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by Derek Loosvelt | July 29, 2020

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Have you ever wanted to know what time it is, reached for your phone, and, instead of checking the time, you checked your email, Instagram, Twitter, and news feeds before realizing, 15 minutes later, why you reached for your phone in the first place?

If so, you're not alone. I've done this countless times. And it's precisely this ubiquitous time suck that led me to make the best productivity-tool purchase I've ever made: this $20 digital wristwatch.

I bought the watch at the beginning of March, not knowing that, in just a couple of weeks, we'd all be on lockdown due to a global pandemic (that's showing little to no sign of subsiding). As a result of the purchase, my productivity has improved, and my phone addiction has been nearly wiped out. Here's why.

During work hours

After I've been working for a while on my laptop, I find that a short walk outside (about 20 minutes) is incredibly energizing, almost essential. I find that, to work at my most productive and creative, from time to time I need to spend time away from screens, out of my head, in my body. And I've found that there's nothing like a short walk to accomplish this. 

The thing is, to keep myself on track for the day and to ensure I'm not late for any meetings or calls, I need to keep track of the time on my walks. In the past (pre-wristwatch purchase), this meant carrying my phone with me while walking. Which meant I rarely received my much-needed time away from screens.

Inevitably, I'd check the time, meaning I'd pull out my phone, and when I did I'd often get carried away with some app or email. Other times, when I didn't need to check the time, I'd be tempted to use my phone's camera and snap a photo of something on my walk, only to get sucked into another app or email (or editing my photo).

Now, though, with my low-tech time management tool on my wrist, I can get the break I badly need and not get swept away. When I go for walks, I don't need to bring my phone. And so, there's no chance of getting sucked into my so-called smartphone. Which has been a break-changer.

Of course, if walking's not your thing, this works for any type of break: lunch break, coffee-shop break, jogging break, just-stepping-outside-for-a-minute-to-get-a-little-fresh-air break.

After hours

After work is a time to unwind, refresh, refuel, and relax, so it's okay to let yourself go down the rabbit hole that your phone is so adept at helping you go down, right?

Wrong.

The thing is, since you spend all day in front of screens, ideally your after-working-hour time should be relatively screen-free. At least, in my experience, I've found that in order to come back to work, day after day, refreshed and ready to work in front of a screen for another eight hours (or more), it's highly beneficial to have my off-time be as screen-free as possible.

In the past, when I relied on my phone to keep track of time after work and so carried it in my back pocket everywhere I went, I found it all too easy to mindlessly scroll through my social media and news feeds. I know that I lost many an hour by doing so, straining my eyes and filling my mind with information I didn't need or want.

Now, though, I’m much less frequently tempted to go down the smartphone rabbit hole when I'm reading, cooking dinner, playing soccer with my son, and doing other tasks that don't require an internet connection but do require me to keep track of the time.

Which is not to say there isn't a time and place to check social media feeds, indulge in a little scrolling, read news online, and play a video game or two if that's your thing. But that time should be set purposefully and mindfully, not accidentally and mindlessly.

The key is to leave your phone as far away from you as possible when you don't need it, when you don't want to use it, when you want a break from the world of screens. And having a wristwatch can, I found, help you to accomplish this.

A final note

Most of us are now working remotely. But there'll be a time (six months from now? a year from now? longer?) when many of us will be working in offices again. And when we do, that'll mean, among other things, the return of in-person meetings. However you feel about those (essential, time sucks, somewhere in between), in-person meetings will be back, and when they are, imagine the more attentive you'll be when you're able to leave your phone at your desk because you have a watch on your wrist.

Of course, it's bad form to use your phone in meetings. It's disrespectful to your team, and with your mind and eyes on your screen, you can't help solve the challenge your team is meeting to solve. But at the same time, you need to keep to your schedule and keep track of time to stay on track. The solution? Something that only tells you the time, not what you're missing out on, not the latest news updates.

And so, as further incentive to invest a few dollars in a timepiece now, consider that doing so will not only make you more productive in the present moment but will also pay productivity dividends later, when Covid-19 is a thing of the past.

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