Working from home and still using your phone?
When I started working from home in 2020, I thought I would reduce how much time I spend on my phone. Instead, it went up.
I always told myself that phones are essential. We need them to hold our hand (literally!) through everyday life. Calls, camera, maps, we need those things! Instagram and Twitter are just the cherries on top.
But in the home office? I rarely snap a picture of myself in my pyjamas or look up directions to the bathroom.
The useful services of our smartphones have become so intertwined with distractions that we can’t even tell them apart. I pick up my phone to read a text and end up scrolling 20min through Twitter.
Our phone has become a bandaid to cover the anxiousness and boredom we all felt in 2020. Phone addiction is hardwired into our brain, and no amount of good intentions, screen timers, or bedtime settings can fix our own psychology.
We’ve passed the point where the phone is the problem. We are. The call is coming from inside the house.
It’s time to kill the phone.
Audio-first: A step into the future, not the past
The problem isn’t new. Everybody I talk to thinks they spend too much time on their phone, and thousands of forums like r/nosurf discuss how to reduce screen time.
Looking at their discussion around phones, the current solutions seem to be either restrict or return.
Restrict: Do you believe that deleting Instagram and turning your phone onto greyscale isn’t enough? Light Phone or Mudita Pure are eager to sell you a +$300 Minimalist Phone that costs more and does less, just to keep your monkey mind in check.
Return: Looking at the price tag, many realized that Minimalist Phones are just a clever marketing exercise. Instead, they brought back the brick phone. Nokia even re-launched it’s infamous banana phone with 4G.
But here’s the kicker: We can’t reverse progress. Once we realized cars were bad for the environment, we didn’t go back to horses. We’re going electric!
After getting used to smartphones, are we really going to return to being flip phone monkeys? I still want to listen to podcasts, find directions, and respond to messages without using a keypad (remember those?!).
The future will be audio-first. We’ll trade our tiny screens for always-in Airpods which create an augmented reality that complements our real-world interactions through immersive podcasts, instant translations, directions, and more.
The computer which powers the earphones will sit either within the Airpods themselves or a tiny device we carry around everywhere…
…like a watch.
So I decided to live in that future. All I needed was an Apple Watch (Series 5; Cellular + GPS; used ~£290 at select resellers).
Details: How to replace your Phone with a Watch
Prepare your setup, routines, and devices
We’re still a few years away from our audio-first future, so we can’t expect the Apple Watch to do everything.
It’s also important to note that the Apple Watch requires an iPhone for setup, notifications, and some apps, so you still need a phone in your house.
However, instead of carrying my phone around, I turned it into a nerve center for my home. Kinda like a router, it’s always charging and allows me to control messaging, Spotify, etc. within a radius of ~10m. In my small London flat I’m always connected, the only perk of quarantining here.
Moved to laptop
Some tasks you normally would use your phone for have to move onto your laptop:
- Social media: Rather than splitting my attention into 5min chunks across the day, I now check Linkedin, Twitter, and Instagram for 30min every evening. Instagram is really clunky on desktop, which is perfect if you want to use it less.
- Evernote: Sadly no Evernote watch app. I’m using Bear on my watch to dictate notes which is brilliant, might switch over fully.
- Meditation: Headspace and Calm have a watch app, but the options are quite limited. For longer sessions, I also use my laptop.
- Studying Chinese: I’m studying Chinese 15min every day with Memrise. Turns out the web-version is better than the app, using quick keyboard shortcuts.
- Long Messages: Telegram, WhatsApp, and Messenger are all on my personal Mac now. While I receive notifications on my watch, I respond to longer messages in the morning and evening.
Moved to watch
The meaty bit! The things the Apple Watch can take over from your iPhone:
- Short Messages: You can reply to your messages directly by dictating short sentences or recording voice messages which is quick and awesome.
- Podcasts / Audio Books: The killer feature! You can download audiobooks and podcasts to your watch and listen to them on your runs or walks without your phone (only Apple podcasts and Audible for now).
- Notifications: The controls here are great. Switch off sound and set notifications to private so you’ll only see which app is pinging you, not the actual message. Much less distracting.
- Calls: Work surprisingly well, audio and microphone quality are really good even without headphones. For long calls you’ll need headphones though, nobody wants to talk to their wrist for an hour.
- Spotify: I need to stay within range of your phone, but I can play/control Spotify on speakers in the living room easily.
- Timers / Alarms: This is probably the only real use case I have for Siri at the moment, but setting alarms and times with Siri is super easy.
Details: What’s it like to only use your Apple Watch?
Weak: Let’s start with the bad.
- Withdrawal: Initially, not being able to take social media breaks on the toilet is a big change. At the start, you’ll also find yourself “phantom grabbing” for your phone.
- Clubhouse: A lot of new apps, even the audio-first ones, don’t work with Apple Watch.
- WhatsApp: There is no WhatsApp watch app. You can respond to notifications but not write new messages, another reason to quit after the recent news. Telegram has a watch app.
- E-Sim: You could expand the use cases with an E-Sim to get mobile internet and cellular on the go. But only with select providers, and the functionality is quite basic (calls, texts, maps).
- The great outdoors: I’m remote-working and stuck at home right now. No idea how this will pan out once the world opens up, I might have to bring my iPhone in a backpack when I go out (kinda awkward, I know).
Woke: All the good stuff the future has to offer!
- Closing the Social Media Rabbit Hole: This has been life-changing! Before the watch, every alarm, switching a song, checking your bank account etc. was an open invitation to also check Twitter or IG. Those unintended 20min bathroom breaks, awkward pauses at the dinner table… gone.
- Focus & Happiness: Without a phone to play with, you’re a lot more in tune with your everyday life. Takes some getting used to, but the watch doesn’t offer entertainment so you might as well stare at those clouds.
- Proactive on Social Media: On my phone, I would always be lurking. Now using social media in front of my laptop keyboard, I’m commenting on posts and firing off tweets every day.
- Quicker Replies: Dictating short messages and voice notes works really well, so I text a lot more. I mostly message my wife in the other room that I’ll be late for dinner, really improved our marriage… I think.
- Freedom: Listening to podcasts and audiobooks on runs without bringing your phone is awesome, and Apple Pay works even without a connection! Phones and wallets are so clunky, leave both at home.
Conclusion: The future is near!
Turns out, when you’re working from home your laptop and watch can take over 99% of what you use your phone for. I still need to spend a few min per day to download podcasts or change watch settings.
It’s not perfect, but after one month I feel a lot more in control of my time and attention. Life is really just what we pay attention to, so in a way, I also feel more in control of my own life.
Removing your phone is not a silver bullet though. It’s just an opportunity for you to reset your behavior.
You’ll see new bad habits creeping in, like unconsciously trying to bring your laptop to the bathroom. Luckily a lot of them are pretty ridiculous and easy to spot. Still, you gained nothing if you now scroll Twitter for 2h on your laptop instead of your phone.
Breaking free from your phone is an opportunity to re-think a part of your identity.
You were somebody who was consumed by a tiny screen for several hours a day. But instead of moving backward to become a flip phone monkey, you moved forward. You’re part of a group of people who are living in the future.
An audio-first future.
You are part of…
The Watchmen ⌚️
“Live in the future, then build what’s missing.” — Paul Graham, Co-founder of Y Combinator, in his blog How to Get Startup Ideas