The last week I’ve been participating in New Tech City‘s bored and brilliant project. I decided to participate because I intuitively agreed with the premise; connectedness can be great, but having my mind overstimulated can hinder my creativity and leave me feeling drained.
Usually 1 when I get stuck or I’m stressed, I disconnect (instead of staying up late, I work better if I wake up earlier with a fresh mind), do something else to take my mind off the problem (exercise works great!) and come back refreshed to solve it.
Watching this video made me realise that I might not be as conscious about my phone use as I think I am (am I sometimes one of those people just walking around gripping their phones?!).
So I thought it would be worthwhile to try this out (with the 16,000 other people signed up for the project!) and see what happened. I do like doing little social experiments on myself.
The project lasted 6 days, and each day consisted of a new challenge. Each challenge also had a short podcast giving background and explaining why the challenge was chosen. The challenge is for the day, but I chose to do each challenge for the 6 days:
- Keep it in your pocket (or bag)
- Photo free day
- Delete THAT app (you know the one you might check obsessively at times…)
- Take a fauxcation away from your phone
- Notice what’s around you (and make one small observation)
- Get bored and design my dream house
The photo free day was the easiest for me – I’m not a big picture taker and I loved how the podcast made the case for experiencing instead of taking pictures!
The hardest was to not be taking my phone out of my bag when I am traveling/in between things. I’m quite often on long train rides to get to clients or my Belgian office; I use the time on the train to work, but it was only when I was consciously not taking my phone out that I realised how much I had to exercise control to not do it! I know why I do it – to see if there’s something urgent from my colleagues or clients, but really if the world was falling apart then they would probably call me. I also take out my phone to check the time – I wore a watch the whole week so I could stop from looking at my phone and getting distracted by an email/sms. I turned off all, but the most critical notifications on my phone so I wouldn’t get distracted 2. And instead of using my phone to check if the trains are still on time, I strained to hear the poor quality announcements…
The app I chose to delete was Facebook. I know why I check it the most, because I live in a different country than my family and many of my friends and it’s a great way to see what they’re up to. Sometimes what happens is just mindless scrolling and I find that quite draining. I’ve deleted it and so far have not added it back and I don’t really miss it.
The sixth challenge was quite fun as I had to first explicitly get bored. The suggestion was to either watch a pot of water get to the boiling point, or to write “0,1,0,1” until I filled up a blank page. I did the latter and my goodness it was boring! I found myself struggling and forcing my concentration so I could actually write it properly. I guess that’s also what made this challenge so fun; when I finished I emptied all the contents of my wallet and built a version of my dream house (that’s Serenity on the right).
So, did the project work? By freeing up my mind from my phone, did I get more brilliant? Well, it’s a bit of a fallacy to think that purely by getting bored you can be brilliant! With that being said, overall I’m happy with the results I got from this experience. I am more aware of my smartphone use and I’ve realised that I am in no way addicted to it as much as some of the stories I’ve heard and the overall data usage in the project. Using my longer train rides and my fauxcation, I was able to finally finish a book that I’d been wanting to get through and got some really useful insights/quotes/models out of it that I can use in my work.
Going through this week long challenge reminded me a lot of the Tiny Habits week; doing one small thing over the course of a week brings more consciousness and will sustainably alter your behaviour. I’ll definitely continue with the ‘keep the phone in my bag’.
Some other thoughts:
- An article in the the Guardian summarizes the 5 reasons why we should do nothing. Reason 3 is that too much busyness can be counterproductive. I’ve seen this in some of the companies I’ve worked with; there is a certain impatience for taking breaks and high demands to be reachable all the time. In the podcast for challenge 4, Manoush referenced research conducted at Boston Consulting Group by Leslie Perlow of Harvard University. “They discovered that perpetual connectivity was good in the short term — not so much in the long term.”
- Reason 5 is that you’ll regain control of your attention. When I started practicing yoga and we had to mediate the metaphor that stayed with me is to imagine your mind as a still ocean. The waves of thoughts will arise, you recognise them and choose to let them dissipate.
- This smartphone problem is a luxury problem to have. My sister-in-law works with a foundation in San Jose, Costa Rica. The kids need the activities she does with them each week because if they get bored they run the risk of getting dragged into drugs or other vices. They need that busyness to bring meaning, structure and purpose to their lives.
This week was a great way to keep up the practice of spacing out/taking breaks and coming back with renewed concentration, speed and creativity to solve the problems at hand.