3 Steps to Turn Your Smartphone Into a Self-Improvement Engine

1. Set daily tech limitations

You know how you get these aspirations to be better at x, y or z? And you say, “I’m going to be better!” but it never happens? A lot of people do that with their smartphones. They instinctively suspect it’s not healthy to be on Whatsapp four hours a day, but without a daily goal for limiting the habit their habit never changes.

That’s why you have to set a daily goal for limiting smartphone use.

I advise all of my clients to set strict limitations in their daily planners for technology use throughout the day, which also includes texts and messages. (This means disabling notifications for everything but incoming phone calls.) Some do checks every two hours for 10 minutes, some check twice or three times a day. But no matter what my clients communication demands are, the knee-jerk, “Ah, I don’t know what I should be doing so I’ll just reach for my phone like Frodo with the ring” reaction is eliminated, which forces them to do more work.

You’ll want to alert bosses and clients of your new communications schedule (which involves setting email autoresponders) and assure them that less is definitely more in this case.

2. Relieve your mind with a smart note-taking system.

You know the sense of panic that starts building up when you have so much to do but don’t quite know what to do? David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, likens our brains to a computer. In that analogy, the that panic is a malfunctioning mental “RAM.” Like any computer, your brain at capacity ceases to function properly.

Allen’s solution is to unburden your mental hard drive by uploading your thoughts and tasks onto a computer hard drive via a note-taking system. Your phone is the perfect place to start. It’s always with you, always ready to relieve your brain. If you have an iCloud account, your phone notes automatically sync to your computer notes, and vise versa. Don’t have a Mac? Consider purchasing an iPhone, then download an iCloud account on your PC or laptop for free. Here are the folders you need to start:

  • Health
  • Career
  • Happiness
  • Goals
  • Self-Improvement
  • Procrastinations
  • Life (for general observations)
  • Gratitude
  • Important people
  • Ideas
  • What’s working
  • Next action*—

Any time you have an insight, deadline or task, file it away in the relevant tab to act on later. To make sure you come back to your ideas and actually act upon them, Allen suggests creating a “Next Action” sub-tab for each category. You’ll set a reminder to revisit your “Next Actions” list once or twice a week. (More on reminders in the next section.)

For instance, if you’re realizing that you’re running low on thank-you cards for your clients/business partners, but can’t take care of it immediately, you would go to your career tab and then to your “next action” subtab to input the new directive: purchase another stack of “thank you cards” at Wallgreens. Review your next action tabs regularly, you’ll see that specific action and schedule it.

You’ll want to program, “Review my next action tabs for 15 minutes” into your phone twice a week, once at midweek and once on the weekend.

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