A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

Recently, I’ve had a few friends who’ve found themselves with an iPhone when they never even intended to get a smartphone. Either the dog chewed up their old phone and pragmatism/family plans prevailed… or work finally coerced them into carrying the technology. In conversation, they’ve asked for my pointers on keeping their new gadgets useful but as non-invasive as possible. And all have shared their concern that they will be seduced into becoming screen-staring zombies.

As previous posts chronicle, my personal level of desired connectivity and lack of distraction has led me to using my older iPhone with a month-to-month SIM card from Pure Talk USA (no jail breaking/hacking required). This means I have no data plan and can’t access the Internet unless I’m in a wi-fi zone. Even then, I chose to stay away from most apps and to disable most notifications. Here are my tips for configuring the iPhone for minimal bother:

Distraction: There’s an app for that
While the App Store has hundreds of thousands of apps for download, there’s no reason you have to. On my iPhone, I only installed the Remote app that lets me control the music in my house. The rest of the apps that tend to be a waste of time (Mail, YouTube, Safari, Weather, etc.) I just tuck away. I don’t even have Mail set up.

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Alerts: They can wait
For me, one of the most incessant aspects of a smartphone is how it tugs at your sleeve for attention constantly like a needy toddler. Web-enabled apps (especially the social media ones) buzz, ding, and display a “badge” with a number of messages each time something happens related to those accounts. What most people don’t realize or aren’t motivated to investigate is that shutting them off is simple. Within the Settings app, there is a Notifications panel that lets you choose which apps notify you and how that will happen.

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Sounds: Silence is golden
You can customize even further by going in to the Sounds panel and silencing anything that normally bothers you. And here’s a tip: unless you are waiting on important news—like from an organ donor—put your phone into Airplane Mode when you sleep. Alarms still work but the phone, text, and Internet portions are temporarily disabled so you won’t be jolted awake by a retweet.

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Mail: Leave your work at the office
I’m 38, but I can remember a time not too long ago when there was no interest or expectation of being on work email nights, weekends, or on vacation. If you were needed, somebody would pick up the phone. Now, thanks to the readiness and ease of technology, we’ve collectively slipped into the bad habit of checking and sending work emails from the moment we open our eyes until our heads hit the pillow—and often in the middle of the night. One of the best things I did for myself was to discipline myself to just turn off work email when I got home and then not turn it on (barring a truly time sensitive work issue) until I get to my desk in the morning. I’m a small business owner and I do public relations, and even still I have found that there are very few urgent emails that come after work hours. If someone needs something… they will call.

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These are all quick, easy and reversible fixes that—for me at least—made a huge difference. I recommend giving some of them a try. You’ll thank yourself.

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