Deep Work And The Apps On Your Phone

Have you even been addicted to a self-help book and believe it is the answer to all your ills?

Deep Work, by Cal Newport, is that book for me. It was a month ago that I read it and I’m still thinking about how to work the ideas it presents into my life.

I will have a slightly more involved review later on this blog, but the short of it is Deep Work talks about the need, usefulness and tactics of working more deeply. As in, concentrating on things and why it is so frickin’ hard these days. It also points out rewards for this form of work.

The Problem

The part that touched me most profoundly was the need to get rid of the little distractions that pump regular rewards of dopamine into my system, making it harder to think more deeply and do hard work. It’s checking my email too often, checking social media too often, bumbling along the Internet with no particular direction, just looking for the next cool buzz.

This stretches across platforms and it has made me take a look at what is on each page of my phone. My first page was filled with apps that I thought important, things I wanted to check often. Email, Safari (web browser), stocks, weather, house stuff, news.

We take these apps for granted now. We take for granted, and thus use without much thought, the fact that we can check our email on our phone when we just stand around. This is great! Isn’t it? Being able to fill those dull moments waiting for the many things we have to wait for in life?

I’ve come to disagree.

My phone had become something of a pacifier. I ‘suck’ on it when bored or impatient or, for heaven’s sake, WAITING AT A STOP LIGHT! Why?

Why It’s A Problem

Two symptoms there is a problem: One, there might be something new….I should check! Two, I was bored and not comfortable with it.

Clicking for new things gives me a chance for a good hit of dopamine, that brain drug that makes us feel good (well, one of them, any way). But it is short-lived and like a junky, I go looking for another hit soon after. So I have some personal crap there to deal with. But I do know that the less we trigger this desire, the less the desire comes around and the easier it is to concentrate on one subject and dive deeper into it, be it reading, writing, figuring out a tough problem or concentrating on our work.

The second is something I need to tell myself after telling my daughter it all these years. Growing up, she’d tell me she was bored and I would quickly retort, “Good!” and then offer no help to undo the boredom. I believe, especially for kids, being bored is good; it gets the imagination going and is a regular part of life that needs dealing with. I seem to have forgotten that lesson especially when the fancy smartphones came around.

A Solution

I needed to kick myself in the butt and do something to cut back on my dopamine addiction so that I can retrain my brain to crave deep work. I desire to get back to writing on this blog about travels and finish off both of my 31 Days series. But to get there, I need to reduce my addiction to shiny new things popping up on my screen.

So I moved some things. This is a baby step for me. I’d love to have no email on my phone but I am not sure yet if that is the best idea for my business. I have gained some work from my ability to respond quickly with a quote while out of the office and my phone was vital for that.



I moved my email, browser and Instagram to the last page of all my apps (I have four pages in all). They are no longer on my front page, begging to be clicked. I have to swipe over for them and that little bit of effort is enough time for me to ask myself the important questions, “Why the heck am I checking email? Am I bored? Am I actually expecting something?”. More often then not, I’m reflexively doing it and not purposefully doing it. That’s how I know it’s not healthy, just like snacking on potato chips or grabbing a beer when bored.

A while ago I also removed Twitter (Dopamine Central), Facebook and will soon remove LinkedIn from my phone.

(Note: Those new apps up top are MindMaps, an app to help me keep track of lines of income and new ideas, and Streaks, an app that helps develop habits I pick. The red one is Todoist, a to-do list.)

My Suggestion To You

I didn’t do anything drastic and I’d love to remove the apps altogether, but I think my work might suffer too much. But maybe your work doesn’t require constant use of email and web-browsing. Why do you have a phone anyway? I ask myself that often and I realize most of the things I do on my phone would be done a lot better on a large screen. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

My suggestion is to move some apps around. You can move them back if you like and if you are feeling bold right now you can also delete them outright. Move your email, web browser, social media apps and anything else you reflexively click without thinking, to a folder on the far side of the app screens on your phone. It’s something of a quarantine area that shouldn’t be touched without active thought as to what you hope to accomplish by opening the app.

If your answer to, “Why?” is, “Because I’m bored,” or, “I don’t know,” then I’d suggest not opening the app. Figure out what you really want to do with that free time and do it.

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