My home screen. Credit

This one weird trick will save your attention span!

Okay, it’s not that weird, but a couple of months back Nick showed me a productivity trick on how he reduces distraction on his phone (because this dude lives and breaths minimalism in a super impressive way)… and it had such a profound and measurably positive effect on my mental wellbeing and happiness, that I needed to share it!

But I’ve gone from being glued to my iPhone, to only occasional use in just a matter of months. For me, that has meant I spend significantly less time on Twitter, Slack and news apps that are a consistent source of anxiety — and see far fewer notifications from apps trying to pull my attention from what’s happening in the real world.

This is how you can achieve the same in the next 5 minutes:

Hide your apps

A little-known trick to de-clutter your home screen is to chuck literally every single app into a folder and pull it onto the second screen. No jailbreaking or fancy footwork required. This has two benefits: Firstly, that everything is out of sight, so less temptation from your favorite vices. And secondly, that a mega-folder is almost impossible to navigate… you’ll need to search instead (I’ll get to why that’s a good thing in a sec).

There’s something super rewarding about having a calm and clutter-free home screen. I suggest rolling with one of these or these dark and ominous wallpapers.

Left to right: Home screen / apps / mega-folder (wallpaper credit)

Turn off badge notifications

I’ve turned off badge count notifications for every app (except Messages and Phone… since they’re kinda the whole point for having a phone). There are still banners, which appear in the drag-down Notification Center, but no badges means there’s no incentive to aimlessly open apps and clear new items.

I now realize how often I used to search my screens for any excuse to open apps… and badges were the biggest temptation! You’ll have to believe me, but I don’t miss anything important — emails still get answered, and my mum still gets timely Messenger replies. Goodbye, badge anxiety!

Get used to searching

Honestly I’ve never searched for an app before this, so pulling down and searching felt pretty weird to begin with — but it’s great for one main reason:

You have to decide what app you want, before you use it.

That additional friction between decision and reward is also great to confirm that opening an app is actually worth the effort. To make things a little bit easier, I use Gboard by Google which enables Glide Typing. The result is that I use the apps I want, when I decide I need them.

Glide Typing to find apps

Ruthlessly cull your apps

Finally, after a month or so of use — I found that I barely use half of the apps I have on my phone. It turns out there’s a lot of stuff in there that provides zero value, but takes up a lot of weight (both mental, and physical) — so I deleted everything I hadn’t used in 30 days or more. After all, if I find I need Airbnb for my next vacation, or Solitaire for a plane trip — I’ll download it then. Since deleting apps, there’s not much that I’ve found myself missing.

I also came to realize that all of the productivity hacking in the world wasn’t enough to stop me from habitually checking my addictions — namely Twitter and Guardian (I blame Trump). But this method helped highlight the offending apps, and gave me the confidence to delete them.

I still miss Twitter, but I don’t miss the cycle of refreshing the feed, seeing some absurd racist/sexist/intolerant/stupid opinion, getting mad at the world, then repeating the whole damn exercise 2 minutes later! Admittedly I have the same relationship with Instagram, but scrolling through endless images of brunches and surf pics doesn’t fill me with quite as much anxiety.

But doesn’t this kill the fun of a phone?

Yes. But I’m okay with that.

I make more calls now, mostly to my lovely wife — who I forgot how much I enjoy talking to—because messaging is out of reach. I use my camera way more — because my phone has returned to being about creation, not consumption. And I spend more time hanging out with my son, rather than sifting my way through notifications (there’s really never any need to read LinkedIn notifications, ever)— because it turns out there are more exciting things happening off-screen.


So if like me, you find yourself getting increasingly distracted by the noise, I urge you to give this a go. The first month will be a challenge, but you’ll thank me (and Nick) eventually!

Let me know how you go.

Updates

  • Trevor Turk suggested turning off Spotlight Suggestions (in Settings / General / Spotlight Search), which makes searching for apps infinitely faster and more relevant
  • Bradley Rodgers suggested alphabetizing your apps, and also naming the folder with an invisible character (here’s how) for extra minimalism