For the past few years, I’ve relied on my Apple Watch for everything. I needed to track my activities and stay on schedule, and I could think of no better way to accomplish that. One fateful Friday, something happened: I forgot my watch at home. By the time I boarded the train, it was too late. I panicked, certain that my day was over before it began.
When I finished work and headed home, I felt something strange. Nothing had caught on fire and I hadn’t missed any meetings. It was nice not to be tethered to my smart device. I left it off for the weekend and didn’t want to put it back on once Monday came around. Ditching my watch freed me from the distractions that had grown to dominate my days.
I’m not the only one who could use a break: The average American looks at a smartphone 52 times per day. If we spend eight hours asleep per night, then that’s more than three interruptions an hour — which stops us from being as productive as we trick ourselves into thinking we are.
I’m a big believer in limiting decisions. Psychology Today notes that the average person makes about 35,000 decisions every day. By cutting that number down and eliminating unnecessary distractions, we can focus on the decisions that truly matter.
Forgetting my watch didn’t cause me to unplug completely, but the difference in my experiences was noteworthy. I’ve ditched my Apple Watch in favour of a Fitbit Flex, which has no screen to distract me. I can tell the time and count my steps, but I am the master of my own attention span.
So, how can entrepreneurs optimize technology?
Connectivity is important when starting and growing a business, but it can get in the way of our productivity and even mental health. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to completely disconnect from technology, but entrepreneurs should be more aware of their reliance on supposedly helpful devices. Here’s how to make the transition:
1. Cut out the noise.
Ever think about why billionaires like Zuckerberg wear the same thing every day? A standardized wardrobe means one fewer thing to worry about. Take a similar approach to your connectivity and your schedule: Cut out the noise so you can focus on what’s most important.
Now that I don’t rely on a microchip to tell me what to do, my days are surprisingly more organized. I built a process to follow without the need for external guidance. I encourage my team members to stay on task during meetings and to avoid anything that might cause us to spin our tires needlessly. By limiting my reliance on technology, I’ve learned that controlling what you can control and ignoring the rest is the biggest key to success.
2. Compartmentalize your flows.
Compartmentalizing my communication technology helps me set parameters and feel more in control of my day. By encouraging my team to use different platforms, apps and systems for specific purposes, I’m able to stay on top of everything without feeling overwhelmed.
This strategy enables me to limit my email inbox to communications with customers and partners. For example, all team discussions, updates and task descriptions happen on Slack. I use ActiveCampaign strictly for customer relationship management (CRM) and deal flow. We use Asana for ongoing projects and operational tasks. I only receive pings when a deal is updated or when someone completes a task, which is much less chaotic than a stream of constant updates in my inbox.
I’m social on social, I use iMessage for friends and family and I keep work-related messages on specific apps for specific goals. Keep your social life separate from your business and your team efforts separate from your customer interactions. If you can do this, you’ll find a lot more success maintaining control of your mental space.
3. Limit notifications.
I believe that fatigue is the biggest threat to business owners. Never-ending swarms of notifications can overwhelm even the most dedicated founders. When my watch pinged me every few minutes, I never had an opportunity to breathe. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was affecting my creative energy and drive.
For each of the apps and tracking programs mentioned above, modify notification preferences so that you aren’t bombarded throughout the day. I get notifications when something important happens and receive recaps of the day’s activities — or I manually check in to see progress on tasks. This strategy enables me to give my full attention to pressing tasks while still having energy left over to put out any fires that ignite.
4. Make technology work within your schedule.
Jeff Bezos schedules his biggest meetings in the mornings so that he can be at his best when he makes his most important decisions. Concerns accumulate as the day goes on, and we have less brainpower to spare for big moments. I’ve adopted a similar mindset as it relates to technology.
Taking off my Apple Watch allowed me to maintain my presence of mind throughout the day. Set aside time in your schedule to respond to emails so that you don’t have to depend on laptop notifications. When I answer emails, I can focus on the task at hand and give my full attention to any problems or important conversations.
I thought a watchless existence would limit me, but I now realize that my obsession with optimization (and notifications) was holding me back. Try leaving your smartwatch at home — even just for a day — to see how it feels. Put your smartphone away for a weekend. Even if you don’t unplug completely, a little separation from the constant nagging of smart devices can be a beautiful thing.