Why You Shouldn’t Turn on Your Devices First Thing in The Morning

Srinivas Rao
Aug 23, 2016 · 5 min read
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For the most part, we are all tethered to our devices.

  • We check them when we wake up
  • We use them throughout the day
  • We check them before we go to sleep

Basically, our smartphones are as much of a leash as they are a convenience. We don’t really give much consideration to what our phones and the internet are doing to our brains.

I’ve always loved the morning because it’s a great time for solitude, reflection, and my best creative work. The volume of inflow is really low and therefore I can actually concentrate on my own thoughts without them getting drowned out by the sound of notifications, text messages, etc, etc. The only thing I use my phone for is a 10-minute meditation using the Calm app. I read physical books and do all of my first 45 minutes of writing by hand.

One of the easiest ways to keep excessive consumption from limiting your creativity is to turn things off or not to turn them on first thing in the morning.

What Turning on Devices Early in the Day Does to Your Focus

I’ve noticed a fairly consistent pattern in my daily practice of writing 1000 words a day.

If I open up TweetDeck, a web browser, check email or get on Facebook or any other distracting website to start the day, my focus is scattered for the next several hours and sometimes the entire day. When I use a tool like Heyfocus or Rescuetime to block distractions until at least 10am, I can sustain focus for much longer. As Steven Kotler said to me in a recent conversation on The Unmistakable Creative “flow follows focus.”

When we turn our devices on first thing in the morning,we get bombarded with inputs. It’s like drinking from a firehose of information that keeps shifting our attention from one stimulus to another, each providing a hit of dopamine, that keeps us craving more. It’s the digital equivalent of snorting a few lines of cocaine when you wake up. But unlike cocaine, there’s no stigma to this behavior and so we don’t think it’s that big a deal.

However, it completely scatters your focus and damages your ability to sustain attention on anything later in the day, while also preventing your ability to experience flow.

Let’s say you check your email while attempting to do deep work or while taking a break from deep work. And in your email, you discover there’s something that you can’t do anything about right this minute, but eventually needs to be deal with it. That seemingly harmless little distraction has now hijacked your attention.

Studies of office workers who use computers reveal that they constantly stop what they’re doing to and respond to incoming e-mails. It’s not unusual for them to glance at their inbox thirty or forty times in an hour (though when asked how frequently they look, they’ll often give a much lower figure). Since each glance represents a small interruption of thought, a momentary redeployment of mental resources, the cognitive cost can be high. Psychological research long ago proved what most of us know from experience: frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious- Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

Nobody ever changed the world by checking email, so why start your day by doing it?

Analog in a Digital World

A while back I wrote about the benefits of going analog in an increasingly digital world. This is a tendency I’ve noticed in many prolific creators. They always carry notebooks, they read physical books, and they tend to do write longhand. The beauty of pen and paper is that it has none of the limitations built into it that a device does. Its only limitation is your imagination. Not only that, the practice of unplugging can be incredibly meditative.

Energy Depletion

Excessive use of devices also does a great deal of damage to your energy levels. Spend an hour or two with your phone doing nothing but consuming, and you’ll feel drained. To do creative or work or for that matter anything important, you need your energy.

Sleep Hygiene

In Arianna Huffington’s new book, The Sleep Revolution, she talks quite a bit about sleep hygiene. One of the biggest impediments to sleep hygiene is the use of devices in the bedroom. She encourages people to leave devices out of the bedroom. One of the simplest ways to avoid turning on a device first thing in the morning is not to bring it into your bedroom.

We should think of light, especially blue light as an anti-sleeping drug or stimulant, something few of us would willingly give ourselves each night before bed, especially when so many of us are using sleeping pills or other sleeping aids in a desperate effort to get some sleep. —

Coincidentally, almost every peak performance psychologist I’ve interviewed has mentioned the role that sleep plays in peak performance. Want to improve performance at just about anything? Sleep better and don’t turn on your devices right when you wake up.

Turn your Phone Off for an hour Each Day

One of the other things that I’ve found to be incredibly useful is simply to turn off my phone and computer for an hour in the middle of the day. By turning off your phone, your turn off the information firehose, and you can actually start to hear the sound of your own thoughts (something that is critically important for creative work). If you can’t stomach turning off your phone, try an app like Flipd, which blocks nearly every app for a set period of time.

When you don’t turn on your devices first thing in the morning, you start the day in a much more peaceful state of mind. And you increase the likelihood that you’ll spend the day on activities that are meaningful, as opposed to ones that don’t really add much value to your life.

Before You Go…

If doing the best work of your life is important to you, you’ll love my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.

The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.

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Srinivas Rao

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