A radical experiment for the summer

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I’m trying a radical experiment this summer to improve my creativity and productivity.

You may not need to take this as far as I am, but I recommend to you the goal and the principles behind this – I KNOW it will boost your results, in all aspects of your life.

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you know how passionate I am about creating head space for clear thinking and sound decision-making. Yes, even though we work in a “service business” and need a keen understanding of quickly shifting media trends.

I’ve been striving – struggling? – to keep peeling back layers of distraction and digital wheel-spinning, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Earlier this year I even got my son’s attention with the things I don’t do when I first get to the office every morning.

But last week, during a conversation with my other son about overusing his smartphone, I realized that despite my previous comfort level, I had actually been rationalizing some fairly ineffective behavior for quite a while.

What vice am I confessing? Surfing the web on my phone.

Doesn’t sound like that big a deal – and by no means am I saying it’s a bad thing. But here’s why I don’t like that habit in myself.

I’m pretty good about only doing email and social media during set times, when I’m at my computer. Being purposeful and effective so I preserve my best time and thinking for the creative work that gets me the most value and results. Same with using the web to follow the news of our industry and important civic issues that have a direct result on my life and business – on my computer.

But now I’ve caught myself – when I have a moment to kill, or on a brief lunch break, or before bed – whipping out my phone and hopping on the runaway train of whatever kryptonite topic I’m too into at the moment. Doing the exact thing I railed against in this post from 2017 about the virtue of letting yourself feel bored.

I realized that as great as I’ve been about being purposeful on my computer, I’ve still been too impulsive with my phone when I’m not working. Wasting way too much time and energy reading about train-wreck national political spats, or my alma mater’s perennially struggling sports teams, or my latest fascination with hole-in-the-wall barbecue joints that sell out before lunchtime.

And when I look at my bedside stand, I see stacks of popular books that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. And thoughtfully written longform magazine articles about topics that are very important to me. I wish I had more time to read all this stuff . . . Aha, there’s the gap.

So here’s my radical experiment. From now until my kids go back to school . . . when I’m not at my computer working . . . if I have the urge to read something, instead of looking at my phone for “whatever is new,” I commit to only reading print.

I’ve got a personal finance book, and a marketing book, and some issues of The Atlantic and Outside, that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

This commitment will allow me to be absolutely purposeful, instead of impulsive, and will meet the same intellectual and entertainment needs that web surfing does. Without the end result of looking up from my phone and realizing I just spent 20 minutes reading about something I don’t really care about.

Why does it have to be print? Because I don’t trust myself with my phone in my hand in these circumstances – anything with a link in it is a bit too dangerous for me :). I need to make a radical departure to re-route some neural pathways. Plus I’m a bit old-school and still enjoy the feel of a book or magazine in my hands.

You don’t need to go this far. You could set a limit that you’d only read books on your phone via Kindle or another book app. And/or only meaningful web pieces you’ve saved to a “read later” app like Instapaper or Pocket.

The point is to break the habit of pulling out your phone for mere stimulation, and instead respond to that urge for information by turning to something you’ve previously decided is valuable.

When my kids go back to school at the end of the summer, I’ll report back to you on how this experiment goes.

In the meantime, for your sake, I encourage you to take one step to make your media consumption more purposeful and less impulsive.

This article was originally published on Jun 19, 2019.