Minnow Park

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Intention Over Convenience

Twenty four hours in a day, seven days in a week, you multiply those two numbers and it’s 168 hours. It’s a number that you may not be familiar with, but it’s a good one to know to get a reality check on how you are spending your time.

Say that you have a demanding job and you’re at work for 10 hours Monday through Friday (50 hours). Let’s be generous and say we get 8 hours of sleep each night (56 hours! Wouldn’t that be amazing?). Count two hours a day for eating, and 1 hour at the gym everyday (21 hours). Subtract that from 168 and you still have 41 hours left. That’s another full time job, and time for three episodes of “The Office”.

I know that’s a very simplified version of life, especially if you have other obligations, but my point is that after you account for the “fixed costs” of life, we have a lot more time than we think we have. It’s the unaccounted and unintentional time we spend that makes us feel like we never have enough hours in a day.

Speaking of unaccounted time, as I was writing the first draft of this letter, I went to the ”Screen Time” feature on my iPhone, it told me that for the past week, I’ve used my phone on average 2 hours and 45 minutes per day. Although some of the use fell into categories like “Reading and Reference” or “Productivity,” it’s still 21 hours per week I spend with my phone.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

I started this book last week as I admitted to myself that I was tethered I was to my phone. This book has made me realize that the relationship I have with my phone isn’t benign; it’s manipulative. Tech companies have employed teams of scientists, and invested billions of dollars to make apps and social media services as addictive as possible. Newport quotes Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook about this:

The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while....

Dopamine hit. That’s the term used when explaining the effect of drugs or junk food. Zuckerberg has said that the mission of Facebook is to “make the world more open and connected.” But in order to do that, it has to exploit “a vulnerability in human psychology” as Parker is quoted later on in Digital Minimalism. They need our attention in order to fulfill their mission. In a very real way, these services are in control of us, not the other way around.

I worked at Apple when the first iPhone was launched. It was a technological marvel, and I remember how excited I was that I will never be bored again. I’ve prided myself on being the tech nerd, an early adopter to new products and apps. But not anymore, I want to regain my autonomy and use of my time.

The mantra that I’ve been saying to myself as I try to pry myself from my phone is a quote from the book:

“Intention over convenience.”

A great podcast you can listen to as a primer for this book is Cal’s interview on “The Moment with Brian Koppelman”

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Reading this book along with “Digital Minimalism” has been a one, two punch in the gut. Even if I’m able to pry myself away from my phone, I wonder if am I still wasting time on things that are not essential. Have I taken the time to really sit and think about what I want to pursue? Have I made the tough decisions to cut out everything else that isn’t necessary?

The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way…

To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.

It goes back to the idea of “work hard” and understanding the trajectory of where it is that you are going. If you are sure of what is essential and work towards that in a focused and diligent way, you can do really great things.

His interview with Tim Ferris is a great one to listen to if you want to learn more about the book and his philosophy of essentialism.