Do Smartphones Really Make You Productive?

This post is a breakaway from my usual audio-related topics.

I have been toying with the idea of taking up one of those challenges where you switch to a dumb-phone for a fixed period, usually a week. Imagine what it would be like to not receive a notification for hours at a stretch! I carry a basic Nokia phone as my backup device buy never used it as my primary phone.

So the quest began.

Choosing a phone

I tried switching to a feature phone a few years ago. That phase lasted barely a few days because it couldn’t sync my contacts of about 2,000 entries. Besides, I don’t see myself as the kind of person who writes down phone numbers in a pocket diary and carry it around. Hence, I had one criteria – the dumb-phone should sync with my phone book. I also like the idea of knowing who’s calling me. In fact, not knowing who is on line is even considered rude today.

Most feature phones don’t automatically sync contacts, and these can manually accept only upto 200 contact entries. The only feature phone that fit my criteria of syncing contacts was the Punkt MP01.

But wait before you order it. The phone costs approximately USD 340, which is about INR 22,500! For a basic phone that does nothing but make calls and receive text messages, it seems like a satirical take on the situation. There’s no way I would put that kind of money down for a little experiment.

Finding the perfect dumb-phone was a failed mission.

When in doubt, innovate

I took a second look at the phone in my hand – a OnePlus 2 – and thought, “What if I find a minimal ROM that dumbs it down?”

Bingo!

I decided to play with what I have but reduce the distraction of a smartphone. I recalled one of Unbox Therapy’s videos where Lew, the host, tries to survive a week without a smartphone but gives up because he felt that phones are an extension of us these days.

It struck a chord, and I realised I wanted to declutter, not switch off from the Internet. There’s clutter, but it’s not pure evil, right? There are perks too – it helps me organise my life.

Goals re-evaluated! This time, I decided didn’t want a email, news apps, e-commerce or social media. Just my contacts and minimal apps.

What I need vs what I want

If you travel a lot like I do, apps like Google Calendar, phonebook, Google Maps, aWallet etc. can keep you sane. You probably know that already. And an occasional dose of the Internet can’t harm us much. On the other hand, apps like Facebook, Instagram, e-commerce, eMail, Flipboard etc. can suck you into a vortex where time isn’t a dimension (Yeah, I just watched that Christopher Nolan movie again). I had fun with some delete-delete-delete, and I finally have only these apps on my phone:

  1. ActionVOIP – VOIP calling
  2. Amazon Kindle – eBook reading
  3. Apple Music – Music is a good way to spend time commuting
  4. Authenticator – Google 2-step verification
  5. aWallet Cloud PasswordManager – We all need something like this
  6. Bubble Level – I use it at work
  7. Calendar – Google calendar manages my scheduling
  8. Camera – of course!
  9. Chrome – for that emergency browsing or checking emails
  10. Clock – alarms
  11. Contacts
  12. Dropbox – I keep all work related documents here
  13. Evernote – My go-to note taking app
  14. FinchVPN – for when I connect to hotel or public WIFI
  15. Fing – I use this at work
  16. Google – Google now is a great assistant. I have turned off all cards expect travel and bill reminders
  17. Maps – google maps
  18. Messenger – googles bare-bones SMS app
  19. Nova Launcher
  20. Play Store
  21. Pocket – offline reading
  22. Polaris Office
  23. Poweramp – Music player
  24. QuickPic – Gallery app replacement
  25. Real Calc – I use this at work. Use the stock calc if that you don’t need the extra features
  26. Settings
  27. Sheets – I use google sheets a lot
  28. Super Backup – my go-to back up app
  29. Uber
  30. WhatsApp – this is the new SMS
  31. WIFI Analyser – use this at work and home
  32. Wunderlist – my to-do list

Everything else was uninstalled. The default apps – the ones that can’t be uninstalled – have been disabled. The result? My days have suddenly become longer, in a good way!

How’s it going?

I’ve lasted a week now, and I must say it is great. I don’t get irrelevant notifications, I’m not constantly checking my emails. Can you even imagine the time I save when I don’t browse through Flipboard, Youtube, social media or e-commerce apps looking through stuff I don’t need but end up buying.

I am much more productive now. I get on to my computer or tablet to get work done – which I think is a much better way to work. On our phones, we fool ourselves thinking we’re productive with constant email and news notifications. And anyway, in about 30 seconds, you would be drawn to a totally irrelevant article or drift into a stream of social media posts. I always was.

So now, I pick my phone up only for calls, to answer messages, read an e-book or listen to music. It comes with a bonus – my phone needs to be charged only once every two days!

Sooner or later, we need to realise that smartphones are an extension of us. You decide upto what extent to depend on it. Use it wisely, or it will take over your life.

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