How To Use Technology to Support Who You Want to Be

I'm tired of using the various technological tools in my life and feeling like I need to exert deliberate willpower to use them productively. Technology itself is amoral -- neither good nor bad. It's just a thing that amplifies whatever course of action or intention you bring to it. Our default mode of scattered attention directed is diffused like a beam of light through a pile of broken glass -- haphazard, chaotic, and incoherent. On the other hand, there's no reason that a more deliberate approach toward using our technology can't amplify those more positive and useful intentions as well.

Inspired by the Distraction Free iPhone idea I recently restructured what I see when I look at my phone. Before this experiment I had the apps I used most regularly be the most accessible ones. If my goal is efficiency then that makes perfect sense. Tweetbot, Instagram, and Facebook were all prominently displayed on the home screen. These apps don't represent the way I aspire to use my time -- just the way I currently use my time. If I found myself with a burst of motivation (like on the upswing of a productivity cycle) I still had to resist "just checking" those apps every time I looked at my phone because they were constantly being thrown in front of me. In a somewhat startling moment of clarity I realized I could rearrange my phone to push me toward the person I want to be instead of the person I was currently being (and I suppose if you're 100% happy with how you're currently behaving as a human being then this idea isn't for you).

The Aspirational Home Screen

Instead of putting the apps I used most often on my home screen I started putting the apps I wish I used more often. My home screen became representational of the person I want to be. The time sucks I mentioned before were deleted or moved to the depths of my phone and only the apps who pushed me to be a better person were left in the position of honor (i.e. the home screen). That means Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were out and Instapaper, Oyster, Kindle, MapMyRun, Fitocracy, and Insight Timer are in. Now, when I look at my phone I'm presented with options for development instead of options for distraction. Is it a tiny change? Of course. However, this simple tweak is helping my use of technology become more mindful and more of a source of good in my life.

Using Technology for Personal Good

This basic idea can expand to other pieces of technology as well. What apps do you see when you turn on your computer? Does anything automatically open? Why not have the apps that support your growth as a human being be what you see immediately upon sitting in front of your computer instead of potential time sucks? Making Day One, Evernote, and Things open automatically has made me more likely to get to work instead of killing time when I turn on my computer and I've had the additional happy result of writing in my journal more than ever. Twitter used to automatically open when I turned on my computer but I realized that I wasn't gaining anything by having my attention immediately fought over between the forces of "good" (Day One, Evernote, Things, etc.) and the forces of "bad" (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

Carrying the idea further, what apps are always visible on your desktop or dock? Why keep unopened apps that represent potential distraction somewhere you constantly keep seeing them? What benefit are you deriving from constantly fighting the urge to give into distraction (unless you're some kind of attention-based masochist, I suppose)? What do you see when you open a new tab or window in your browser? Why not have it open onto something that challenges you to be a better person? I currently have mine set to my Rescue Time dashboard instead of the Yahoo homepage that used to suck me into distressingly long sessions of reading asinine "news."

Notifications As An Ally

Turning off notifications is usually step 0 of any anti-distraction/pro-meaningful work treatise, but what about turning on notifications for apps or reminders that prompt you to improve yourself? I agree that email and Twitter notifications should be banished from anyone trying to do meaningful work, but I think we're throwing out the potential good of notifications with overly general advice. I love using the "schedule" feature of Things to remind myself to do things in the future that I would normally never remember (in fact, it's the cornerstone of my reflection habit). I love using reminders to prompt me to do a gratitude exercise, reach out to an old friend, or simply take a moment to get away from the computer and stretch my legs. The reminder to read through my journal to see what ideas are generated for personal/professional growth every 5 months has created more great projects than anything I've done and it's something I would never remember to do on my own.

I think you get the idea.

Simple Changes Can Make a Huge Impact

There are plenty of ways to let our technology scatter our attention in ways that don't support the people we want to be. Luckily, with just a little bit of deliberate thought, your phone, computer, and other technology can amplify your intentions instead of acting as an anchor slowing down your quest to do more meaningful work and live a more satisfying life.

Photo by Symo0