Intermittent Phone Fasting
I Intermittent Fast on a daily basis.
For the uninitiated, that means no food until noon, and then I have an 8 hour window to eat and get my food in.
I’ve personally found that my mornings are far more productive, I get far less gastrointestinal issues, and I am able to maintain a weight (even putting on muscle if I desire) with this “diet”. It’s not a diet - it has become a productive lifestyle that I pretty much adhere to everyday of my life unless there is an early breakfast meeting I am required to be at (or travel).
Intermittent fasting or IMF has become a meme in the past half decade or so in the health and fitness world. What a novel concept, the less time that you are eating, the less likely you are to overeat. How groundbreaking!
So many diet gurus and fitness personalities parade the benefits: Improved cognitive performance, encouragement of autophogy in the body - cleaning out dead or damaged cells to make way for the good ones - weightloss and/or weight maintenance, productivity, macro timining, etc. etc.
The general sentiment is the same: a period of deprivation (can you really call it that in the Western World?) followed by a period of consumption.
One day, in the middle of a fast, I had a thought: “What if I could do the same for my technological use?”
I thought about how many hours a day I spend in front of a screen, and about how much of that time is actually wasted in distraction. This ratio of wasted time to productive time was something like 2:1 if I was being blatantly honest with myself. For many, that ratio is even higher.
What if I could concentrate my productivity into a 8 hour window, where I was 100% on, instead of being partially in and out of various things I was doing?
And, when I was switched off, I was 100% OFF - resting my mind and eyes.
This question brought me to experiment with “Intermittent Phone fasting” - A period in which I disallowed myself any use of consumptive devices and focused 100% on productivity.
If you read this blog, you probably also spend too much time in front of a screen - you’re like me in all likelihood, it’s only a safe bet if you read my writing.
I want you to track this time and see after a week what sort of time in front of a screen vs. time in the real world you are at.
Then, I want you to choose a ’consumptive time’ per day you will allow yourself on a screen.
8 hours? 10 hours? Good.
Whatever time that you allot for your screen time - you will not go over for any purpose. You will use your devices (phone, computer, tablet) within the window, and will completely eschew them outside this window of allowance. Sounds difficult? Probably because for a modern human, it is difficult.
We want to use technology as the tool and gift it is - instead of allowing it to become the crutch and distraction that so many people allow it to be.
We have all been there. You are working away on something - only to have to look something up, or to watch a video on how to progress. That video or article turns into hours of wasted time as you get pulled further and further down the rabbit hole of endless scrolling.
Of perhaps you want to simply get to bed at a reasonable time, and the phone on your bedside table pulls you in until 2am.
The internet is an Infinite Rabbit Hole - you could seek for years and still not find. You could research every topic in the world and never even scratch the surface.
That’s not to say that we have to go all Uncle Ted on the world and shun technology in favor of more archaeic (read: Amish) methods. What it is to say is that we have to responsibly use the gifts that we have been given, and if we are able to, we can create some amazing and life changing things. But the double edged sword of it all is that we can also become distracted for eternity.
The Intermittent Phone Fast
I am going to propose the Intermittent Phone Fast.
What this really is - is a Technology Fast.
Alike to our dieting method, we will fast for a period of time, with no access whatsoever to the web. Within our allotted time, we allow ourselves access to the internet, social media, etc. for something like 8-12 hours depending on your use case.
The fact of the matter is that we as humans fatigue with overconsumption of information. We simply shut down, unable to come to conclusions, or to get to a meaningful level of producing. We condition a consumption default state instead of a default state in which we create. Worse, we lose our own creative spark when all we do is watch other people be creative.
We become imitators instead of disruptors.
This is by design with the internet, and with being “always on” - continually being connected creates a deep fatigue that you cannot explain, yet it comes on like a train, and stays long after we try to sleep it off.
I am no stranger to burn out, where I want to get things done, yet I seemingly have no gas left in the tank. The secret to avoiding “burn out” is being 100% on when you’re on, and 100% off when you are not (also to LOVE what you do, but that is a topic for another day.)
We’ve all been there. Consuming videos, news stories, forum posts, and social media scrolling to the point that we look at our screen time and gasp it’s over 9,000. I don’t like to admit it, but I have most definitely done it in the past, and as a human being, I am sure I am liable to do it again.
This is why I have instituted a technological fast in my life that I now abide by with unfettered discipline.
1. We value what is scarce
As with food, I believe that technology is best kept to a certain period of the day, and then not to be touched for the rest of the day.
Because of the overload that will inevitably come from scrolling. We’ve all done it too much over the last two years, you can admit it to yourself, nobody is here for you to brag about “how few hours you use your phone” - be honest with yourself.
When you begin to only allow 8 - 12 hours of internet access per day, you use this time wisely.
Personally, I even began to automate tasks that allowed me to use this time more effectively. I started using bash aliases that moved me around my filesystem quickly, I wrote scripts that helped me do day to day tasks with ease (think ssh’ing into a remote server and automatically updating a website), and I learned to more efficiently use a computer to get me to the goal.
When the internet (and time in front of a screen) becomes a scarcity instead of an abundant thing that is always there, you value it more.
2. Limiting Yourself Creates Prioritization
Briefly touching on this above, I believe that by placing this time limit on yourself, you will be much more selective about what you are doing, and begin to use the internet for good. As opposed to when you had unlimited access, where you could look up whatever you want, whenever you want, you now have a limitation on your use case. This makes you more selective, more responsible, and more discerning of noise.
Are you going to spend that time watching pornography and cat videos? Are you going to listen to ridiculous opinions on Reddit? Are you going to read the comment section?
If you only had 6 hours to get your research done for a project, you would shut out much more of the noise than if you had unlimited time to look up the sources of whatever it was you wanted to find. I argue that with infinite time, you take in infinitely more garbage.
In fact, I believe that you will retain more, focus more, and get more done because of the self limitation you are imposing on yourself.
Limitation has always been this faux pas in our culture. It’s time to throw off the stigma and limit yourself so that you can do more and get more out of the time you spend online.
3. Limiting your Contact With Others Allows for Deep Focus Periods
You will allow yourself 8 to 10 hours a day of access, but after that time period, you will shut it all off. What this inevitably does is shut down communication with people that want to use your time for their benefit.
You don’t owe anyone a reply time of less than 5 minutes. You most certainly don’t need to be always on the clock for your employer. If you are your own employer, it’s a good thing to shut off and unplug.
If you want to spend time talking to people, spend time with them in person.
I am horrendously bad at talking on the phone at length about anything important. I find the issue with phone conversation is that you miss all body language cues, and thus about 75% of the conversatoin is lost in translation. It is also difficult to focus on the conversation at hand without doing other things while talking. No eyecontact.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t spend time with others. Arguably, with less time online, you will have more time to give others your full attention and meaningful connection.
4. No more Rabbit Holes
I am the king of going down Rabbit holes.
Give me a topic, and if I find any interest in it whatsoever, you will find me down the hole, researching ridiculous amounts of useless information, getting to the point of a deep understanding, but probably losing my soul in the process.
This fasting method severely limits this endless search. See point #1 - We value what is scarce.
If our time online is scarce rather than abundant, we begin to look for higher quality information, ignoring much more of the noise.
Rabbit Holes are fun. But they are also a massive waste of time.
You’re never going to gain much knowing the world is run by lizard people, just a level of inner peace.
5. You can now Actually Switch Off
Working from home has its benefits, however one of the obvious cons (pun intended) is that you are now continually on the clock because you are always connected (get it - con because your employer gets to con you out of more time… no? okay)
With 24/7 connectivity, you can talk to your friend on the other side of the world, however this also means that you can be gotten a hold of whenever and wherever you are.
There are obvious benefits to this, however the main sufferer is your mental health that never gets to appreciate the little things.
You don’t get to enjoy making a meal because you have to take a photo of it, you don’t get to enjoy watching a movie because you have continuous pings going off in your pocket.
Switch off, my friend.
6. You Value Real Life
Lastly, and perhaps most impactful is that you begin to value everyday life more.
You get to relax when you want to.
You get to smell the roses, because speed isn’t necessary in doing so.
You get to talk to people, make eye contact, and smile.
We as humans need this in person, real, tangible, worthwhile existence.
What this Looks like for me:
I wake up to the alarm on my phone, get into my gym clothes, and start off my day with some movement and meditation.
I then begin some writing or creativity of some sort.
This takes me to about 2 hours after I wake up.
I then do a 30 minute workout, where the phone joins me, however it is still on airplane mode, I will have a book or podcast downloaded that I listen to while doing my workout.
I then shower, get read for the day, and only after am I dressed does airplane mode come off.
This is usually around 8:30-9am.
My technology time begins, and I have 8-10 hours to get done what I need to get done. Some days this goes up to 12 hours if I am especially productive.
My phone doesn’t join me in my office - it stays outside where if it rings I will grab it, but otherwise, it is completely out of reach so that I can focus on the things I am building.
At the latest - 9pm - my phone is off and you aren’t able to get a hold of me until tomorrow morning.
I begin my bedtime routine by shutting off the phone and computer.
There are exceptions to this if I am in the middle of a deal or something, but that is rare - it happens maybe a couple times a year that I go late on deals. And - I’ve had other people thank me for shutting down because they wanted to shut off too.
Negotiations can always resume bright and early.
I love the shut off time. It allows me to power down my mind - I stop thinking about work, I begin to relax, and I can get to sleep far more easily.
And sleep is so important.
Try this phone diet - 9am to 9pm - and then completely shut if off while you are sleeping and in the morning when you can focus your efforts on your mind, body, and business.
If you do this religiously, I guarantee that in a month’s time, you will be shocked with the things that you have created. You will be miles ahead of where you are today. Most of us know we aren’t really getting fulfillment from infinite scrolling, we are just wasting our most valuable resource - time.
So, take back your time and use the phone as if it were a tool.
You’ll thank me later.