Build A Wall

It’s been awhile since my last post. I have been captured by FIRE: Financial Independence Retire Early, reading up on the main concepts, and am now in implementation stage. Perhaps I will post a summary of that later.

One pertinent FIRE blog that I follow captured my attention with this post. It is more of a productivity blogpost trying to reduce screen time and improve efficiency, and it inspired me to finally come back and write again with my own take on the topic. If I really wanted hits I might title this as Top 10 Ways to Build Your Personal Firewall, or something of that nature. I will just preach what I practice to share some tips.

Where to begin? Vices Devices.

I don’t have a TV nor cable subscription as I find them endless distractions, propaganda and brain-washing with minimal entertainment value. The few gems available tend to be sandwiched with advertising. I occasionally see cable TV at a friend’s house or in the airport and recognize no value. Recently, my purchase of an emergency radio also reminded of the incessant advertising on most channels, chewing away my time.

A few years ago I bought a projector in order to watch movies and play games. Being married, I no longer play endless first person shooters and RPGs, but play only games that have co-op mode and that my spouse and I both enjoy. There aren’t many! For movies, I subscribe exclusively to Netflix. And so, the projector comes on only for date nights about once or twice per week.

Honestly, I want but don’t need a tablet. It is bigger than a smartphone screen, and is perhaps slightly more effective if you add a keyboard. At the end of the day tablets are consumption devices that invariably lead to 24/7 gaming. Your smartphone is a good test case example.

On your iPhone, go to any of the following to do a quick sanity check:

  • Settings – Screen Time. Check the categories and how much time you have spent on each. Here, you can also customize and limit how much time you spend on each category or all categories even down to how many minutes per day of week. This hasn’t worked very well for me but it is more of an annoying reminder as you can easily extend 15 minutes or unlock for the whole day in 2 taps. At least I think that it will mute notifications of those apps, but I couldn’t tell you for sure because most of my notifications are already disabled.
  • Settings – Cellular – Cellular Data. What are the top 2-3 apps that you spend the most cellular data?
  • Settings – Battery – Battery Usage by App. Simply delete the top 3 :D.

On my phone, I have reduced my apps as much as I can realistically handle. The easiest ones are those that haven’t been used for some time, take a lot of space, have a lot of App Store updates, and those that already have fully functional websites i.e. Facebook, Twitter, hotel websites. Spoiler alert: I prefer using a full desktop computer with a large monitor to see, read, write, and do pretty much everything faster than on a phone, or tablet!

I have been around people whose phones are pinging and ringing every few seconds from various app notifications, as frequent as their heartbeats. They would try to just show me a single photo on their phone and I would see 1-2 notifications pop down and cover a portion of the photo in the couple of seconds that I am looking. This is unacceptable. As my mom would say: “it’s unhealthy.” One such individual persuaded me to use Instagram. I posted a photo of my shoes and then deleted the app within about a month. Instagram just seemed to be the other portion of people that I stopped seeing on Facebook, updating with babies, food, pets, and travel. Endless. One girl exclusively posts tomatoes! Luckily, the Facebook app is separate from the Facebook Messenger app, if you happen to be hooked by family or friends. And, you can even delete your Facebook account – Facebook Messenger still works! If you don’t use either, congratulations… but I think that you are just hooked on a different app.

I have screen and sound notifications for message apps, and for my to-do list app called Wunderlist. For the message apps, I tend to leave or mute group chats if the messages become irrelevant to me or too frequent. I have experimented with badge-app-only notifications on other apps but these might be worse as they command your attention with a red bubble and a number. Be mindful that teams of professionals are testing how to take your attention and influence your next click and purchase, so you should actively counter this. I only have badge app notifications enabled for productivity apps like language learning and email. I primarily use email for productivity as well. Set up your technology to exploit your psychological vulnerability towards completing your goals!

For email subscriptions, I utilize weekly updates from Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. when available. That way, I only have to check the actual website if something relevant happened in the weekly update. Otherwise, I tend to forget about the websites completely.

Podcasts have boomed lately and like everything else, 95% are not applicable. Cut these down to the essentials. I actively listen to 2 different podcasts for 3 episodes total per week. Or, you could exclusively listen to single episodes of random podcasts that happen to be exactly the topic that you are interested in at the time, or are specifically recommended to you.

Lastly, I use the Feedly RSS reader on my desktop computer for other updates. I subscribe mostly to blogs and Youtube channels. It has gotten out of hand at times but I eventually reduced my subscriptions. It helps to ask: does this add value to my life? Get brutally honest with yourself. I also skip and plow through videos if they are off-topic for me.

When I had gotten overwhelmed by all of these updates, I bought a 30-minute sand timer to put next to my screen. I flip it over and devour updates for 30 minutes and then do something else. It helps to use this practice when you recognize that you might get sucked into a Youtube chain of recommended videos, for example (turn off Autoplay!).

I go through cycles of productivity from swelling and absorbing many various subscriptions to trimming it down to the bare essentials. Think of these devices as tools to accomplish something, and produce more than you consume.

Sometimes there are exceptions to the rule, for example I wrote the majority of this post on my phone over lunch, but hopefully you will take notice and make a change.

Think of it like a kind of reverse casino of time. You are the boss upstairs doing what you want with your time. The robots are your customers, for example Snapchat or Twitter, designed and created by humans, piling into your casino and lining up to pull your slot machine levers for a chance to win your time and money. So you have to put bouncers at the door to allow only the truly important VIPs access to your time. Only these VIPs bring value to you, while some others are wearing a disguise.

All of this, in order to use your time to pursue what really matters to you.


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