My brain doesn’t function well most days. It needs stimulus to get going and to filter things out. If you step into my house you will find podcasts playing, maybe music on, maybe the TV streaming something, maybe all at once. Finding or forging how I function has been the only real way I take control over mental illness and healing from a brain injury.
I don’t control when I wake up or when I go to sleep, what I can control is how I disengage and re-engage with the world.
Most advice I read about good routines and relationships with technology start and end with severing your relationship with your devices and that has never and will likely never work for me. So I start and end my day with my phone; I do this with intention. I’ve tried reading a paper book (and I might again) before, I’ve tried Tai chi in the morning, I’ve tried going to the gym before work and none of these things has helped me forge any routine. But embracing my phone has.
I do this deliberately and with intention.
When I lay down or sit down for an evening, I try to read and write on my phone. I start with my RSS feeds, links in a read later service, sometimes notes I’ve written during the day. Then I try and journal, no real prompts just try and jot down things that are churning through my head, sometimes I’ll add update drafts to a blog post. Finally I try and wrap up with a game like Sudoku or Wordle or a crossword puzzle.
This helps draw a boundary, it’s restful, passive. It allows me an anchor point in the day to churn through the thoughts that are bouncing around like a pinball in my skull. Journaling lets me capture ideas and connections I wouldn’t make otherwise. Reading helps me remember things and why I might’ve saved a link or a publication or come to some understanding about an issue going on in the world. While this is going on, I put on an audiobook of something I’ve read many times, usually something British like Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. By the time I’ve finished, I’m already lulled into drowsiness and set a sleep timer on the audiobook.
Living with ADHD I need to deal with understimulation and this is the best and most effective pattern I’ve found for finding the right amount of stimulation to be engaged without being enveloped by my phone.
Starting my day looks different. It usually starts with a stand-up meeting I’m half awake for which usually leads to me disliking my co-workers. I hope to get in and out of that interaction as quickly as possible and reclaim my wake up process. This usually means, drinking water & coffee and taking Dolly out for a short walk and listening to the same several NPR news podcasts. Our morning walks usually give me enough to get through a couple of them but I listen to podcasts throughout the working day. This gives me enough information and context to start to really dive into whatever a day holds, responding to messages, coding, planning, anything really.
Since starting this division and routine I’m starting to notice a few things. I’m less anxious for a lot of things, I’m less tempted to find distractions outside a given task or importantly less likely to justify a distraction and just name it for what it is, I’m better about boundaries with things. I’m not sure this is all a result of this specific routine but the result of employing one in general. Regardless, I think I’ve found some sweet spots.
If you’re wondering at this point what I do about blue light, I’m not sold on the science because I rarely hear anything that addresses people with ADHD. But I do drop the backlight on my phone and use dark mode for everything during the evening and most of the day.
There are things I avoid on my phone in both of these phases:
- Endless scrolling features like Stories in Instagram, video
- Anything that has real-time implications like chat or messages
- Inboxes on various platforms even email
- Games like MarioKart or Pokémon Go (which are wonderful but not for these moments)
- WordPress for blogging
- Day One for journaling
- NetNewsWire for RSS
- Instapaper or Notion for read later services
- PocketCasts for podcasts
- iOS Notes for notes
- Good Sudoku for sudoku
- Apple Music for music
- Audible for audiobooks (even though it’s garbage)
A lot of these tools I think of as the Automattic stack because they’re all owned my that company and this is basically Matt Mullenweg’s vision:
On the work side I’d like to set up alternative ecosystems for people tired of the traditional options for social with Tumblr, listening with Pocket Casts, and writing with Day One.“Thirty Eight” – Matt Mullenweg
I honestly believe they’re trying to build apps for these types of moments in life and everything on his blog is like a lifestyle ad for using all these apps together. The important thing is that their native applications are reliable and solid user experiences that enable this routine.
This experiment has been working for me for the last two months. I love it. It may change, in fact it’s subject to change. But throwing away convention and defining what works for me was a powerful exercise. I hope if you find yourself with the strictures on using your phone or what an ideal routine looks like, you can move past any shame, reject relentless inspirational propaganda and find the things that work for you.