Gleb Leonov/Strelka Institute/Flickr
- I deleted all the apps off my phone for a week to see how it would affect my productivity and attention span.
- Surviving a week without apps was much more difficult than I expected, and the app that I missed the most was not the one I expected.
- But by the end of the week, I had become less distracted and more productive.
- I ended up redownloading my apps at the end of the experiment — but not all of them.
For the past week, I lived with no apps on my phone.
I launched this experiment to see how productive I could be without the constant temptation of checking my phone. It was also the culmination of other steps I’ve taken to distance myself from my phone: I’ve already managed to completely give up texting, I keep my phone on silent 24/7, and recently, I started putting my phone on airplane mode for the entire work day.
I loved how much more productive those efforts made me. So I figured, why not go a step further and remove any temptation to use the apps on my phone by removing them completely?
First, I counted all the apps I’d installed on my refurbished Samsung Galaxy S9. I counted 45 apps I had downloaded, plus 30 others that came pre-downloaded, such as Samsung Health.
I thought about how many of the apps I actually used and imagined I’d miss some of them much more than others: Facebook Messenger — since I mostly live abroad, it’s my primary mode of written and verbal communication with friends and family; Instagram — to connect with other travelers and bloggers; Spotify — when I need to drown out distractions while working; Amazon Kindle — since it’s not practical to carry physical books from country to country; and Google Chrome — for obvious reasons.
I would have deleted my Gmail app, too, but since I work remotely, that was one app I needed to keep. As far as checking social media or other apps that I could check on my laptop, I told myself that would be cheating, so I aspired not to do so.
Going a week without apps on my phone was not as simple as I expected
Particularly because I’d succeeded with my airplane mode experiment and then made it a lifestyle, I thought going app-less would be no big deal. I was wrong. Just an hour in, I wondered how I’d last several hours, let alone several days.
Although I generally feel technology often disconnects people more than it connects them, I quickly started to miss knowing what was going on in the world, as well as in my friends’ worlds. It was like a magnified version of FOMO, the fear of missing out.
At first, I’d find myself picking up my phone and going to my apps, only to realize, right — they’re gone. As with any kind of detox, temptation is a natural feeling — can’t I just reinstall Messenger for a second to check in with so-and-so? For the first three days, this is exactly what I did, reinstalling, then deleting Messenger a couple times a day, justifying my behavior each time.
I did the same with Spotify. Sometimes when on work deadlines, I’d need it to drown out café distractions. However, where my discipline failed with apps like Messenger and Spotify, it succeeded when it came to apps like Instagram, which I didn’t reinstall and check at all.
I also failed to take into account that when you delete all apps, it’s more than just social media ones — it’s your banking app (Chase), your news app (SmartNews), and your primary communication app (Messenger). Then, there were other apps I had taken for granted, too: Headspace, a meditation app which helped curb my insomnia; my Subliminal Vision Board app, which I’d reflect on each day; and Gratitude, a journaling app I’d use before bed each night.
But by the end of the week, the app I missed most wasn’t one I expected
As the week went on, I found myself reaching for my phone less and less.
Surprisingly, the app I missed the most was the one I least expected: my calendar app. Though I’d been unable to delete it — I’d only been able to "force stop" it — I didn’t willingly look at it until I realized I’d missed a few appointments. I then made sure my handwritten calendar matched my online one, but I missed the ease with which I could just input meetings, work deadlines, and to-dos into my calendar app.
Overall, by week’s end, I felt freer and had a better sense of the apps that truly helped my life run more smoothly, whether that meant easily communicating with friends, quickly checking my bank balance, or helping me fall asleep. Although I’d still missed “connecting” with friends online, I was able to focus more on connecting with the ones I could in person instead.
At the end of the week, I redownloaded my apps — but not all of them
All in all, my time off apps definitely helped me become less distracted and more productive, and it freed up my time for non-phone activities. Though I’d love to say I can continue living app-free, my lifestyle as a digital nomad means being connected is sometimes a necessity. There’s also no question many of my apps make life more convenient, which is what made me want to reinstall them once my experiment ended. Otherwise, I’d likely live without most of them.
However, in lieu of reinstalling all 45 apps, I only installed 21 after my experiment ended. Really, I’d be happy just using my top five or so. And you know what? As soon as they were back on my phone, I checked some of them, but spent only a few minutes doing so. It turned out that I hadn’t missed as much as I thought.
Now, instead of reaching for my phone in my free time, I’ll reach for something else, like a non-Kindle book. I also decided to disable my phone notifications, so I can look at the apps on my time — and in moderation — versus them trying to distract me on their time.
Because making the most of our time is what it’s all about.
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