Being more present with my phone

Android now has a "Digital Wellbeing" feature that shows you how much you've used your phone, and lets you set timers to limit your phone use. I would like to be more aware of my habits in how I'm using the phone, so I've been trying out Digital Wellbeing's timers for Twitter etc., but the timers haven't made any real impact on my phone use: they're easy to turn off, for example, and then I don't turn them back on.

I want to be more intentional about using the phone because I've noticed I use the phone around my family instead of paying attention to what's going on around me, or I read it and start getting upset at the world when I could have picked up a book sitting right next to me.

My latest experiment is something different: how can I catch myself before I start to use the phone? So what I've done is, whenever I unlock the phone I have the phone ask what my intention is. Why did I unlock the phone?

Technical setup for an "intention prompt"

Android has a great program called Tasker that I've used for many years. Tasker is the quintessential example of a tool that can't exist in the iOS environment. Tasker lets you program "actions" based on different events. For example, in the past I've used Tasker to time how long I use the phone–not too dissimilar from what Digital Wellbeing does.

To set up intention tracking, I created two Tasker profiles.

Display Unlocked

"Display Unlocked" is triggered by the event, Display Unlocked. Simple enough!

The actions are:

  1. Variable Query:
    • Title: Intention?
    • Variable: %intention
  2. Write File:
    • File: Intentions.txt
    • Text: %DATE %TIME %intention
    • Append: checked
    • Add Newline: checked
  3. Notify:
    • Title: Intention
    • Text: %intention
    • Icon: I chose the "play" icon
    • Actions:
      • Label: Open Intentions
      • Action: Open File
        • File: Intentions.txt
        • Mime Type: text/plain

The first action pops up a text box with giant font for some reason. I see the text, "Intention?" and can type in an intention.

The second action logs this intention to a file.

The third action raises an Android notification that shows up in my taskbar at the top. If I look at the notification, I can see the intention. If I click on the notification, I'm taken to the intentions log file.

Display Off

"Display Off" is triggered by the event, Display Off. It has one action:

  1. Notify Cancel:
    • Title: Intention

This removes the intention notification when the display is turned off.

Observations so far

If I look at why I've opened my phone today, I can see what I've typed in. Here's the reasons, in rough decreasing order of frequency:

  • Notifications: I have unlocked my phone a lot to check notifications, usually from text messages or other chat
  • Reading: but this isn't really high-brow reading, more looking at Twitter
  • Loseit (I'm logging my calories right now)
  • Keep/Evernote: logging things or checking my notes
  • Alarm (my phone alarm went off)
  • Voice recordings: logging notes to myself
  • Weekly review
  • Duo: work uses this for two-factor authentication

I am not sure yet if this approach will work better than timers, but I think I'm closer to intercepting my habits when they are triggered. See also Zen Habits' Triggers and Habits article. My next step will be to substitute other habits, such as trying to use Libby more rather than Twitter for reading.