Setting up “Homescreen Zero” to encourage purposeful phone use and remove distractions

(Psst! The podcast episode can be found over here.)

Problem: Smartphones kill intentionality.

Don’t get me wrong: smartphones are wonderful.

I can use my phone to DO stuff that makes my life better. I can order a car, get food, find directions, FaceTime with Grandma. It’s a very useful device.

But I can also DUMP endless quantities of time, attention and effort into its 5.5″ screen. Staring, Mirror of Erised like, into a glowing fantasy world that teases me with just-around-the-corner-promises of fulfillment that will never come.

The smartphone, like any really powerful tool, can be used intentionally (with deliberation in a way that constructively helps our lives) or mindlessly (as a distraction, a safety blanket, anything that helps us avoid reality).

Solution: Treat smartphones more like a tool, less like a safety blanket.

When I was in the throes of my internet addiction, I pulled out the phone constantly:

  • When I was bored
  • When I was uncomfortable
  • When I had three spare seconds

Look around you and observe: many smartphone owners behave the same way. Don’t blame them; it’s how the tech companies have trained us to act—like obedient consumers.

The problem with this is a lack of intentionality. Instead of producing my phone to serve a purpose that enhanced my life, I was using it to fill other psychological needs. I was using the phone mindlessly.

By forcing ourselves to become more deliberate about our smartphone use, we can reclaim some of that incredibly valuable intentionality.

Comparing my “unlock flow” — then and now.

The goal with homescreen zero is to transition from the default phone unlock behavior to a new, cleaner flow.

Currently, your unlock flow probably looks something like this:

  1. Decide to use the phone (and/or hear a notification).
  2. Pull out the phone.
  3. Digest whatever notifications are on the homescreen.
  4. Unlock the phone.
  5. Digest whatever new blinking red lights are appearing over your apps, each of which signifies another distraction.
  6. Open up the desired app.
  7. (Optional) get totally distracted
  8. Put the phone away.

With Homescreen Zero, my flow looks like this:

  1. Decide to use the phone.
  2. Pull out the phone.
  3. Unlock the phone.
  4. Use the phone for its intended purpose.
  5. Put the phone away.

The two parts of Homescreen Zero

Clearing Notifications

The first step is to clear your homescreen of all the attention-sapping clutter thrown up by apps in the form of “push notifications.”

Very little information is so critical that you HAVE to see it as soon as it comes in. Do you really need your day interrupted for every inbound email, social notification and headline? Personally, I value my focus and concentration more than knowing right now that an email hit my inbox.

Here’s how to get rid of notifications:

  1. Identify the apps that send critical, can’t-ignore notifications. For me, these are:
    1. Text messages
    2. gChats (I only have a few close friends on gChat)
    3. Slack direct messages (for work; if someone dm’s me or mentions me by name).
    4. Fantasy Football alerts (gotta know when a guy’s injured so I can make a quick substitution)
  2. Disable all alerts for other apps
    1. iPhone instructions
    2. Android instructions
  3. Determine the schedule you’ll use to check news, email etc.. Now that you aren’t getting notifications, you’ll need to check in with these things on your schedule.

If you do this step properly, you’ll ONLY see notifications that are important and time-sensitive when you land on your screen.

Moving Apps From the Screen

Next, drag all apps off of your home screen. Follow this order:

First screen: Completely blank, even the bottom bar.

Second screen: Messaging apps only, with counters. (Mine is email, text, gChat, Slack). This way I can get a quick overview of how many unprocessed messages are in my inputs by looking at a screen.

Third screen: Everything else. You shouldn’t spend too much time on this screen.

Use the search bar, not taps, to open apps. On an iPhone, you can open spotlight search by dragging down on the screen, or flicking left. Android phones have a similar “omnisearch.” This forces intentionality.

Instead of mindlessly calling up whatever app I want to look at, I have to THINK: “I am going to look at Safari. I am going to check my mail.” I then have to type that in and call up the app in question. When I’m done using it, I press the home button and am returned to the emptiness of homescreen zero.


Wrapping up

  • Smartphones disrupt your intentionality and cultivate mindless behavior.
  • By disabling notifications and clearing the homescreen, you’re neutralizing two major pain points.
  • By using the search bar instead of tapping on app icons, you’re forcing intentionality and deliberation.
  • The end result: more deliberate phone use, less mindless browsing!

Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

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