James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.


Putting on the Blinders

A couple folks asked me how I turned my devices (especially my phone) into “dumb-devices”. Not “no longer functional” dumb, but “not so distracting” dumb. The main reason I did this was from being very overwhelmed by all the various inputs I’ve allowed to rob my attention. I wanted more time (and self-control) to focus and have more head-space for imagination. I’ve got a lot of things planned for this year, so I can’t get anything done if I’m consistently chasing notifications and feeds.

Here’s what I did:



1) Delete all your social media apps. Just pull the band-aid. Do it.* For me that was Tweetbot, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Swarm. I even deactivated my accounts for Snapchat, Facebook, Pinterest and Foursquare.

*I kept Instagram because I enjoy taking photos too much.

2) Delete all other apps that you deem as “time-sucks”. Examples are: RSS reader apps, shopping apps, etc. Things you reach for when you are done scrolling your social media feeds.

3) Move all your apps into folders and give them names that are direct actions. This will help you decide which ones are essential to move into your dock. The folders on my phone are named Capture, Listen, Communicate, Travel, Work, Reminisce, Live, Spend, Ignore.

4) Move your four most essential folders to your homescreen and retreat everything else to the second page. Make things inconvenient. The things you really need can be two taps away. It’s ok, promise.

5) Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions password > Websites > Limit Adult Content.

Now we are not blocking our favorite smut sites, but doing this allows us to blacklist certain sites from our Safari browsers, in case you get the itch to check these certain sites since you’ve deleted the app.

In the Never Allow section, place in your time-suck websites of choice. Now if you try to visit Twitter on your phone, you'll be greeted with this.

The key here is friction. If you really wanna visit this, you can, but there’s friction. Friction.

6) Go to your Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar and turn off the Mail accounts for your device. Your email can wait until you get to a computer, promise.

*7) Only turn on notifications for Messages and Phone. You might find other things to turn on, but think about what might not be rude if you have to step out while with someone and say, “Oh, I have to respond to this ______, it’s an emergency”.

9 times out of 10, “Oh I have to respond to this tweet/Instagram comment/Shazam alert, it’s an emergency” is not the case.

*Repeat this step for your computer too.



Repeat steps 1–7.

An aside: What I used to have my iPad for was an exact replica of everything that I had on my iPhone, but much bigger. What I decided to do instead was inspired by this piece about single use devices. I decided what I use my iPhone for (Capturing thoughts and images, Listening to podcasts and music, Direct communication with others, Pocket assistance when traveling) and what I use my iPad for (Longform reading, Shortform reading, Capturing thoughts, Productivity software, Songwriting, Listening to podcasts and music around the house) and tailor the devices towards such, and that’s it.



What I’ve decided to do is regulate the laptop to the heavy lifter of everything. If I really want to check feeds and such, I will have to lug this sucker out instead of easily reaching in my pocket. The key is not looking at these actions as things that must be fully avoided (as I’ve met a lot of people, built collaborations, etc. through online communities) but provide a little friction so you can dedicate more time to getting the longer things done (and allot more time for imagination and free thinking.)

Here’s my distraction preventing set up.

Menu Eclipse: Dims the status bar of your Mac and illuminates when you hover over it.

Isolator: Dims all inactive windows and the desktop and only illuminates the current app you are working in.

Anti-Social: Blocks certain websites for a specified period of time and cannot be overriden unless you restart your computer and enter your Admin password. Friction.

BreakTime: Disables your computer for two minutes every hour to remind you to get off your butt and walk around.

Fluid: Turns websites into actual apps for your Mac, complete with custom icons.

Why is Fluid important?

The reason why is it allows you to adjust the CSS on these “apps” and customize the way you view them. For example, want an “app” that is just your mentions and replies from Twitter without being distracted by the timeline? Done.

Here is the stylesheet I have loaded in, thanks to this Github resource.

Want to build your own “Twitter app” that just displays the timeline and no other tabs?

I tweaked this Github resource and blocked a few more page elements. I didn’t want to see the other tabs, follower counts, search bar, ads, or have the ability to tweet.

I built other “apps” with Fluid for my other feeds, such as Overcast for podcasts, Feedly for RSS, and Instapaper for long reads.

But tweeting is so fun, how can I do that?

Wren: A tweet only app.

That’s all it does. Let’s you have drafts, and tweet.

Everything above, along with meticulously planning my day has led to a happier, more productive me. And it’s been really cool to dedicate more time to chatting on the phone and texting folks.

Hope this all helps! Feel free to do as little or as much as you feel comfortable with. The key is adding friction to the things you find to be time-suckers.

Additional resources:

Your Brain on Computers by Matt Ritchel

Unitasking by Trent Walton

Notification Seperation Anxiety by Paul Jarvis

James T. Green