Why My Phone is on Do Not Disturb 24/7

I have a love/hate relationship with my iPhone.

Photo by Hilthart Pedersen on Unsplash

In June 2007, Steve Jobs took the stage in an auditorium in northern California to announce Apple’s newest product: the iPhone. It was, as he said that day, not just a mobile phone, but a widescreen iPod with touch controls and “a breakthrough Internet communications device.”

Since that seminal moment in 2007, our lives have changed dramatically. Thanks to our smartphones, we’re now always-connected, always available, always “right there.” Few Millennials today remember the days when you had to check a book out of the local library to get an answer to your most pressing questions. Our kids won’t know what it feels like to not be able to whip out your phone and Google something to get an instantaneous answer, any time of the day or night.

Smartphones have changed our society.

The rise of smartphones and the ubiquity of the Internet has done incredible things for our world — from overthrowing oppressive governments to sharing heartwarming stories that actually deserve to go viral. They’re here, and they’re good.

If we’re focused on doing meaningful work, our phones are not to be celebrated. We’re to wage war against them.

But thanks to our smartphones, our lives have also been ones filled with fractured attention, ones in which the near-continual buzzing, dinging, and ringing of these tiny computers has filled our workplaces, living spaces, and our minds. There’s no denying it — we’re a deeply distracted people.

A Love/Hate Relationship

As many others in my generation would confess, I can’t live without my iPhone…but I’ve also found it hard to live with it sometimes.

It’s always demanding my attention: always buzzing, always lighting up with a new notification a new email, a new text. Someone, something absolutely must have my attention right. this. second. I suppose it’s nice to “feel important” (I confess that I do feel a bit inadequate when my wife’s phone is blowing up with people wanting to chat with her while mine sits dormant on the bedside table), but I’d much rather feel the satisfaction of having done a good day’s work.

If we’re focused on doing meaningful work, our phones are not to be celebrated. We’re to wage war against them. What was once the greatest technological advancement of our time, promising ever-present connectivity and on-the-go productivity has now become the enemy of those very things.

My iPhone works for me, not the other way around. I check it on my own time, rather than letting technology dictate my day.

In fact, recent studies have shown that the mere presence of a smartphone in a room (regardless of whether it was on vibrate, silent, do not disturb, or even turned off completely) hampers our ability to cognitively function at peak performance. Just being aware that a phone is physically in the room hinders our ability to focus on whatever we’re working on.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Not only does the presence of a smartphone hinder us mentally, but actually indulging the urge to check our notifications or otherwise letting ourselves get distracted by the shiny (but unimportant) things that vie for our attention leaves us distracted for a longer period of time.

This is what psychologists call “attention residue,” and it greatly hurts our productivity. Checking a seemingly innocuous notification causes our subconscious minds to continue processing what we’ve read/seen/heard, even when we’ve returned to the task at hand. This fractures our intellectual capacity and causes our work to suffer.

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport argues that our professional success and personal satisfaction with life stems from our ability to produce what he calls “deep work” — that work which stretches us to the edges of our cognitive ability when we are seeking to solve tough problems. Newport notes that this type of work is rare, only common among those who are most prolific in their fields (think guys like Einstein).

In contrast, most of our society is mired in what he calls “shallow work” — those practices like emailing and conducting meetings that make us feel busy, but in reality do very little to contribute to the bottom line (or our role in producing the very work that brings it about).

Deep work is essential, and I want to do more of it. Here’s how I start.

Why Do Not Disturb is the Best Feature of the iPhone

As a rule, I have my phone on scheduled Do Not Disturb (DND) 24 hours a day, from 12:00AM to 11:59PM. In addition, I’ve turned off all notifications except for a very select few.

As a rule, my phone only vibrates or makes noise for one of three reasons:

  1. A timer or alarm goes off, such as a timer telling me that my laundry is done or that I need to move my car because it’s Monday and there’s street sweeping;
  2. A phone call from a trusted family member in my favorites section (more on this below), or;
  3. I have an upcoming meeting or phone call that I can’t miss.

That’s it: alarms I set, phone calls from a very limited number of people I choose, and calendar events, of which I try to keep very few.

Do Not Disturb ensures that no apps, text messages, or other annoyances can disturb me as I work, play, or rest. My phone doesn’t make noise or vibrate at all, and it’s incredibly freeing.

My iPhone works for me, not the other way around. I check it on my own time, rather than letting technology dictate my day.

What about Emergencies?

I have a few family members and other VIPs in the favorites section of my phone, whose calls are allowed to go straight through. Anyone else will have to wait.

Sure, this may lead to some friends or colleagues being annoyed that I didn’t get back to them right away, but it’s almost never an emergency. We’re addicted to the instantaneous nature of texting, but I’ve found that things conveyed through text or any other form of instant messaging are rarely urgent. I assume that if something is actually important and it needs my attention right now, most people will pick up the phone.

You’re Not as Important as You Think You Are

Ask any knowledge worker today, and they’d likely tell you that they couldn’t live apart from their inbox for more than a few hours. We check our emails at home, on the weekends, and when we wake up in the morning. We’re addicted, and it’s unhealthy.

Afraid of being unreachable for more than 45 minutes, we constantly check in, just to see if anything’s new, if anyone needs us.

But as it turns out, we’re not as important as we think we are.

Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow found that on average, we spend 25 hours a week outside the office checking our email, believing it to be crucial to respond within an hour of receiving an email. Astounded, she enlisted a team from Boston Consulting Groups for a study, forcing each member of the team to take one day out of the workweek completely off, with no connectivity whatsoever.

While she was initially met with resistance, the team obliged, and at the end of the study, they found that they enjoyed their work more, they learned more, had better communication among themselves, and perhaps most importantly, delivered a better end product to their clients.

So lay off checking your work email at 8PM and go be with your family. Turn off notifications, and give permanent Do Not Disturb a try. I believe it will improve the quality of your life, your work, and give you some headspace for a change.

After all, you’re not that important. 😉

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