You’re running late for a meeting. You push the elevator button. Ugh, the closest one is still 23 floors up.
You reach into your pocket. You pull out your phone. Peter sent you a message. Ahhhhh. What did he say? You slide the screen and check.
Peter: Hey, I got some tickets to the Jays game tonight. Want one? Let me know ASAP, so I can find someone else if not.
The elevator gets here. You walk in without looking up. You switch out of Messages into Calendar and see if you have plans. Damn, you were going to meet up with another group of friends. No Jays game tonight. Or should you bail on your friends? You switch back into Messages, and you —
You look up. It’s your floor.
You walk out of the elevator.
What were you doing here? Ahh, you were headed to suite 200, right?
You walk in and tell them you have an appointment. They tell you to have a seat. You sit down and have a look back at your phone. You see a notification appear at the top of the screen, which you were about to reply to Peter. Oh shit, it’s from your boss. You glance at it.
From, boss: “Fwd: Urgent — ”
“Hey, great to see you!” You look up.
“You as well,” you manage to grin. What was your boss’s email about?
Oh shit, wait. So, this client is the one who is pleased with the work but concerned about lateness. What are you going to tell him? And what did your boss forward you? And shit, Peter still needs a response. Agh!
You are a creature of habit. Whether you benefit from them or not, habits are habits. You can shape them and mould them to your advantage, or let them run rampant and give in to your habits. Charles DuHigg breaks habits down in what he calls habit loops, and Nir Eyal breaks habits down in what he calls the Hook Model. They’re pretty similar, except Eyal’s specifically covers technology.
In this opening situation, it started with the trigger — you pull your phone out of your pocket when your brain is bored, like when you’re waiting for an elevator. You take action and check it because you crave stimulation and distraction. Hardware, software, telecommunications, and social network companies make it extremely convenient for you to pull a ridiculous amount of information because, as my friend Robleh says, your “usage is oxygen” for their companies. Sometimes your brain gets rewarded with an invitation, a text message you’ve been looking forward to, or an email with exciting news. Unfortunately, as this small example indicated, a lot of times the information might not be what you looked forward to. Instead, it might overstimulate your brain, leaving you stressed out and overwhelmed.
You’re about to walk into the meeting. While not an emergency meeting, there’s still something at stake, and it requires attention. It might’ve been better if you didn’t read your email and learn about that thing your boss sent, or that Peter needed an urgent response — despite it being an invitation, it still adds to the load of your mind.
You give in to these conveniences because they’re designed to be fun. Your routine of pulling out your phone has led to many rewards — exciting discoveries or laughs, or at least distraction — so you’re tempted to check it whenever you are bored.
Your carelessness with conveniences means companies will heavily influence what you do with your time. When you do what’s most convenient, you lose control. In this case, you lost control of your brain, time, and energy. If you’d decided this ahead of time, you could have spent the two minutes waiting and clearing your mind to prepare for this meeting and even briefly plan for it. Instead, you got a sneak peek at an email that stressed you out, and don’t have the time to see the whole thing. Subconsciously guessing what it’s about, or bracing yourself for the news, will also distract you.
Similarly, procrastination happens because it’s so convenient to procrastinate. Instead of taking five minutes to plan your day, it’s easier to indulge in the infinite number of distractions just two clicks away.
Friendships fade because it’s not as convenient to talk to friends on a daily or weekly basis.
The best gym is whatever will actually fits into your routine and gets you to exercise. This is typically the most convenient one.
And that’s why you should rethink the idea of convenience:
Instead of doing what’s most convenient — which usually aren’t the best choices for you at the moment — you should pre-decide the best choices are in most situations and make those decisions more convenient. For example, instead of pulling out your phone when you’re bored, practice a relaxing breathing exercise. Or fast forward five minutes mentally in order to think about the task you’re about to partake in, and engage yourself.
Make decisions before you arrive at the last minute. If you wait to be spontaneous, you will give in to convenience. As Greek lyric poet Archilochus writes, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
It’s not an unplanned accident that companies make their products more convenient. Companies have to make their products convenient in order to acquire users, They also make their products more addictive in order to retain them. This is a cold fact. This is how advertising has worked for decades (see The Power of Habit). Armed with data on consumer behavior, they’re just figuring out how to do it better now.
Here’s an insightful quote by Atari Founder, Nolan Bushnell:
“I’ve always thought legal addictions are a great way to create a business. Starbucks is a wonderful example.”
Companies design their products to make sure you can check them very quickly, and that you invest in them. Want to switch from Office to Google Docs? Well, have fun re-uploading all your documents! Want to go from Facebook to Peach? You’ll have to bring all your friends with you — good luck!
Considering your conveniences means identifying what you’re making easier for yourself, or what you’re rewarding yourself for doing, every day. It means being conscious of the habits you’re building and how you’re investing your time and energy. This works for habits you want to build as well. For example, if you want to read more, make sure you have books on hand and time carved out to read.
You should also consider what entertainment you want to make deliberately inconvenient. For example, I always logout of Facebook, and I didn’t install the Facebook app on my phone (or Instagram) until recently. Some of my friends can control themselves, but I can’t. I also use an app called Freedom, which doesn’t let my computer access the internet between 7AM — 10AM, so I can get my writing or thinking done in the morning.
Some other things I learned from people:
- I turn on airplane mode whenever I’m about to go to bed, so I don’t get disturbed. I have started doing this throughout the day as well.
- I haven’t tried this for my conveniences, but I plan to use a rubber band to snip myself whenever I check my phone mindlessly. It makes me more aware and mindful of usage.
- I turn off all my push notifications.
- I try to keep my phone in a drawer when I’m doing deep work — out of sight, out of mind.
It’s the same idea of keeping junk food outside of your house. If you know you’ll have to travel to the grocery store in order to buy junk food, whereas there are healthier snacks like fruits or vegetables in your house, you’ll increase the likelihood that you eat healthier because it’s more convenient.
Track your habits, but more importantly, track your rewards and how you’re conditioning yourself.
Because that’s how habits, and futures, are built. It’s how potential is recognized. One day, one convenience — or deliberate inconvenience — at a time.
Considering our conveniences is about harnessing our natural tendencies to do what our best selves want us to do, and using our laziness and procrastination to keep us from the things we don’t want to indulge in.