House Training my Phone

In my continuing attempt1 to manage distraction and facilitate focus, flow and occasionally “deep work,” I’ve been working on taming my phone.

First, I cleared the Home screen. This is what mine looks like:

I’ve moved all apps to one of three locations:

  1. The three most used apps for getting through the day (in my case, Todoist for tasks/lists, Bear for notes and Google Calendar) in the dock,
  2. A “Daily” folder with other critical apps I use daily that don’t present too many opportunities for going down rabbit-holes2, also in the dock,
  3. And all other apps on the second page, a few that I access routinely outside of folders, the rest in a combination of alphabetical and topical folders.

I very rarely access the second page because the apps there are either rarely used or because I want the “friction” of getting to them3 to act as a trigger for intentionality: that little bit of extra effort prompts me to consider if I am doing something necessary or just procrastinating.

I’ve also disabled almost all notifications and badge numbers. The only ones I leave on are notifications from people—Messages and Snapchat (which I only use to chat with my daughter)—and the Habitica app, which remind me of repetitive things I need to do every day.

This was an organizational system I’d been moving toward for a while, but I pulled the trigger when I discovered the “3D Touch” function on folders, which handily shows a synopsis of Badge notifications by app so I can tell if I have something important to respond to without burrowing:

That’s it.


  1. See my Facebook Reduction Plan. TL;DR: use lists, pages, the Messenger app/site and timed (or otherwise constrained) sessions.  

  2. Messages works here for me because I don’t text much and have chosen it as my one always–available stream for emergency communication at work (I only check in to email and Slack a few times each day). Other apps in this folder include Overcast for podcast listening, Habitica for positive habit forming, Headspace for daily meditation, 1Password for password management, Day One for (mostly photo) journaling, Notes for capturing things quickly with Siri, Airtable for recording my coffee brewing (yes, I geek out that way) and the Camera because I can never remember to access it by swiping up. 

  3. For this reason, the new iOS “feature” forcing me to type the whole name of an app when searching for it is actually a feature for me 

B.E.L.L.A.

From Gil Fronsdal, BELLA, an approach for being mindful of the Five Hindrances:

B.E.L.L.A. = Be, Examine, Lessen, Let Go, Appreciate

  • Be: Let it be. Don’t act; don’t react; stay present.
  • Examine: Examine the components; uncover.
  • Lessen: Relax the body; focus on antidote, such as cultivating kindness. At worst, remove yourself.
  • Let Go: Once understood, let go.
  • Appreciate: When the hindrance is past, appreciate its absence; when no longer caught up, appreciate not being caught.

(t)(s)exting skills

XKCD nails it.

XKCD: Writing Skills

Note the hidden text (available when you over over the image):

I’d like to find a corpus of writing from children in a non-self-selected sample (e.g. handwritten letters to the president from everyone in the same teacher’s 7th grade class every year)–and score the kids today versus the kids 20 years ago on various objective measures of writing quality. I’ve heard the idea that exposure to all this amateur peer practice is hurting us, but I’d bet on the generation that conducts the bulk of their social lives via the written word over the generation that occasionally wrote book reports and letters to grandma once a year, any day.

Digital Identity, Citizenship and Audience

I don’t have anything cogent to say about it but Bonnie Stewart’s recent thoughts on digital identity and citizenship (see also: the Facebook thread) resonate with me. Or at least strike the cracked bell in my head and heart that sounds so infrequently. To the extent that I understand Bonnie’s insight (and her response to my request for an “Explain it Like I am Five” version, “we don’t make a better society just by making ourselves better,” helps) I have to agree. In my own digital citizenship class I have often stressed that the “me” aspect of digital citizenship was only as healthy as the “we” (though I try not to be so twee in my phrasing). The self/I of identity is necessarily soft and shifting sand given how our identities—and here I reveal my 90s nature—are contingent, collaborative, always becoming creations.

Not unrelated, Alan Levine’s comment in which observes that “we seem to care more how we are seen than showing who we are. I see it in retired bloggers who bemoan a lack of ‘audience’. I see it in writing to be seen rather than writing for writing.” I’m probably being too sensitive all the way around, but since I am both a (mostly) retired blogger and feel like I recently, and inadvertently, insulted Alan on this very topic, I want to note that the phenomenon he is observing has many levels. If “audience” is a thing that can be passively measured with head-counts or hit-clicks, then “being seen” is the thing…and the audience is just a thing. But the “lack of audience” I bemoan is more verb than noun, it only exists through the conversation (and interrogation)…and that can only happen when there is an audience with which to converse. I’m sure my vision is blurred by hazy notions of the good old days, but the ubiquity and ease of what we already call “traditional” social network sites has greatly expanded—and deeply fractured—the audience. Which I “bemoan” not because of stats but because it has gutted the extent and level of conversations. And that happens not because such conversations can’t happen in these spaces but because the platforms aren’t oriented toward conversation or collaboration, but toward signalling and declamation. It’s possible to have significant, extended conversation in a loud bar full of people at every stage of inebriation and sobriety—and it’s possible to write fine poems from solitary confinement or create new melodies while shackled to a chain—but it’s hard to argue that such environments don’t make it harder and less likely. And I bemoan that.