I spent 3 months without a phone – and here’s what happened.
In April of 2016, I hit bottom.
It was 3 in the morning, and I was still up, staring at my phone like an addict. My wife went to bed hours earlier, but I stayed up for 4 more hours, scrolling through my phone aimlessly: News feeds, Facebook, Youtube.
I had already ruined my morning the next day – I knew that. And yet even when I put the phone down, my mind was spinning. It took me another hour just to get to sleep.
And in that sleepy haze I had an epiphany: “I don’t love my phone anymore! There is way more bad stuff coming out of my phone than good stuff.”
The love affair was over
Let me be clear: I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day Steve Jobs debuted the iPhone. It was January 9th, 2007. I nearly lost it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I never buy new technology when it first comes out, but I knew I was going to buy the iPhone. It could surf the web. It could run programs. And it had a camera? I was in love. This was the future, and I had a front row seat!
But 9 short years later, and the love affair was over. I wanted out. How could this be?
Daytime: My phone is the worst source of OPP (other people’s priorities)
During the day, my smartphone had become a constant string of OPP (Other People’s Priorities).
My phone had become a direct conduit for other people to dump their crap into my lap. Clients, co-workers, family members, friends. Why solve your own problem, when you can just text someone else and ask them to solve it? People could reach me in 5 different ways, instantly: emails, calls, texts, notifications, Facebook messenger, LinkedIn Messenger. And yet somehow, it was always something I had to do for someone else.
To add insult to injury, people felt so entitled that they would get angry if I didn’t respond to an email or text within minutes. I was being invaded buy a superior force. As a result, I wasn’t getting my important work done, which was beyond frustrating.
Nighttime: Zombie mode
If that wasn’t bad enough, at night my phone became my mild sedative.
I would zone out reading Facebook, news, or whatever was mindless. It was a relaxing routine at first – a way to get some quiet time to myself. But as the years went on, I noticed a list of negative effects: higher levels of anxiety, less desire to go out and socialize in real life, mild depressive effects, and more. And studies are now showing that this behavior increases anxiety, promotes depression, and generally creates a dysphoric effect.
It was killing my sleep, and the next morning as well. I was losing sleep to “phone time”, and when I did put the phone down, I found it harder to get to sleep. The next day, my morning routine was shot.
In a really blessed life, my phone was my only curse.
I made a life changing decision: I was going to get rid of my phone, whatever it takes. But how?
First, I knew I needed something to tell everyone. You can’t just dump your phone. People tend to freak out. So I decided to go “cold turkey” while traveling in India. It was the perfect excuse for friends and clients.
How I did it – the details
(Note: I’m a detail guy, so I’m going to into some details about how I did it. If you’re not a detail person, skip down to “The results were…”)
Step 1: I downgraded to my old broken phone. I didn’t need my fancy iPhone 6 (and I didn’t want to continue the payment plan). So I sent the phone back, and pulled out my old rusty iPhone 5 from the kitchen drawer. My local iPhone repair man fixed it up good as new for just $75
Step 2: I used the phone in “Wifi Only” mode. No SIM card or data plan meant I could use it “WiFi Only” mode. Think of it like a tiny tablet. This was a critical decision that came in handy later.
Step 3: I got a Google Voice number. Like I said, people freak out when you say you don’t have a phone number. So I set up a Google Voice number. The funny thing was: My phone didn’t ring when someone called my number. All of the voicemails and texts just forwarded to my email.
Step 4: I used Facebook Messenger for urgent stuff. I told everyone important: use Facebook Messenger if you need me urgently. Facebook messenger does it all: Calls, voicemail, text, images, video.
Step 5: I got a portable wifi hotspot. My wife and I purchased a roaming wifi device with data plan (as a backup for international travel).
The results were better than I could have ever imagined.
From the very first day, this has been one of the best decisions of my life. It felt like a weight was lifted. That one domino has snowballed into 1000 positive effects in my life.
- Distractions dropped 70%, overnight. People around me have built a 24 hour response time into their expectations. Given a good excuse (“I’m in India for a month”), they adapted seemingly overnight, and life moved on. Except with me being MUCH happier, relaxed person.
- Productivity went through the roof. I finally got enough focused time to really break through on some crucial projects. I instantly knew I would never go back to “always on” mode.
- Nothing rings, beeps, or vibrates. No notifications. No calls. No texts. Literally, nothing.
- No one knows I don’t have a phone. To this day, no one seems to have noticed I don’t have a real phone that rings. People just leave a message and I get it in my email. When I call back from skype, people often comment on how much clearer the call sounds — like I’m in the same room.
- I’ve never been “stranded”. Connectivity has not been a problem at all (even in places like Albania). These days, every cafe, restaurant, hotel, airport has Free Wifi. Frankly, I was surprised at how “plugged in” I was. At least half of every waking day I had Wifi access. So it’s not like I was really “offline” at all. To date, I haven’t had ONE emergency the entire time.
- Things work in “offline mode”. I have been amazed at how much stuff worked in Offline mode: Maps, Calendar notifications, email, even spotify
- You can “retrain” people how to communicate with you. My family and friends use Facebook Messenger as my primary contact now.
- I deleted my Facebook App. I replaced “Facebook time” with a “Kindle time”, and I’ve read more books in the last 3 months than in the last 3 years. (Real talk: this was the hardest part of the whole thing)
- I actually like my old phone better. I was surprised to find that I actually liked my old iPhone 5 MORE than the iPhone 6. I still can’t remember why I felt like I needed to upgrade.
- The emotional results are impossible to describe. Franky, it’s indescribable so I won’t even try. I’ve shed a HUGE amount of fear and anxiety. I sleep better. My relationship is better. I like myself more.
But this one thing has changed my LIFE…
People no longer expect me to be instantly available.
This is the most profound change in my adult life. I created a wall around myself that requires people to THINK before they communicate with me. These days, by the time I respond to a voicemail, the person has usually solved their own problem.
It hasn’t been without some drawbacks.
The pros outweigh the cons be a wide margin. But I’d be lying if I said there were zero drawbacks. Here’s some of the drawbacks I experienced:
- Staying connected to Wifi. Unstable connections are the plague of the “no phone” life. Finding wifi is easy… staying connected can be hard. When you’re on a crucial business call and your connection keeps dropping — it’s a living NIGHTMARE. You don’t realize how miraculous it is that your phone calls just work… until they don’t.
- Real time maps is CRUCIAL. From directions, to finding a restaurant and calling for a reservation. I didn’t realize how much I relied on maps until it was gone.
- Data connectivity isn’t a big deal… UNTIL IT’S A HUGE DEAL. That one moment you need connectivity and don’t have it can cause a heart attack.
- Killing your phone doesn’t cure digital addictions. This one really surprised me. Free Wifi is so pervasive today that you’re still connected over half of the day. So it’s not the “cure-all” for digital addiction that I hoped it might be. I still had to uninstall Facebook app and use Facebook Feed Blocker on my desktop.
WORST PART OF THE WHOLE THING: In critical moments, unstable connections creates tremendous stress!
It’s about taking ownership of your world.
In the end, my big “aha moment” was this: It’s NOT about having a phone or not.
It’s about eliminating the expectation that you will be instantly available to everyone, at all times.
Sure, removing the phone is an easy way to force that conversation to happen. But ultimately, it’s about taking ownership of the way that you allow the world to communicate with you.
If you’ve fallen out of love with your phone, maybe it’s time you joined me in creating a world of “curated access”.