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Should you go back to a dumb phone?

It might eliminate stress; it could also help improve your focus. And in doing so – despite your undoubted initial revulsion at the proposal – it could make you more productive.

Noting that famed writer Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, insists on an old-fashioned flip phone, digital minimalism advocate Cal Newport says we have fallen prey to “techno-materialism," in which we assess the value of new technologies on the technologies’ own terms. Usually, that means it’s better if it’s faster or connects us with more people. Instead, he says, we need techno-humanism, in which a new technology is only useful if it makes our lives more meaningful and satisfying.

Of course, you probably believe the smartphone has made your life more meaningful and satisfying. But Mr. Junger disagrees. So does Verge senior editor Vlad Savov, who despairing of all the time he spends checking Twitter, declared: “For the sake of my sanity and my gainful employment, I have to decouple myself from the unhappy news flow, at least sometimes. I’m sure that, while not identical, my experience is shared by many people, all of us struggling with the self-inflicted burden of being constantly connected. And the most logical remedy seems to be to reverse course and disconnect. At least sometimes.”

A dumb phone would involve dumping Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other distractions. They don’t have to disappear from your life – indeed, he notes how thin tablets and laptops are these days, allowing them to be carried with you on your travels – but your phone’s handiness makes it too dangerous if it allows such activities.

He says the dumb phone should have a good ringtone and excellent call quality, something your smartphone might not have. “I imagine that a phone that acts mostly as a phone would nudge me toward calling people more often, which is a far superior and more human form of communication than a disjointed series of impersonal tweets. A dumb phone also lasts for a week at a time, because it’s not hyperactively communicating with every e-mail, messaging or cloud storage service I’m signed up for,” he writes.

Writer John Pavlus tried Punkt’s MP02, a high-design low-tech phone. It allows you to talk, text and get online, but that last distracting bit is no longer effortless. You have to decide to do it and deal with the friction of doing so on a separate device it connects to. “It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and that’s the point. Going through this rigmarole is simply not worth bothering with just so you can dork around on Instagram,” Mr. Pavlus writes on Fast Company. It spurred him to make more phone calls, but over time, he found the call quality of that model not sufficient. But he notes the device distinguished between two different uses that smartphones blur: Meaningful utility and empty distraction.

Of course, you can always stash your phone in a drawer when you want to avoid temptation. While Lisa Brennan-Jobs was writing Small Fry, her memoir about her iPhone-inventing dad, she found herself reaching for her phone when the words wouldn’t come. So she would drop it off at a nearby cafe, where it would be kept in a folder below the cash register for her to retrieve in a few days. Having moved from that neighbourhood, she now uses – and recommends on ThriveGlobal – a food-addictions lockbox, which can hold a phone and has a timer that can be set from a few minutes to a few weeks for retrieval.

Quick hits

  • Never reply to an e-mail ending in: “Thoughts?”  Executive recruiter Gerald Walsh says you’ll be dragged into an endless conversation.  
  • Author Dan Pink recommends adopting a “J5M” technique when motivation is flagging. That’s short for just five more: Writing five more e-mails or spending five minutes more on a less-than-enjoyable task. Often, that five becomes 10, 15 or 20 more. 
  • Job searches can feel chaotic ,so track all the steps – notably, dates of contact with the company – in an Excel file, says writer Kayla Heisler.
  • Entrepreneur Rachel Beider says men can help women at work by taking paternity leave, so it’s not just viewed as something for women. 
  • It’s hard to tell a good story with a PowerPoint slide, says presentations expert Nick Morgan. The storytelling power is undercut by building the deck though the PowerPoint templates. So, instead of slides,  he recommends starting with your story, saying it out loud, and testing it on someone to ensure it works. From there, work in a Word document or on a storyboard, finally adding illustrations with the deck.                                                                                                                                                          

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