Why you should make “Discipline” your word of 2020

I used to write these very long posts about what the past year had meant to me and what I wanted to focus on in the coming year. Here’s a sample. I dropped that ritual a while back because things have been confusing over the past couple of years. I work in an industry which seems to be imploding, with people who change jobs every two-three years and myself I’ve had to change jobs three times since I’ve moved to the UK just to try and keep up.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind change. Much. But the older I get the more the constant change bothers me because it throws me off rituals and processes which make me more efficient.

Now, there is a post in the making about creativity and how to apply it to your everyday interactions with tech, but this one is mostly about applying discipline to your “tech life”. So read on if you’ve ever agreed to (in your head), retweeted or shared anything about how tech is taking over lives.

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It’s hard to break away from the magic of your tiny screen (phone). It’s a wonderful distraction and, while there is no clear proof (I say this without having checked the latest research), it does do something to how your brain is wired. Otherwise why would be pick it up first thing in the morning and at every waking moment during the day?

Your phone also holds the promise of simple solutions. There are productivity apps, apps to make lists, apps to hold your passwords, your grocery needs, your period and its scary cycle, apps to chronicle your life, apps to find cheap clothes, apps to watch stuff, record stuff, make and play. The phone is there to make your life better. It is.

However, lots of people are feeling trapped. There’s too many apps, the screens of our phones are cluttered, there’s notifications, lists to be updated, items to be checked off, things to watch, things to record, daily chronicles to be saved, etc.

So here’s how you introduce discipline in your tech life.

First, you need to recognise that if you’re struggling to keep up with something that’s meant to be productive or enjoyable, you should probably find a better option. I used to get lots of ideas while on the Tube or somewhere where I just could not type, so I downloaded a voice memo app and tried to record my ideas. It made me feel awkward and also bad whenever I checked it and saw I had actually forgotten to record stuff. So then I thought about it and developed a method for remembering keywords about ideas I was having on the go. For instance, if I was thinking about starting a new post on research techniques, instead of stopping and trying to record that, I’d think of the first couple of lines and try to commit those to memory. So, if it’s not making it easier for you, try a different way (and very importantly, delete the initial app).

Then there are some obvious rules:

  1. Notification s— ALWAYS, always check the notification setting on any app you install and set it to the kind of notifications you need. Remember, most phones allow you to set notification rules overall, and they refer to where the notification shows up (on locked screen, on open screen, just in the notifications bar, not at all) and when. You need to take an active interest in setting the right level for ALL your apps (sorry, but you have to…)
  2. Clean-up — this is as valid for your phone as it is for anything in your life. Every two-three months review all your phone and see what apps you have not used. Usually, you can do this by asking the phone to do a Storage clear-up. The phone will suggest what apps you have not been using. Delete them or put them in a folder which marks them as “infrequent”.
  3. Folders — I cannot begin to stress how important it is for you to be putting apps in folders. One, because if you’re looking for a specific app through tens of them, the desire to click on random ones is bigger; and two, because when you have a folder called Work and it’s the weekend, it will feel strange that you’re tapping on that folder. So, create folders with very clear names, including names like “ONCE A WEEK” so as to give yourself rules. (BTW, someone said to me “But if I see something marked “once a week” I have this urge to click it immediately”. To which I say “Grow the fuck up”. Seriously.)
  4. Use your phone’s clear-up options — most modern phones allow you to reduce storage by sifting through old apps and photos and suggesting what to delete. Delete copiously.
  5. Reduce attachment — and by that I don’t mean become a psychopath, but rather stop keeping all 10 versions of photos you took trying to get a perfect selfie. Store essentials and delete the rest. Sorry but you will NOT need that close-up of a potato in 2 years.
  6. Anything that can be re-downloaded at a later date, delete — podcast episodes, training sessions, etc which can be found in the cloud and re-downloaded should go, unless you’re listening to them on a daily basis (which, BTW, you should not unless it helps with a specific thing)
  7. Make every interaction with your screen a CONSCIOUS one — now this is a hard one. The hardest. I can’t really speak to how it feels for smokers, but I assume this is the closest to giving up smoking… Only click on apps if you have a specific need and space out those needs by hours and days rather than minutes. A simple rule is if you’ve checked something in the past 5–10 minutes, don’t do it again unless you’re waiting for breaking news. Also, try to categorise your apps and checking process by tiers. Apps you can check every hour, apps you should only check once every day, apps that only get checked every week etc… Folder names help with that.
  8. [for social media apps] Reduce the number of people you follow — I’m sorry but if you don’t understand this simple principle, nothing will work for you: Following people, like downloading apps, needs to be strategic. You simply will not be able to keep up with thousands of people. It breaks the laws of physics (yes, physics) for you to think that your screen and the speed of your finger will be able to cover updates from those people and their friends. So think strategically about what you’re trying to get from your feed. I, for instance, don’t follow Campaign Magazine or any other ad industry mag on Twitter because I have found I only need 1 look at their website/a week to read through what’s been happening and if something really “breaking” occurs, one of the 20 people I follow will usually RT.
  9. Try new apps objectively — I check through lists of recommended apps (Google recently released a suite of wellbeing ones) and download the ones I like BUT I interact with them immediately and “aggressively” to see if they really work for me. If they don’t, I delete them right away.
  10. Back-up and delete — buy some online storage (it’s less than the cost of a tea/month for terrabites of space) and back up all your stuff and then apply rule 5, check, organise and delete.

As you can see, these are not complicated rules. There are more complicated things which address just not picking up your phone. I don’t really have a rule for that one. It’s about living objectively and trying to realise that you’re in control of your relationship with the tech world (if you try). Now, that works for me sometimes and it does not work for me when I experience high anxiety or I am very tired. I think the process is to try over and over and over until you start rewiring your brain.

I am a firm believer in the wiring process. I do think that neurons that fire together wire together, which means that the brain needs to be trained to do the right thing. And training means repetition and the core of repetition is discipline.

So in 2020, make discipline your word. I’m trying to :)

Digital Strategist. The Internet will save the world (pending verification). Views expressed here are my own/should not be construed as coming from my employer.