Alternatives to the Just Checks



For the past 3 months I’ve been working on my next book. It’s called The Power of a Focused Life and is all about things like life goals, time management, work-life balance, creativity, the tyranny of the urgent, focus, and more.

Over the past several months, most of the episodes of my members-only podcast, Shawn Today, have been about the topics and ideas I’m writing and researching for the book.

I just recently finished the crappy first draft, and it’s around 16,000 words. I wanted to start by getting everything written down that I had in me — the first draft is just me straight-up writing down the things I know and the things I do regarding these topics. It’s a great start, but there is a lot more ground I want to cover.

And so now I’ve begun the second phase of writing, which involves intentional research. I’m now reading articles, books, and teaching series from others so I can find out what I’m missing and add more content to my second draft of the book.

All that to say, I recently read an article and book about identifying and changing habits.

It got me thinking about one of my own worst habits: checking Twitter.

One of the reasons I wear a watch is to help keep me from pulling my phone out as often as I would. If I want to check the time I look at my watch. Because as soon as I’m holding my phone, it’s instinct at this point to swipe-to-unlock the thing. And then, once the phone is unlocked and I’m staring blankly at my Home screen of icons, I’m going to want to launch an app. But because I unlocked the phone without any clear plan for what I needed to do, the next thing I know I’m checking Twitter. And all the while, I don’t even know what time it is. See? It’s a bad habit.

There are three components that make up a habit: Trigger → Response → Reward.

The keys to changing a habit are to start by figuring out what the reward is — what is it that you’re seeking to gain by carrying out the habit action? Then, learn what the trigger is so that you can head it off at the pass or prepare for it. Finally, you insert a new, healthy action as the trigger response instead of your bad action.

Now, let’s just assume that compulsive checking of Twitter, Facebook, and email are bad habits. And by that I mean they are habits we want to change. I know I personally would like to check Twitter less often. (Have I ever gained anything by checking Twitter while standing in line at the grocery store or while waiting at a red light?)

For me, here’s what my Twitter checking habit loop looks like:

  • Trigger: I have down time; I’m bored; I’m waiting for something or someone. Common times this occurs are when I’m standing in line somewhere, when a commercial break comes on during a football game, when I’m waiting for water to boil, etc.

  • Response: Pull out my iPhone, launch Twitter, and just scroll through tweets.

  • Reward: Pacify my boredom and/or get a short-term gain of social interaction because someone @replied to me or whatever.

What I need is a new action to do when I have down time.

Of course, it’s important to mention that there is nothing wrong with being bored. In fact, those little moments of mental down time can do wonders for our long-term ability to create, problem solve, and do great work.

For the times I do want to use my iPhone when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, I’ve come up with a few alternatives instead of just checking Twitter.

These are a few alternatives to the Just Checks:

  • Scroll through your Day One timeline and read a previous journal entry or browse some old photos and memories.

  • Launch Day One and log how you’ve spent your time so far for the day. Doing this for a few weeks can also be super helpful for getting a perspective of where your time and energy are being spent.

  • Write down 3 new ideas. These could be articles you want to write, business ideas, places you want to visit or photograph, topics you want to research, date ideas for you and your spouse, gift ideas for a friend, etc. These ideas never have to to be acted on — the point isn’t to generate a to-do list, but rather to exercise your mind. Ideation and creativity are muscles, and the more we exercise them the stronger they get.

  • Send a text message to a friend or family member to tell them how awesome they are.

  • Don’t get out your phone at all.

These alternatives are meant to be healthy. Meaning they have a positive long-term effect and satisfy the same reward as before. The point here is to not default into the passive consumption of content (it’s so easy to do that anyway). If you’ve got any ideas of your own, let me know on Twitter.

Take advantage of those down time moments and allow our minds to rest for a bit or else engage our minds by doing something active and positive.