The act of replacing one’s smart phone with a less capable version is a growing trend. As digital decluttering and internet detoxes become more popular, so too is making the more permanent change of having less capability in your pocket at all times. Some people will pull out an old Nokia from their drawer, some will pick up the latest flip phone (they still make these?), and some will try one of few new options available in this category (i.e. the Light phone).

Me? I’ve kicked the idea around a few times. I gave it serious consideration once again when I saw that Isaac Smith made the switch recently. But there was an aspect of my job that required me to be on call for periods of time where a smartphone and some specific apps were needed — this had stopped me from truly considering the idea.

That requirement changed suddenly a couple weeks back and I no longer have to be available after hours. So I once again thought about getting rid of my iPhone and getting something less functional, and therefore less distracting.

My requirements

Truthfully, social media and a lot of the things Cal Newport talks about in Digital Minimalism are not an issue for me. I don’t use Instagram and apps of that sort. I don’t have a Twitter app on my phone. The most common “entertainment” activity I perform on my phone was reading books.

Yet I still feel the need to use my phone less. I still suffer from the “just checks”. It’s just that what I check on is all work related. And, in a house of 6 where screentime is a common point of discussion and focus, I want to lead by example.

So I looked at my phone and thought about all the things I like to do with it. These are activities that are either necessary or something I consider enjoyable and a good use of my time. The only question is when I should take the time to do them.

  • write in my journal (including adding photos)
  • documenting and reviewing my personal and professional goals
  • completing my weekly reviews, which includes those goals and my calendar
  • reading books
  • logging my habits
  • memorizing Scripture
  • recording and reviewing my runs
  • reading RSS and email newsletters
  • taking photos
  • looking at our photos
  • reviewing maps when on trail runs
  • reading my Bible during a church service or when travelling (I use my hard cover Bible at home, but it’s big enough I don’t want to lug it around)
  • paying for items when on a run
  • transferring funds when out and about
  • scanning documents and receipts
  • work related items (checking Slack, Basecamp, Help Scout, Intercom, and email)

I’m sure there are some other items I haven’t thought of yet. I considered how to approach all of these if I was to move to a dumb phone. I’d probably want to get a Kindle. Some activities I could switch to doing on my laptop (but with less frequency). Some might be dropped completely (reading a digital Bible, paying for items with Apple Pay). And the purpose of this exercise was to do the work related items during my workday from my computer.

But when discussing this with my wife, she had a really great suggestion:

Why not turn the phone you already have into a dumb phone?

Great idea. And I did just that.

I removed all apps that get me picking up the phone to “check”. Slack, Basecamp, email, RSS, and Strava. I reviewed the Notifications panel in Settings — things were pretty clean already, but I removed a few more. I also disabled vibrations and reduced the number of apps that could post items on the Lock screen.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out. Early returns are looking good — my phone has not been in my hand much the past week.

One other benefit of the dumb phone is not having to pay a ridiculous price for your data plan. I get a bit frustrated that we have very few options here in Canada and they’re all spendy (we pay around $200 CAD/month for 3 phones and data). So I’m still considering the dumb phone as a possibility at some point.

But for now, I appreciate the supercomputer in my pocket that lets me do most of the items I listed above. But with far less distraction now.