My home screen has nothing on it. And the background is a reminder.

I remember being excited to get iOS 4 with the bubbles in the background. Then excited to get iOS 7 and all the new icons.

This morning I’m downloading iOS 13. Millions of others will too. Our phones get a new way of thinking. New features added, old ones removed.

But when was the last time you upgraded your way of thinking?

Smartphone, dumb time

Screen time is the new smoking. Show me someone’s screen time and I’ll tell you their priorities.

The screen time feature came out last year with iOS 12. It was an eye-opener. Now the thoughts I had of “I’m using my phone too much”, could be quantified.

I wasn’t a fan of the first time I got a weekly report back, an average of 90-minutes per day. I wrote down a list of how I enjoy spending my time. None of them involved a phone. All of my valuable work is done off the phone. So any amount of time I spent on my phone would take away from time I could be using elsewhere.

We started a ritual. Sunday nights at the dinner table, I’d ask my brothers.

“What’s your screen time report?”

They’d check.

“5-hours per day.”

“4.5-hours per day.”

“6-hours per day.”

Then they’d realise.

“Wow, that’s bad.”

We made it a competition. Who could get the lowest? My brothers halved theirs. I got mine down to 11-minutes. I realised I didn’t need a phone apart from messages and some banking.

screenshot of reducing my screen time down to 11-minutes
During the screen time competition, I reduced mine down to 11-minutes. I didn’t miss much.

Many apps are engineered for you to spend more time on them. Their business model depends on it. Each one of them fights for your most valuable resource, your attention. If I asked my brothers for $10, they’d ask me why, but when it comes to spending 6-hours on their phone per day, they had no troubles.

The science isn’t there yet. But you can see it happening. Put a smartphone on a table and ask someone to ignore it. What happens? They’re thinking about it. Their ability to concentrate gets weaker with every buzz and red bubble.

I’m guilty. I had to turn my phone into a dumb phone. Permanent do not disturb, nothing on my home screen. No notifications. I want to use my phone, not the other way round.

The 6-month rule: remove apps, remove old materials, remove old ways of thinking

I don’t know how I got so many clothes. I’ve given away bunches of them every couple of months for the last few years. It’s the same with apps. It’s the same with old thought patterns.

Now I’ve got a 6-month rule. If I haven’t used something in 6-months, it goes.

The dentist is my reminder. Every 6-months I have a check-up. When I’m in the lobby, I ask myself what’s been holding me back the last 6-months?

Usually, it’s overthinking things. Letting the past guide the future too much. Letting worries of the future guide the present.

When I book a new appointment for six months, I schedule a reminder.

What if you set your current plans aside for a moment and just tried the simplest option?

Today’s app cull took me from 81 to 61. Still too many.

Upgrade less, use what works, fix it

I used to get a new iPhone every year. Not this year. Not for the past three years. The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro got announced, I told myself, they look nice, really nice but you don’t need them. Then on the way to training my iPhone 7 fell out of my hoodie pocket and smashed. The first time I’ve broken a phone since I was 19, I’m 26 now.

I thought it was a sign. My screen was broken, now I had an excuse to order the new one. No. It still works. I could get the screen fixed and it would be back to what it was. A device which did what I needed.

The more you know, the less you need. The experienced painter uses less brushes and less brush strokes to accomplish the same thing as the beginner. Less but better.

I had to remind myself. I’m a writer. Give me a pen and paper and I’m done.

You’ve probably got the tools you need. Look at what you’ve already got. How could it be used differently?

Creating or consuming?

Going through the screen time reports, I’d ask, “what’s it on?”

My brothers would reply.

“Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Clash of Clans.”

The iPhone Pro highlights the power of its new cameras. They’re the best in their class. All smartphones are becoming cameras with the ability to download apps.

They’re tools which allow you to create.

But this isn’t how they’re being used. According to their screen time, my brothers had paid $1000 for Facebook and Instagram machines.

I asked them, “how could you better spend your time?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do all the people you look up to have in common?”

“They make things.”

“Now you’re thinking.”

Every time I’ve felt down, it’s because I’ve suppressed something inside of me. Creating brings it out.

The devices you already have along with the internet have made the barrier to entry for creating lower than ever. You can use them to make the change you want to see in the world.

Want to write? Publish on Medium.

Want to be a movie star? Upload to YouTube.

Want to be a photographer? You know where to go.

Creating instead of consuming. That’s the switch.

Today’s iOS update brings new features like Dark Mode, more privacy, new ways to edit photos. What’s your latest update going to bring?

Have you got a smartphone but dumb time? Don’t give away your attention.

Are you holding onto old ways of thinking? What’s the simpler option?

Do you really need a new outfit to do yoga? Use what works.

Are you creating or consuming? Let your inner artist out.