When it comes to productivity, the four horsemen of my getting work done apocalypse are text messages, Twitter, Instagram, and emails. Obviously, I needed a super simple phone hack to save my sanity.


If I want to #tellstories, I want to sit there and #tellstories. If I want to grade papers, I want to sit there and grade papers. If I want to read, I want to sit there and read. I have to be immersed in what I’m doing, and anything that takes me out just kills my ability to get things done.

I absolutely hate the cult of multitasking. And it’s most definitely a cult. People who brag about being able to multitask are most likely just lying to themselves, kind of like people who think some dude out in a field will bring them salvation if they give him all their money. I won’t budge on this statement. I don’t care if you’re offended by it.

Here’s why:

Most tasks require concentration.

The things that I find myself doing on a day-to-day basis are writing, lesson planning, and paper grading. All of these things require me to focus. I have to become absorbed in the task at hand so I can concentrate. And if I’m able to concentrate, I can usually finish these things in about half the time it would take if I were trying to do something else at the same time.

When you focus, you can work in a straight line. When you multitask, you have to stop, go in different directions, then figure out where you were. I consider all the time spent figuring out where you once were to be a waste. I overheard Jackie Wolven talking about Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes while I was at OKWB Mini-Con. Apparently, Rhimes talks about something similar, only she talks about a train on the tracks, I think? (Either way, I have that book on my to read list. I plan to tackle it next!) Basically, it takes too much time to come back to where you were once you set off to do another task.

You can’t produce quality work while distracted.

I used to work for a terrible company that thought if they made technical writers work as project managers and software QA analysts on top of their writing duties, that it would be more efficient than if they were to hire a separate person to fulfill each of those roles. Naturally, no one ever felt like they got to complete a task because they were to busy touching every last aspect of a project, or stopping work in one area to put out a fire in another. Needless to say, the company did not produce quality projects, and the vast majority of the employees were terribly unhappy.

No one can do it all. I’ve realized that prioritizing is key. So I pick a task and work on it until it’s done, or at least, until I get to a stopping place with that task. When I’m working on one thing, I don’t do other things. I also purposely try to “batch” my tasks, so that I do all of the same things in a batch at once. For example, I’ll grade all the papers. Then, I will enter those grades into the online grade book. Then, I will move on to lesson planning. Then, I’ll check email.

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By doing that, I actually get things done more quickly because I can focus on each individual task.

We are amusing ourselves to death.

You can tell someone attended a journalism school when they reference Neil Postman! And to get a little bit more pretentious about the whole thing, I truly believe we are oppressed by our addiction to amusement. I see it in my students. They can’t sit still and take notes without checking their texts or leaving a comment on someone’s Facebook post. But even worse — I see it in myself at night, when I’m trying to relax and watch TV with Chris, but can’t seem to stop scrolling through Instagram.

It’s like we have to be so overloaded with stuff all the time just to feel normal. And I don’t know if this is anxiety manifesting itself in the form of FOMO, or what. But dude. It’s terrible.

So, obviously, I’m not a psychologist or a productivity hack professional, or even someone that gives good advice more than 60% of the time. But I know what irritates me, and I know what I need to do in order to get things done. And honestly, it was so RIDICULOUSLY SIMPLE.

(Cue the “You won’t believe this super simple phone hack, and it only took 5 minutes!” clickbait headline.)

I got my first smart phone in 2012, a good 5 years after all my friends got theirs. I waited because if I had a “dumb” phone, I got free service through my mom, who works for AT&T. I was a broke ass working full-time and trying to finish my MLIS degree. The dumb phone worked just fine.

Then, I got an iPhone. It wasn’t anything special, and it wasn’t even the most recent model. But I got it, and I was super stoked about how easy it was to tweet. (Does anyone remember tweeting using SMS? Man. That makes me feel real old.) I liked that I could take pictures easily. And I liked that I could check my email at any time.

Now, I’ve had a smart phone for 4 years, and holy hell. I want a burner flip phone so bad. I don’t even want to use it for the sketchy reasons that most people get them for. I just want to be in a place where people don’t have constant access to me.

Let me clarify that last statement.

I don’t mind if my family or close friends text at any time of the day. But I absolutely HATE getting a notification on my phone about someone responding to one of my tweets with “LOL.” I love knowing that my students can email me at any time, and I can see it, so if they have technical issues with online quizzes and assignment drop boxes, I can work on getting it fixed. But I hate when my phone dings, and someone who uses an entrepreneur portmanteau to describe what they do has sent me an email about their new e-course where they will give me all the secrets to make money online. I love that my coworker can text me a picture of a donut and ask if I want one. I hate that people can send me invitations to leave my home whenever they want. (#IntrovertProblems) I love that Facebook can connect me to my cousins who live in Tehran. But, if I’m being real, I just kind of hate Facebook, and it’s not on my phone anyway.

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For me, it all boiled down to getting my phone under control and I needed a super simple phone hack to make it happen.

First, I deleted a lot of apps. I decided my phone was a tool and that was it. I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out on life if I didn’t have my phone in my hand. This step was fairly easy. I didn’t have any games on my phone (except the ones Apple won’t let you delete), so all I needed to do was get rid of chatting and social media apps that, while I enjoyed them, were causing me to spend precious time that I could spend writing or grading.

Once that was done, I went into my iPhone’s settings. I turned off all sound notifications for EVERYTHING but calls. Then, I went into the settings for each individual app, and took off all banners and lock screen notifications. So now, my phone only makes noise when someone calls. And if I get some sort of notification, I don’t see it on the lock screen, and thus don’t feel the urge to unlock my phone and spend time scrolling through tweets or watching hours of face swaps on Snapchat.

“But Marisa,” you say, “don’t you know your phone has the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function?”

Why yes, yes I do. And I still use that function every single day. From 9 PM to 7 AM, my phone is on Do Not Disturb. The only phone calls that would come through are from the people on my favorites list, which is all family members. (I worry about getting a call in the middle of the night about some family member having emergency surgery or something.) But during the day, when I give everyone the open invitation to disturb me, I can hear the ringer for anyone who calls.

I’ve been using this super simple phone hack for about a month or so now, and I have no regrets. I’m sure people get really angry when I don’t answer texts in a timely fashion, and I know my Twitter followers have noticed that I’m not so quick on my replies these days. (Though, since they rolled out the new algorithm, it’s not like anyone is responding to tweets in a timely manner.) And I have a group of friends affectionately known as Dumbledore’s Army that I no longer chat with on Group Me that I miss.

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But right now, I’ve got to be a mercenary for my time. And since I’ve started using this super simple phone hack, I’ve gotten so much done.

I’ve found that most people like to chat during their work day. I used to love it when I worked at any other job, because they didn’t take my whole brain. But my schedule is set so that I don’t even really begin work until the afternoon and my mornings are set aside for yoga and journaling and writing and grading. I need that time to focus.

And that was what this was all about, really. I don’t believe in multitasking, and that means I don’t believe in checking my text messages while I’m writing or grading or planning. I don’t believe in carrying on a conversation on social media while I’m working on other things. I don’t believe in splitting my focus between work and amusement when I could just focus on work and be done so much quicker. Plus, the amusement I have when I’m completely done with work is so much more fulfilling than any amusement I have while I’m trying to do something else.

Now, I know that there will be those younger people who think “well, I’ve grown up with technology and I can handle it.” And to them I say DO NOT CALL ME OLD I AM ONLY 30 YOU ARE A PILE OF GARBAGE AND YOU KNOW NOTHING.

Not really. What I say is this:

Stop lying to yourself. I’ve grown up with technology. I’ve watched it evolve from the Zack Morris mobile phone (a reference you are too young to get) to these water proof smart phones I keep seeing ads for on Hulu. I started blogging on a Xanga site. I had a Myspace. I chatted with SmarterChild on AIM. I remember when internet came through the phone lines. And while this may all seem irrelevant, I do know this. There has never been a time when people and corporations have been so dependent on digital technology. Technology will be as invasive as we let it. And I don’t want to have to let technology be a part of everything I do, nor do I want to feel any sort of dependence on my phone for entertainment.

Because that’s the thing. I can’t get things done when I’m not actually getting things done.

So, if you’d like some quiet time to yourself to get things done, try this super simple phone hack. You have to leave the cult of multitasking and be content with the knowledge that your texts and Instagram followers will be there when you’re done.

10 Responses

  1. Right now you are my hero. I’m so bad about allowing FB to be a time suck on my phone. I’ve thought about taking the app off my phone but that seems so drastic! Maybe you have inspired me.

  2. I finally turned off FB notifications on my phone. I don’t have Twitter, and I really don’t find Instagram to be a time suck for me. But I’m only following 150 people, and most of them don’t post regularly, so that helps.

    But I get the ‘cult of multitasking’ thing, and I wonder if it contributes to how overwhelmed people easily become these days. I used to be able to multitask – was required to at my last full-time job working in a drive-thru – but now I hate it. I prefer to focus on one thing at a time, and I feel like my work is better for it.

    1. I agree. I hate that jobs no require us to multitask — like it’s some sort of “Holy Grail” skill, when it’s really a way to ensure everyone is just distracted and incapable of producing quality work. And I think it definitely contributes to how overwhelmed people feel. If multitasking is a cult, then busy is the deity. And we need to quit worshipping at that altar like it’s going to get us anywhere.

  3. Marisa I am loving your plan of attack: “First . . . and then . . . and then . . . ” single tasking is my new mantra! Thank you for the extra “do not disturb” setting thought. I did the other hack awhile back– but have turned the sound off instead of do not disturb during my office hours. Wonderful post, you inspire me!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! And single tasking is the only way to actually get things done. When you multitask, you get like 30% of each task done, and you never feel like you’ve accomplished anything.

  4. You have challenged me. I’m probably not aware of how much I try to multi-task. At the very least, I’d like to try your idea of not having notifications on my phone’s lock screen.

    1. It has really changed how I operate on most days. It’s weird to realize how much I used to use those notifications as a list of things that “had to be done.” Now that I don’t have them, I don’t feel compelled to check all my notifications.

  5. I turn off my mobile data when I don’t wan to be bothered with notifications that way I still get texts and phone calls. I do catch myself turning to my phone though in my down time and I don’t like this habit. It use to be books! I need to get back to that.

    1. I totally feel you. It’s really stressful when you think about how much time you spend checking those notifications. Since turning off all my notifications, I’ve noticed that I get a lot more reading done.

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