I’ve had two resolutions every year for the past five years running, and while the list is sometimes much longer, I enjoy coming back to these two because I’ve seen incremental growth each year. The first habit is waking up earlier than everyone else to work on passion projects (like The Plutarch Podcast and this website!). The second habit is that I want to be reading more: more books, more poems, more Latin, more Greek!
In the past, to facilitate the second goal, I’ve added more reading aloud time (with my kids and my wife), tried audiobooks (see my Scribd review here), deleted all social media (no regrets), or even returned to a dumb phone (regrets…so I returned to smart-phone land). While each of these helped for a time and a season, I always like that the New Year, and the slowdown we can take between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day allows me to re-examine my habits and course correct for the New Year.
My wife recently tried the WisePhone in an attempt to use her phone as a tool rather than a shiny toy to chase away boredom or escape from fatigue. While we didn’t end up going with the WisePhone for a host of reasons—mainly it was still lacking as a tool—we looked into our iPhone and Android use and decided just to simplify our Smart Phones massively by prioritizing what they do.
Dumbing Down the Smart Phone: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
I deleted Brave, my go-to browser, and blocked access to Safari. I also deleted email from my phone: personal and work! Those were definitely the biggest time-sinks for me with little return. I’d attempt to read articles during “down time” or check email in the bathroom (super productive? no, just super sad). Email often adds more to my to-do list, so reading it when I don’t have time to act on it just incrementally adds stress throughout the day.
I had to realize that many of the apps that were tools were nonetheless distracting when that tool was put on a phone. A couple conversations with my wife helped me set this higher standard. As the breadwinner for the family, I felt like I needed the financial apps on my phone too. Then I realized that I treat them just like email and the browser, something to check and refresh just because it changes. So I deleted CoinBase, our banking apps, and even our insurance apps. They’re all still just a click away on my laptop, but adding that friction will mean that I won’t just be checking when things are due or how they’ve changed. I can put in a calendar reminder and then attend to the task on the appointed day and time.
I also stopped using my phone as an alarm-clock, made a rule for our family that devices are never used in bedrooms, and made it so my phone could go gray-scale (less interesting-looking to myself and my kids) at the triple-touch of a button.
What To Do instead?
As John Adams once wrote to his son, “You’re never alone with a poet in your pocket.” I started this a few months ago as a test-run, but I want to continue this habit in the New Year. I print off a poem so that it fits on one piece of paper (currently, it’s Horace’s Ode 3.2). Then I carry it around in my back pocket and that’s what I take out and read when I have a few minutes and am waiting for something or someone. I’m not only reading more, I’m re-reading well! It’s great because:
- I don’t tune out those around me—especially my kids. They can ask me about the poem and I can then share what I’m learning from Horace with them, tell them why I like it, and point out things I still don’t understand.
- A poem is dense and meaty enough to ruminate on for a month or so. Once I’m sure I’ve understood the general picture, I can grab a pen and examine the meter, or try to explain each thought in my own prose.
- It’s something that I can read fruitfully for 1 minute or 15, and if I get enough reps on the poem, I’ve basically memorized it.
I can add Psalms, English poems, Latin poems, Greek ones, Bible verses. Anything! And I just need to add the habit to my routine of filling and emptying my pockets each day. The piece of paper (or notecard if it’ll fit), goes in and out with my keys, wallet, and phone.
So, do you have any rolling resolutions? How do you plan to get some of your habits back on the ball? While we’re at it, give me some good poems to add to my pocket. Sound off in the comments below.