Philip Levy

January 19, 2023

Dumbing down my smartphone

As part of my digital decluttering plan, I’m going to be making my smartphone, well, less smart…

Apps I’m deleting to reduce distraction

  • Social (Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Email (HEY)
  • Financial (Brokerage, News, Budgeting, Digital Payments)

These are some of my favorite, most used apps. So they also have the potential to cause the most distraction. Upon reflection, I don’t need immediate access to them. I will still use these products and services. But it will be in a more measured, less impulsive way (in a web browser, not an app).

Apps I’m deleting that I didn’t use much anyway

  • Airtable
  • Loom
  • Lyft
  • Panera
  • ParentVUE
  • Slack

I like some of these apps too, but they’re mostly collecting digital dust. I certainly won’t miss access to them on my phone and probably won’t even notice they're gone. This is the low-hanging fruit of my digital decluttering.

What’s left?

While the list of apps I’m deleting is not too long, there are quite a few seemingly important tools there. It begs the question: what will I be able do with my phone?

Here’s what I’m keeping:

  • Audiobooks (public library)
  • Bank (main checking account)
  • Browser
  • Calendar
  • Camera
  • Coffee
  • Crosswords
  • Maps
  • Meditation
  • Messaging (mostly for family)
  • Music
  • Phone
  • Podcasts
  • Productivity (docs, lists)
  • TV

When I look at this list, it’s actually quite a lot of useful functionality and convenience. I can get directions, listen to enriching books and podcasts at the gym, play relaxing music while I work… oh, and browse the web (a potentially infinite rabbit hole to remain leery of).

But what I also notice about this list is there are very few things here that notify me or command my attention in an obtrusive way. Other than an appointment reminder from my calendar or a suspicious purchase alert from my bank, there’s not much here that will cause anything to pop up on my screen, luring me back into escape scrolling.

Video games, TV, and social video

In Digital Minimalism, Newport addresses these entertainment channels as somewhat different from social media, but ones that should be addressed as part of a decluttering plan. I don’t play video games, on my phone or otherwise, so that’s not really an issue. I do use YouTubeTV, but mainly to watch sports, and I’m going to limit my viewing to only NFL games during the break. I’ll still have YouTube on my phone, but I don’t use it enough to warrant putting any special boundaries around it.


Alert bars, buzzes, and dings (heaven forbid) emanating from your phone can be a major source of distraction. It’s great to use a meditation app but if you hear a vibration while observing your thoughts, those thoughts are going to inevitably turn to what might be happening out there in the world.

I don’t have much stuff popping up on my phone as it is, but here are a few tweaks I’m going to make:

  • Disable nearly all notifications: phone calls and appointment reminders will still get through but everything else will happen on my time.
  • Make the Do Not Disturb setting easier to get to: for those times when I’m meditating or focusing on work and, you know, don’t want to be disturbed.

What about work?

As Newport describes, the break is for ”optional” technology; that is, things you can ignore that won’t result in the loss of your job or some other severely negative event. I don’t have any work tools on my phone, so there’s nothing to address there. This plan should actually minimize the potential distraction of my phone for personal use while I’m focused on work.

About Philip Levy