Addiction, Apps, and Values

Especially after the pandemic I lost the ability to concentrate and focus. Addicted to these attention-grabbing products, I started to approach the problem differently: having a clear goal of what I want, then designing the usage policy for each service.

Last year I showed up for a trip to Baeza — a remote place in Andalucia — to redeem my yearly visit to one of my closest friends. At some point, we were strolling around his house and bumped into his father’s library. Thousands of books were precisely arranged on beautiful wooden shelves. He has read them all — he said. In his late sixties, he has read a vast collection of books. Mastering disciplines ranging from physics to poetry along the way. The long-life learner’s wildest dream, my dream.

A dream I’m not achieving. Not even by a stretch. Distracted, in my mid-thirties I find myself cruising almost half of my existence unable to fill a single shelf with the ones I’ve already read.

My friend’s father is an extremely literate person, however, he doesn’t sport any superpower. His secret weapon is not the latest productivity app. On the contrary, it is the lack of exposure to the attention economy that has allowed him to build this admirable legacy.

On the other end, especially after the pandemic, I’m struggling to manage my concentration and focus. More and more, I spend long periods scrolling through the phone or glued to the computer screen wandering with no purpose.

I’m no stranger to how technology is playing tricks on our minds through a combination of both intermitting positive reinforcement and social approval. We care too much about what others would think and our minds are hardwired to quickly respond to social-validation feedback loops.

Eight years ago I was already crafting strategies to keep notifications at bay. However, it was just recently that I started feeling particularly helpless and needed a drastic change.

Goals, systems, and frameworks

Aware of its downsides, I consider myself a goal-oriented person. And despite putting systems in place, I’ve always strived for goals.

A goal-driven person is a loser by definition because she always lives in a state of pre-success. On top of that, the moment the goal is achieved, the motivation also fades away.

—— Scott Adams

That being said, after reading Cal Newport’s last book, I started to approach the attention problem from a “job to be done” perspective — which neatly aligns with my utilitarian product mindset. It is about distilling what’s truly valuable for you and aligning your lifestyle around it. Lifestyle, of course, includes social media patterns.

So ask yourself: what do you want most in life, then identify which attention-grabbing products, if any, can help achieve such goals. From this point of view, we stop using them mindlessly — which fosters the addiction pattern — but to our advantage, with a clear goal in mind, the job to be done of sorts.

Under this premise, I designed a framework and aligned it with the products I use — each one with its goal and usage policy. It revolves around three axes:

  • Prioritizing human connection.
  • Taking care of oneself.
  • Building great products.

Here it goes.

Cultivate meaningful relationships

Above all, caring for family and friends. But also often meeting with new people. Helping others achieve their goals. Teaching, mentoring, giving back to the community, and passing along what I’ve learned so far.

The tools I use that reinforce this value are:

  • WhatsApp: is not meant to replace real conversations, but to reach out under necessary circumstances, and coordinate in-person meetings.
  • LinkedIn: for discovering new people and staying connected to my loose network.

Keep a mens sana in corpore sano

A healthy body and a sharp mind are essential to perform for a long time. It might seem like a selfish goal, but being energized is also beneficial for the ones around you. Exercising and being a long-life learner has always been something I’ve strived for. Not only for the healthy rewards but because I enjoy it.

The tools I use that reinforce this value are:

  • Kindle: for reading books.
  • Audible: for listening to audiobooks.
  • Email newsletters, RSS feeds, and podcasts: I put these three in the same category because they share some traits. On one hand, they are a mechanism to prevent mindless browsing. Bringing the news to you, not the other way around. Nevertheless, when it comes to managing them, the overwhelming amount of content available and my completionist nature don’t come in handy. Hence its usage must be limited to time-capped checks.

Build great products

I think of my work as a legacy of sorts. I care about creating something that has the potential to impact people’s lives, even if it’s just a little. Far from grandiose aspirations, through the products I create, I want my contributions to become the seeds of a better world.

The tools I use that reinforce this value are:

  • Slack: this is the only app able to send silent notifications during work hours to communicate with the team.
  • GSuite and Notion: apps and tools to “get the job done”.
  • Visual Studio Code: the go-to text editor to write and code.
First published on January 12, 2021