Making Your Phone a Tool, Not a Distraction

Volume 85 - three minute read

May 11th, 2018

While I was first transitioning back into working from home a few months ago, a bad habit I realized I had was checking my phone constantly during breaks. I use a Pomodoro technique where I work for 20 minutes and then take a 2–3 minute break and every break I had I would reach for my phone.

It is a break after all though, so what’s the harm in checking my phone? Well for me personally it didn’t feel like a break. It distracted me; left me thinking about posts I saw on Instagram or how many notifications are waiting for me on Twitter. A break should be a reset from work, not an additional element on the mind. A few weeks ago I got fed up with checking my phone for no reason and decided to do something about it.

A phone should be a tool, that’s what made it such an innovation when smartphones with touchscreens came into our lives. How could I reset the way I use my phone and gear it more towards a tool? Here’s how I approached it:

  1. Only have necessary apps on the main home screen of my phone that I use daily.
  2. Turn of all notifications except phone calls, texts, and Slack messages (only during work hours).
  3. Delete social media apps that have a desktop alternative so I only use them on a computer (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.).
  4. Hide apps in folders that didn’t have alternatives but I still needed at times (Instagram [mainly to post], Uber Eats, Strava, etc.). This provides friction in comparison of just one tap on the home screen
  5. Make my phone feel plain (black backgrounds, only a few apps in plain sight, no red notification icons).

After all this, this is what my home screen ends up looking like. I use each of these apps every single day and none of them have immediate distractions to them. Even a black background (I made a thin color gradient around it to make it a little nicer) to have what I need from and center and no questions as to what I need and where it is.

This setup is more of a tool for me in which I am able to easier accomplish things in both work and personal life as well as passive tracking and even photography. I keep random apps you need to have and apps I mentioned above in another folder on the second screen to keep them from being in plain sight. I also keep miscellaneous apps like banking apps, Lyft, calendar, and email tucked away since I do need them but not front and center like these that I use every day.

I recommend doing the same with your phone if you relate to the feelings I had towards my phone. While social media, games, etc. have nothing inherently wrong with them, I think there is a time and place for these and probably not the best to have them sitting at arms reach 24/7.


Shortly after I went and did this with my phone I found this great post on making a “dumber phone” if you’d like more: https://nomasters.io/posts/dumber-phone

Dennis Cortés
Product Designer at MetaLab. I also code, illustrate, write weekly articles, and produce music. Hispanic. Pokémon Master.
www.cortes.us