Feb 7, 2020 | STEPHEN JONES

Do you want three extra hours every day? I’ve got the magic pill

It’s 2007, the first iPhone has just launched, Cooper Parry was still lost in the grey of the accountancy industry and round the clock email access felt like the best thing since email itself was created.

Fast forward four years to 2011, five generations of iPhone later and my shiny 4s was glued to my hand. Cooper Parry catapulted into a bolder world – breaking the mould as always. Cooper Parry Wealth was in its early years and the 7-7 email curfew we have come to love didn’t exist.

2012, pitch-side at my then seven-year-old son’s football game, habit had me reaching for my phone. ‘He’s scored!’ I hear the other parents saying to me, a goal I only half saw. One eye on the pitch, one on the ‘reds’ topping most of my iPhone apps.

I didn’t see an issue with my phone, it was a useful tool after all. But when Apple introduced the screen time function (just one year ago in 2018) I thought it best to make sure my growing sons weren’t spending endless hours scrolling. I then turned this mindset inwards and found I was using my phone for an average of 4 to 5 hours every single day.

28 hours a week.

Email, WhatsApp, Insta, Facebook, Twitter, repeat.

In all other areas of my life I was efficient, an owner of my productivity and someone who used various methods to keep stress to a minimum. Cue the attempts to take back control of this situation:

    • Turn off notifications
    • Make the display black and white
    • Delete certain apps
    • Don’t take phone on holiday
    • Download apps such as ‘Forest’ and ‘Moment’ to manage screen time

The list goes on.

But every time I would cheat the system, either reinstalling apps, overriding the restrictions I had put in place or accessing apps via a different device. I had read about people turning to more basic solutions and buying old handsets to totally remove the temptation.

So, in the summer of 2019, our IT team ordered me a Nokia 3310. It arrived in bright orange – not only was I getting stick for the brick, but it practically glowed in the dark!

Eight weeks of two-word texts ensued (it was so much effort to type), I was a little bit cut off, I had to check maps before I left the house, carry a camera and note all my ideas on paper. I didn’t mind any of this, it felt good! I had holidays where I was tech free – the world didn’t end, and my business didn’t collapse. Who would’ve thought it?

But then I started to notice I was taking my iPad out of the house with me – habit creeping back in at the seams of this social experiment of mine.

Over 8 weeks after giving up my phone my youngest son gave me a reality check when I was getting ready to spend the day at the cricket with friends – I wasn’t going to be easily reachable – something that had started to niggle at my family. My eight-year-old asked why I needed to be so extreme? Couldn’t I just get my iPhone back and use it less? 8 going on 28 it would seem.

I knew he was right, the experiment had shown me I could take control of my screen time, I had nothing left to prove. Excitedly I re-charged my iPhone and started to familiarise myself with that addictive scroll.

Within weeks my screen time had rocketed back to four hours a day.

The turning point came when I listened to an audio book called ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport. It really changed my mindset about the purpose of my phone. It promotes the use of technology to bring value to your life.

Interpret ‘value’ in whichever way you like but for me it came down to productivity. There’s something to be said for using your phone to make life easier.

From this my tech rules were born:

    1. Spend a maximum of 1.5 hours a day on the phone
    2. Have a clear understanding of my strategy; phone is for productivity, travel, efficiency, listening, exercise and communication
    3. No social media apps or browser access on my phone
    4. Email notifications turned off
    5. No phones at meals, sporting events or in meetings

Now my screen time is down to just over an hour a day. Overnight I had gained 3 hours back.

21 hours a week.

This felt awesome. But it also made me think about what to do with that time – reading (Kindle, newspapers, magazines) and actually chatting to people made those new hours feel valuable to me.

I’m not perfect, I still sleep with my phone next to the bed and know there’s more I could do to further my productive relationship with the screen. But the bottom line is that using my phone mindfully means I can see the true benefits of tech in our lives.

If a serial scroller like me can do it, you can too!


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