment has worked out. Spoilers: Changing one’s habits is hard.
Off to a good start
The couple days right after removing the apps from my phone were interesting. I would occasionally unconsciously whip out my phone, unlock it, and then hover my finger over the space where the Facebook icon used to be, before realising it’s not there anymore.
Soon after the change, I noticed changes in my behaviour. I wouldn’t look at my phone nearly as often during work, and during downtime (for example while sitting in metro) I would instead pay more attention to the world around me. When I did use my phone, it would usually be to practise my Chinese with Duolingo.
Also, my consumption of Facebook and Reddit dropped dramatically as I would usually only check them during the weekend on my computer. No one noticed my absence as I very seldom posted on either of those platforms.
However, slowly over time my motivation and discipline started to wane. I noticed myself using more and more time on my phone. I still haven’t re-installed Facebook or Reddit, but procrastination always finds a way.
In the absence of Facebook or Reddit, my phone usage shifted to other channels for distraction. At first, I found myself checking the LinkedIn news feed more often. Something I hardly ever did before starting this experiment. I also started to read news websites more often. Initially, I thought it would be a good thing to keep up with things happening in the world, but this also devolved into a frequent distraction as I would check the same news sites many times a day.
What went wrong?
Couple years ago, I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and it taught me that the habits we have are changeable. I believe that building good habits for myself is something that would be immensely valuable. However, in this experiment, I had forgotten one of the essential lessons from Duhigg’s book. To get rid of a bad habit it’s crucial to replace it with something else. I had just removed the apps I used to spend all my time with wishing that my willpower would take care of the rest, but that didn’t eliminate the occasional boredom that makes me reach for my phone. With those apps gone I’ll just get accustomed to open some other app on my phone to kill time.
To get this working, I should come up with a plan what to do in the situations where I have the impulse to escape into my smartphone. I could think whether there is an app that wouldn’t be just a waste of time. Duolingo is good, but it requires an environment where I can listen to audio. Though, I think it probably would be better to try to rid myself more from my phone and do something else instead. This problem is one that I don’t currently have a good answer for. If you have suggestions or advice, please leave a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org