A couple months ago I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my iPhone. I was going through a “get rid of digital clutter” phase, and had already taken myself off every not-totally-compelling email list. I eventually put Facebook back on, because I have enough friends who arrange events or schedule meetings through it to make it functionally useful; but most of the time I still try to ignore it.
And I find that not having the ability to check in on my Twitter stream at stoplights absolutely doesn’t decrease my quality of life at all.
Y Combinator partner Harj Taggar posts about his experience taking email off his iPhone. “I did this mostly out of curiousity around two questions,” he explains: “could I actually do it given how addicted to checking my email I was and what consequences would it have in my daily life?” Six months later, he still doesn’t use his iPhone for email, and he admits that
The adjustment process was surprisingly difficult…. During the first few days I was somewhat shocked by how anxious it made me not being able to constantly check my email. I actually became irritable and frustrated. I became aware of just how habitual it had become to open up the Mail app every spare second I had. This feeling passed and was gradually replaced by a feeling of liberation….
But the payoff has been substantial. One subtle but important result has been
the lengthening of my concentration span, even when I’m at my desk with easy access to my email. I’ve long realized that email is the biggest killer of my productivity…. But once I rid myself of the habit of checking email constantly on my phone, suddenly I had less of a habitual urge to check my email in general. It feels wonderful.
“Once I realized the power of this,” he continues, he took off “Facebook, Twitter and Quora…. It’s been the best decision I’ve made this year and would highly recommend it.”
It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time we spend on devices or services, in part because things like Twitter and Facebook have a way of distorting our sense of time: it’s very easy for the “just two more minutes” or “just one more link” rationalization turn into an hour.
The fact that we tend to hop on and off these services also helps camouflage the amount of time we actually spend connected. Think of it this way: if you spend 15 minutes a day checking your mail during the subway ride to work (and for simplicity’s sake assume during the weekend too, when you’re at the laundry, taking the kid to the park etc.), that works out to 105 minutes a week, 5,460 minutes in a year (105 x 52 = 5,460).
Now do a little division. 5,460 minutes is 91 hours. It’s also 3.79 24-hour days. So imagine, rather than spending 15 minutes a day for a year doing something, you pulled three consecutive all-nighters, and got it all done at once. That’s how much time you’re really spending on it. Those “few minutes longer” can turn into real time pretty quickly.