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This Tech Leader Took a Radical Step to Curb His Phone Overuse

Discover the surprising satisfaction of delete

It gets crowded in my head and likely yours. But what I learned as a leader at Facebook and Pinterest—and especially afterward—is that everything goes better when it’s not. These tips helped me get mental clarity and perform better. See if they might be useful for you, too:

Take your email off your phone. Take the browser off, too.

Delete YouTube, games, news, all social media, and other apps. I did that, and all I was left with was text messaging and Audible. Now I sit down at a computer at specific times of day to answer my email.

What that leaves you with: focus. I’m much closer to being at my best when I’m not getting interrupted by my in-box. It’s not even about being interrupted by an email. What’s distracting is getting interrupted by the thought that maybe I have a new email that will take my attention away from the moment I’m not happy to be in right now. I don’t need to be disturbed when the company I bought sunglasses from two years ago decides it wants to send me an email newsletter. There are tools on your phone that allow you not to accept those interruptions. When you get rid of thinking that maybe there’s something in your in-box that will lift your mood, it’s a cliché, but you get used to being in the present.

Know that sometimes you relapse.

There are times when I reinstall my browser and go down the rabbit hole on all of that. Then I realize the web doesn’t solve the problem I was having. And like any good addict, I delete it and try again.

Use your phone to make an actual phone call.

One of the biggest root causes of tech overuse is loneliness and isolation. So I’m trying to use my phone to be more deliberate about my social health. I recently realized that the people I’d call in an emergency aren’t the people I talk to regularly. That seemed broken. I’m now making a bigger effort to be deliberate about spending social time—whether that’s on the phone or in real life—with the people who really light me up and matter to me most.

Managers: Create gradients around urgency.

If everything’s an emergency all the time, it’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your company. Try to set the example of not working on the weekends. At my company, I established a norm where you don’t look at or answer email when the workday is over. I was a college wrestler and took notice of the fact that the people who did best were the ones who were injured for most of the season. After a short burst of training, they’d thrive at the end-of-season competitions. I think that professionally, there’s an analog to the overtrained athlete. Being always on leads to a highly compromised state of productivity. You can’t think on your feet. You can’t get speed or reaction time. You don’t have the tough conversation you need to have with someone. I don’t need the team coming in and ticking off reams of tasks as much as I need their best creative thinking around tough problems we’re trying to find solutions for.

By Tim Kendall

Tim Kendall is the former president of Pinterest and director of ads at Facebook and the CEO of Moment, an app (the irony does not escape him) that helps people manage their phone time.