The Off Season: Part 3, Eliminating Time Wasters
After tidying up and getting out of the rut produced by being surrounded by clutter, it was time to get on with this new free space and sense of self that I had created. The burden of all that junk was really a much bigger weight than I had perceived. I was now poised to make sure that I built upon that positive push I had created.
One thing I have always struggled with is productivity. Don’t get me wrong, I am good at work and such, but I could use a little bump when it comes to not wasting my leisure hours, and I can be more helpful at home, etc... So, I set out to try to find more time.
I realized that a lot of clutter remained even though one could not physically see it. Digital clutter and chaos still needed to be put in its place.Things were taking up lots of my time like social media, YouTube/streaming services, the Internet, and did I mention...social media? I could waste an enormous amount of time and be sucked into unproductive routines. Sometimes, it caused me to not ride the bike or do important work around the house. I think the draw of social media and the web was almost as hard a habit to break as quitting drinking was for me over four years ago. It was time to make a change, but how did I do it?
The first thing I did was to seek out ways to limit distractions. I did three important things to my phone to help me stay focused. All three of these served one purpose, and that was simply to establish that I was the boss of my phone and not the other way around!
Phone clean up
First, I cleaned up my iPhone screen. It was a relatively easy process once I conceived of how to organize and categorize all the app shortcuts that had me sometimes flipping through five separate screens. First, I deleted obsolete apps immediately, but that was not enough. How could I limit the number of pages/screens on the phone by grouping similar apps into folders while also hiding unproductive or seldom used apps?
Here is my system.
In the bottom “trough”, I kept my most used apps: Phone, Camera, Messages, and Elisi (my productivity planner). Then, I combined all my apps into folders. See the screenshot. This allowed me to organize almost all my apps onto one screen. There are six rows and four columns on the home screen. The first column is made up of folders that I organized into the following categories: System, Photos, Google, Health and Fitness, Social, and Music and Books. Then, to the right of each column are the three apps from that category that I use most or that are the most productive to have in plain sight. Here is what I came up with:
System: Settings, App Store, and Clock. I use these three quite a bit and hiding things like the Calculator and Meteor network speed checker helped declutter the screen and make my choices more focused.
Photos: LastPass (password saver), CamScanner, and Dark Sky (weather). CamScanner is the only photo related thing in this row, but I needed somewhere to put the other two apps. I do not really need to have a shortcut for Photos or Google Photos showing. It only leads me to click and check out old baby pics of my kids or see what I might want to later throw up on Instagram.
Google: Chrome, Google Calendar, and Gmail. These three are my go to’s. In the folder is every other Google product I use.
Health and Fitness: Strava, Garmin Connect, and Zwift Companion. I only use these first two to sync or check synced activities. Zwift companion gets lots of use on the trainer. I have broken the habit of checking in and giving kudos to everyone, so it’s okay to have these three showing. (See shutting off notifications later in this blog).
Social: Instagram, BeFocused Pro (a Pomodoro method app), and Medium (a curated site with great articles on self, productivity, etc....). I kept Instagram because it is an avenue that I use to promote the blog. I have all the notifications shut off, so I never see the little red badges to see that so and so liked my post or other distractors.
This new ordering of apps has really limited my use of things like Facebook, Twitter, and other time wasters. I know that some experts advocate deleting such apps all together, but I help push out some of the social media for school and baseball, so I can’t do that. Hiding apps has made me more likely to stick to using only what is on the initial screen, and because I organized them by category, it is easy to dig for others when I need to do that.
Turn of notifications
Seeing notifications pop up on screen throughout the day is another way that your phone starts to be the boss of you. By turning off notifications and the little red badges that tell you, “4 new notifications in Facebook” you can really keep yourself off the phone and keep yourself focused.
I went through and turned off every possible notification except the following: Messages, Dark Sky (weather), and Schoology (my school district’s all-in-one notification app). I keep those three active because family and colleagues use text messages and Schoology for timely stuff, and even the most important weather alerts are few and far between. I do have a few group chats in Messages that I have turned off the notifications for. I have told my family who participate in that daily glut of messages that I may not get something important that they post there. If they need me or need to tell me something, they should message me directly! I check that thread when I want to check it.
I cannot tell you how liberating it is to not see Facebook and Instagram notices pop up all the time. I do try to check in occasionally to make sure I haven’t missed anything too important, but the key idea of me being in control is maintained. I reach for my phone about 40 percent less than I did when I had those pop-ups constantly going off.
Replace your old apps with better alternatives and develop better habits
The last thing I did was to maximize the chances that I would do something productive when I did reach for the phone. I made sure that podcasts and apps like Medium were available on the home screen where Facebook and Twitter once were. I made sure that Libby was on there, so that if I did get twenty minutes to spare, I could read a book or two. I have been concurrently reading Tim Ferris’s Tribe of Mentors and Frank Herbert’s Dune. They are both great by the way.
I also added a few apps to help me be focus on being productive. These include Brain.fm , BeFocused Pro, and Elisi. Brain.fm is a paid music for focus, relaxation, and sleep app. It does help me to get more done. I put it on, it drowns out the noise of the office, and I get shit done. You can read up on how it works here. And if you understand it all, please let me know.
BeFocusedPro is a simple Pomodoro timer app that counts work and shorter rest intervals. By committing to work for say a 25-minute interval, most people are more focused and often work beyond that point. I use the timer and watch as it tracks how often I can complete a cycle successfully in a day.
Elisi is an app that tracks tasks, habits, and has a journaling tab. While I don’t use the journal (yet), I have put some habits into the tracker like: call Mom, workout, walk the dogs, read a book, read the New York Times briefing, clean up, etc.... By tracking these habits, I am getting them done more often and replacing bad habits like social media, YouTube bingeing, and others.
So, what is the point of all this and what does this have to do with cycling? Well, to follow the steps above and remove the “digital clutter” from one’s life, you can really recoup a lot of time and then spend it on leisure like cycling, hiking, snowshoeing, and other fun sports. By getting more stuff done, you can also keep your partner and dependents happy which allows you the excuse to get out more often on the bike, etc.... When you do get out there, you will hopefully have a clear slate and nothing to gnaw away at you thus increasing your enjoyment on the bike.
Give these simple phone decluttering techniques a shot. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to do and how much freedom you will feel afterwards. If you feel more adventurous then go ahead and just delete all the social media from your phone. I cannot do that because I manage social media for several outside groups, and I need phone access to get things done when groups ask for stuff to be pushed out and I am on the road. If it was just me though, I would delete it all and only use it on my PC. Try it for thirty days. It could be a life changer.
(NB, I did not link to anything bad for you....)