When I recently accepted a new position and learned that my employer would not issue me a Blackberry as my previous employer had done, my initial reaction was panic. I immediately started researching for a smartphone replacement. In the midst of panic, I saw an opportunity however. I decided to go “cold turkey” and experiment with a smartphone-free life. I got a basic pay-as-you-go phone with no email or Internet for 30 days. The first few days went like this:
Day 1: An indescribable feeling that the world was racing by me and I was completely left out. How many unread emails could possibly be in my inbox? What breaking news had I missed? What about the hundreds of tweets from Guy Kawasaki that I was missing! It felt like there was a great party going on that I knew about, but I wasn’t invited.
Day 2: Constantly fiddling with my not-so-smart phone, even though the occasional text message was all that I received. Quizzical looks from husband as I fiddle.
Day 3: Deeper understanding of the term “crackberry” as I experience a mini-withdrawal, struggling to adjust to life without constant contact through email and the web. Husband is supportive of my complaints but secretly elated that I am not constantly checking email.
And so on…..
Initially this post was going to be about distractions in the virtual classroom and traditional classroom and how they are more similar than ever, thanks to smartphones. The battle for attention span is fierce for all facilitators. Getting rid of my smartphone coincided with my initial writing of this post, and it has made me realize that I was battling with my Blackberry for my own attention span. One-week after getting rid of my smartphone, I got used to being “disconnected” and I began to relax. Without the distraction of a smartphone I noticed that I was able to focus better on one task at a time.
My cold turkey experiment is still in its infancy, but the lessons I learned in a week have been powerful. While it’s nice to have so much information at your fingertips, for me it was also a crutch and distraction that kept me from doing more important tasks that require deep thought and focus. For me this meant that I finally finished writing an article that has been on my to-do list for months.
After this 30-day experiment concludes I’ll see what I do next. Don’t get me wrong, smartphones are amazing productivity tools and having a Blackberry allowed me to respond to client needs and get work done in the most incredible situations — including one time when I was stuck in an elevator! But if/when I do get a smart phone, I’ll be much smarter (pardon the pun) and more disciplined about how I use it. For one, I’ll do what Tim Ferriss suggests and not use it at least one day a week. And finally, if you want to try this experiment yourself, here are some easy steps to follow: (1) pick up your phone; (2) push the off button