less, but better

Monthly follow up from my Year of Living Without.  May was no podcasts or audiobooks month.

I’ll keep this one brief. I made it 2 days. Literally 2. May 1st and 2nd were spent listening to 2Pac’s entire catalog during a long commute to Tampa for a 3-day workshop. On the way there on May 3, I opened Castro, dismissed the alert I’d setup via a Shortcuts automation to remind me I wasn’t supposed to be there and proceeded to listen with delight to an episode of Connected.

I’ve listened to countless podcasts since that day during this month. I decided that while this experiment is to teach me to be comfortable with discomfort, giving up podcasts was something my brain just isn’t ready to train myself to do.

June is going to be no email newsletters, which tickle a different part of my brain, but I think I’ll be more successful with that one. Still not drinking anything other than coffee and water. Still in grayscale mode. Still pooping in the dark. Still really enjoying this year of living without and learning more about myself in the process.

Digital simplicity

Manu’s feelings here are the same as my own:

But now, I don't think it's worth it. I don't want to spend my time tracking which platforms are worth being on. I don't want to spend my time setting up auto-posting from my site to every new website that comes online.

I just don’t care to maintain the complexity. If the platform where I’m posting has a simple checkbox to post it to Twitter when published, I may leave it checked. Otherwise, I have no plans to maintain automation schemes to the plethora of social network platforms that are swirling these days. My time is more valuable than whatever slight increase in readership I may receive.

My hope is that word of mouth and sharing of articles increase my readership organically over time. If it doesn’t… so be it.

Monthly follow up from my Year of Living Without.  April was pooping in the dark month.

April was the first month where I didn't fail to comply with my goal even once.  Every bowel movement I had in April was sans electronics of any type and was done in the dark, like a gentleman.  I can say that the linked article's findings and mine were the same.  Using that time to not become distracted by any virtual shit on my phone let me reconnect with the literal shit I was taking.  My sessions were more focused and efficient, and they served as a chance to take inventory of my functions and body.

This habit is one that I'll stick with for the long term.  I can also confirm that I've had no beverages other than coffee and water during the month of April, which has been great.  I've reached the plateau with that habit where it's no longer a moment of pause or temptation when my father-in-law offers me a soda while having a bar-b-que.  I simply say, “No thanks, I don't drink that anymore,” without a moment's hesitation.

May is no podcasts or audiobooks month.  A bit of shitty timing, given that I have a long commute May 1st–3rd because of an in-person work engagement, but when I thought for a moment about switching the monthly items around so I could listen to podcasts during the trip, I realized that's exactly the opposite of leaning into discomfort.  I'll use the time to reflect on things in silence, or enjoy some music playlists that I've ignored for a long time, given that podcasts have become my primary driving audio companion.

These are my current default lock and home screens on my phone. The text is purposely set to a dark gray so that it isn't very eye catching. I wish I could also change the color of the status bar indicators and camera/flashlight launcher buttons, but that's not an option in iOS, at this time.

The messages you see in the lock screen widgets are achieved by using the free Any Text from Sindre Sorhus. When tapped, each of the 3 widgets open a different Shortcut. This allows me to pause and consider if I really should be looking at the phone, but still get to quick entry functions from the lock screen so that I can jot something down and then return to life vs. get lost in the tap-tap rathole.

During my workday, I have a scheduled Focus Mode that swaps out a couple of the lock screen widgets with ones that launch directly into Outlook or Teams. That's there for convenience for the times I step away from my desk, but I'm torn there a bit. I'll likely eliminate them, as I should treat the moments I step away from the desk as a chance to step away from email and live chats as well (or at least not make them so quick to get to). The other option is to just leave the phone on my desk and get away from it during those moments too.

The home screen uses minimal iconography and a gradient wallpaper that completely hides the dock background. The icons on the left and right are shortcuts that open Messages and Safari, respectively. The one in the middle is a shortcut that presents a menu with options to drive other shortcuts for various contexts. I'll detail that shortcut more over on tech & coffee soon. I've found it to be an elegant way to drive my behavior to a specific action or app , vs. swiping down to search for an app or swiping left to dive into the App Library.

For home screen widgets, I have just a few that I use and they're located in the often forgotten “Today View” that's a swipe to the right from the main home screen. While home screen widgets are informative and useful, I found that the more of them I added, the more I had an excuse to interact with the phone vs. use it as a tool.

This setup isn't for everyone. I realize it's sidelining features like beautiful photographs as my lock screen background, etc. I'm okay with that, since the my goal isn't to leverage every feature of the phone, but to choose the ones that drive me towards intentional usage of it.

Quarterly look at my Year of Living Without.  January – March were phone grayscale mode, no sweets and no beverages other than water and black coffee, respectively.

Being a quarter of the way through my first year of living without exercise, I thought it would make sense to evaluate how these first three months have gone and how they’ve informed my plans for the rest of the year.

Two out of the three months have led to a lasting shift in doing without things. That wasn’t the goal of the exercise, but I do find it interesting that some things just feel like changes I’ve become comfortable making for a longer duration. I’m not saying these things will never change, but they’ve become defaults that any deviation from will likely be momentary. I continue to have my iPhone and Apple Watch in grayscale mode. When I need the color I turn it on briefly, until I’m done with the task where it assists me, then I turn it back off. It’s a quick triple-click of the side button away and that’s made it feel easy enough to toggle for everyday use.

I’ve gone back to enjoying sweets when the mood strikes me. I likely overdid it a bit with Easter egg candy, but otherwise I don’t feel like this is anything I’m doing in excess with any regularity after February. So far in April, I’ve only had water and coffee without missing a beat. I did reintroduce milk/cream for the occasional cortadito espresso drink, but I consider that to be in the coffee category at this point.

April is pooping in the dark month, which, so far, I’ve done without failure. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that this will be another one that sticks with me beyond this month. Not only is the process more reflective and focused, it feels like I’m not using it as an excuse to use the phone passively.

Looking ahead, I’m adding a few more “without” items to the list, but haven’t decided which months from July to December they’ll occupy. I’ll make that decision sometime in May and update the original post with the planned schedule. The new items include:

  • No complaining (inspired by this article from 2007)
  • No online purchases from my phone
  • No phone other than for navigation/CarPlay use

The last one sounds more wild than it is really intended to be in practice. I have an Apple Watch w/ cellular connectivity that allows me to take calls from my family and read/respond to texts. I have an iPad that I can use from anywhere when something with a larger screen is needed. I work from home in front of a computer with access to the internet. Given all those factors, the phone feels like it becomes just another passive screen to grab time that could be otherwise more focused on something else (even if that something else is writing on the iPad). I guess what I’m saying is that the intention of that month isn’t to remove screens, it’s to use them more intentionally for purposes that are generating some value, vs. just mindless interaction with the screen that fits in my pocket. I’d originally planned to switch to a “dumb” phone (i.e. a flip phone) for that month, but after some realistic conversation with my wife (and recognizing that all of the other Apple devices being options to replace the capabilities in more intentional ways) I’ve ditched the “dumb” phone for a “no phone” approach.

As always, if you care to engage with me on any of this year-long experiment, get in touch!

Monthly follow up from my Year of Living Without.  March was no beverages other than water and black coffee.

My month of living without beverages other than water and black coffee was mostly a success.  I only failed two days of the month.  The first was sometime mid-month when my mother-in-law asked me to try something “garlic”, but it was in fact so hot that my mouth was on fire, and I drank a Coke to try and ease the heat.  Looking back on it, I should have just attempted to weather the discomfort with water alone.

The second time was just yesterday, the last day of March.  I drank soda during a field trip with my daughter because it was “free”, and then had another when I returned home with pizza that my oldest daughter had for a sleepover.  I can say with certainty that I only drank the second soda because I’d already failed with the first.  In both cases, I should have gone with water, but I was weak.

All the other days, I only drank water or black coffee.  I did start using my carbonator more often than I had in recent months to make sparkling water.  That’s something I’ve always enjoyed, but I just didn’t take the extra few moments to do it regularly.  I invested in a new carbonator mid-month because the plastic SodaStream model I had wasn’t much fun to use.  I’d also decided by this point that by making sparkling water more consistently available, this new reduced beverage intake was likely to stick longer than just the month of March.  I’m going to start refilling my own carbonator cartridges, as it is way more cost-effective than SodaStream canister swaps.  I drink sparkling water almost daily now, and that’s likely to continue.

While I will start bringing some milk or creamer back into the mix with the occasional espresso-based cortadito or cafè con leche, I don’t think I’ll go back to drinking juice regularly.  After the couple of sodas I had yesterday (and another today with leftover pizza), I’m pretty resolved to say even those can be cut out.  A reduced-beverage diet feels right to me, for a few reasons.  I haven’t had juice regularly for years, and the soda does nothing for me health-wise.  I’ve been drinking my coffee black for years too, so no major shift there.  I think that by just focusing on water, both sparkling and still, and coffee, I get everything I need and what I actually want.  This exercise proved it to myself, so it was worthwhile.

I made an update to my scheduled monthly sacrifices.  April was originally slated to be “No Apple Watch” month.  I realized that by removing the Apple Watch, I’d almost certainly use my phone more often, which is the opposite of where I’d like to be headed habitually.  I decided to switch it to “Pooping in the Dark” month.  It was inspired by this article and the main point is to eliminate electronic distractions and return to a more natural and minimalist approach to ... elimination.  I had my first go of it today, and while my 4-year-old twins decided it was a great time to barge in and ask me a question or ten, overall the goal of feeling more present with the act was achieved.

Monthly follow up from my Year of Living Without. February was no sweets.

February “no sweets” month was mostly a success. I did fail a couple of times, but not so many that I can't count them on one hand. In short summary, I had a donut twice (couldn't turn down a loving gesture from my wife, both times), I absentmindedly ordered and consumed an ice cream treat with my oldest daughter during her paleontologist field trip and I ate some ice cream with my family on the last night of the month after returning from some business travel. Those missteps were tiny in comparison to the number of times I would have eaten some cookies, or ice cream or Valentine candy treats that the kids offered, but did not due to the “without” mentality.

A few days into the month, I did recognize that I was a bit annoyed, and then later connected that it was likely because I was still mentally adjusting to doing without sweets. I didn't cut out things like a small homemade cortadito (a small espresso with some sugar and cream drink). I found myself drinking juice and the occasional soda more frequently. I think recognizing that these things were likely in an effort to replace the definition of “sweets” I was using is valuable. I included in my off limits list things like ice cream, cookies, candies, chocolate and other dessert type items. Ultimately, I was much more present in the way I made decisions of what I was about to consume. I think that was the main goal, in addition to being more comfortable with discomfort. I'm pleased with the end result for February, but am not continuing it into March the way I did with grayscale mode from January.

March is my month of “only water or coffee to drink; coffee must be black, no dairy, no sweeteners.” So far, I haven't failed yet. I was not a frequent soda or juice drinker before February, but I think March will reset from my increases in February when my body (and mind) were seeking something sweet. I could see March creating a new baseline where I just don't drink certain things anymore as a general rule (soda being one of them).

The forever journey continues... two steps at a time.

Monthly follow up from my Year of Living Without. January was grayscale mode on my phone (and Apple Watch).

Grayscale mode on the phone has been an interesting experiment. As many others in various writings and Reddit posts have commented, it does take a bit of time before your brain gets “tricked” into what it is visually processing. Once the light bulb goes off, though, it’s pretty jarring how much those saturated and vivid hues really do pull one into the retina beauty that is your smartphone screen.

Steve Jobs, when demoing the Mac’s Aqua UI for the first time said, “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them.” That’s a pretty good way to describe how you’ll see the colors on iOS’s screen of icons when you toggle the color back on after not having it for several days. The colors are gorgeously rendered and talented designers have done a great job creating icons that beg to be tapped.

I wrote more about the tech aspects of my experiment over on my tech & coffee blog, including how I toggled the color on for obvious necessities like photo viewing/editing and a turn-based variant of the game Wordle that my wife and I play. These little tech tweaks made it seamless to have color enabled when I needed it, and automatically disabled when I didn’t. It’s one removal of friction that made the experiment “stick” for me.

Speaking of sticking, it is now February and I haven’t turned color mode back on as a default. I turn it back on occasionally, to view a photo or product or do some quick CSS code behavior confirmation. Sometimes, I do it to simply remind myself how jarring it is to see the vibrancy of the default UI as the rest of the world around me does. I realize that grayscale mode as a default isn’t for everyone. I recognize (and have been reminded by those that love me for me) that this self-imposed removal of color is a bit odd. I’m okay with that, since what I find odd, or rather uncomfortable (bordering on disgusting), is the normalization we’ve leaned into as a society that life happens on the other side of a “lickable” piece of glass.

Here’s the daily log for the second half of January’s declutter challenge. The only space I didn’t hit (that would have really helped hit the daily goal numbers) was the garage. I won’t be tracking on a daily basis, but the effort will continue into February and March. Considering this the “Declutter Quarter”.

  • January 15 – I cleared out more read-later app articles and deleted old notes from the Notes app I no longer needed.
  • January 16 – Not much in the way of decluttering, but had an amazing breakfast with my dad this day.
  • January 17 – Got rid of an old outdoor camera system and threw out 20 old door and window sensors that were prone to fault. Decluttered and secure.
  • January 18 – Went through my cords bin in the office closet and eliminated a bunch of micro USB and other port types I don’t have many of around the house.
  • January 19 – Today is the day that my wife’s side of the closet collapsed. It wasn’t her fault. The shelves weren’t installed properly, but now they are. This connects to decluttering because she weeded out a portion of her clothes she no longer felt value in keeping.
  • January 20 – I’ve fallen off in the last several years when it comes to pruning my text messages. I just let them fall to the bottom of a list I never scroll through. Today I went back and deleted hundreds of old text convos I no longer needed to have in an endless scroll in Messages.
  • January 21 – Not much decluttering today.
  • January 22 – Threw out several boxes from Christmas decorations that were getting organized into the garage for 11 month storage.
  • January 23 – Deleted 100 shortcuts from the Shortcuts app that I no longer use.
  • January 24 – Another cord cleanse. Not 24 cords discarded, but what I have left is what I actually need.
  • January 25 – Last of the electronic declutter. More cords (yes, I know… WTF) and two old alarm units that I don’t think anyone will buy.
  • January 26 – Not much decluttering this day, but did organize so that things have their place in the office closet.
  • January 27 – Deleted tons of files no longer needed from my cloud storage and phone.
  • January 28 – Cleared my podcasts queue out. There were many back episodes of shows that I didn’t need to keep around since if I was going to listen to them, I would have by now.
  • January 29 – Busy Sunday with the kids, so no decluttering of note.
  • January 30 – Sold off a pair of kids shoes that were still in great shape, but that was it.
  • January 31 – While I had plans to end the month super strong, I had a busier than expected day at work and didn’t end up throwing away 31 items from the garage. Good thing this game isn’t limited to a single month.

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