For how indispensable our smartphones have become—can you remember the last time you spent a day without yours?—they might be doing us more harm than good. Research from the University of Texas suggests that we’re measurably less intelligent when our phones are within eyeshot. And according to a 2017 report by analytics firm Flurry, we spend five IQ-stunted hours per day on our phones.

If this information makes you want to defenestrate your smart phone and replace it with a rotary phone, well, I can relate. (I can’t spare any IQ points!) But our pocket technology isn’t inherently bad. We just need to learn how to manage our phones intelligently.

I’ve grown a lifestyle coaching business in part by teaching men and women how to fine-tune their phone use so that, far from being a distraction, their phones become tools for a balanced and proactive life.

Curious to learn how?

1-Set daily tech limitations

I advise all of my clients to set strict limitations in their daily planners for technology use throughout the day, which also includes texts and messages. This means disabling notifications for everything but incoming phone calls.

Some do checks every two hours for ten minutes; some do it twice or three times a day. But no matter what my clients’ communication demands are, the knee-jerk, “Ah, I don’t know what I should be doing so I’ll just reach for my phone like Frodo with the ring” reaction is eliminated—which forces them to do more work, and to live more in the here and now.

You’ll want to alert bosses, clients and friends of your new communications schedule and assure them that less is definitely more in this case. When you schedule emails and texts checking as an activity in itself, you’re more present to the person you’re communicating with, and your responses are more thoughtful and valuable.

2-Start a system for taking notes

David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” refers to our minds as RAM hard drives that quit functioning properly when full. You know the sense of panic that starts building up when you have so much to do but don’t quite know what to do? That’s a malfunctioning mental RAM.

Allen’s solution is to unburden your mental hard drive by uploading your thoughts and tasks onto a computer hard drive via a note-taking system. What better place to start than your phone? It’s always on you, always ready to relieve your brain. And if you have an iCloud account, your phone notes automatically sync to your computer notes, and vise versa. Don’t have a Mac? Consider purchasing an iPhone, then download an iCloud account on your PC or laptop for free.

Here are the folders you need to start:

  • Health
  • Career
  • Happiness
  • Goals
  • Self-Improvement
  • Procrastinations
  • Life (for general observations)
  • Gratitude
  • Important people
  • Ideas
  • What’s working
  • Next action—

These tabs will help capture everything you could possibly need to act on. Instead of leaving that special gift idea to chance, for example, you immediately go into your “important people” tab, find the relevant subtab for the specific person—or create the subtab—and write down that gift idea which would otherwise slip away.

Next action reminders

To make sure you come back to your ideas and actually act upon them, David Allen suggests creating a “Next Action” subtab for each category. You’ll set a reminder to revisit your “Next Actions” list once or twice a week. (More on reminders in the next section.)

You’ll want to program, “Review my next action tabs” into your phone twice a week—once midweek and once on the weekend.

3-Take advantage of your reminders

Smartphones are colossal distractions to most people—especially the apps. Polls show that 92% of our phone time is spent on them. But when you start limiting your phone use in general, and start using the reminders app, your phone alerts you to focus on what you really need to be doing. Which turns your phone into a focus aid.

The easiest way to start using your reminders is to activate Siri or your Google Assistant and to dictate whatever you want to be reminded of. For instance, if you want to begin your big project next Friday at 2:00pm, you’ll say: “At 11:00 am next Friday, remind me to set my 2:00pm alarm for starting new project.” The wording has to be just like that example, otherwise the robot will confuse the times. And unfortunately you can’t schedule alarms past a day in advance. You can also manually set alerts in the reminders app—it just takes five times longer.


Although smartphones are incredibly useful, most of us use them more as high-tech escapes than as the self-improvement tools they actually are. You can get the most out of your phone by limiting the amount of time you spend on it, by getting organized with a system for note taking, and by using your reminders function on a daily basis. Want more in-depth training on a distraction-free lifestyle? Consider my coaching program.

Originally published at


  • Daniel Dowling

    Performance Coach, Writer for Greatist,, Mindbodygreen, and FastCompany.

    Dan Dowling, here. I was the poster child for lost millennials - couldn’t keep a job…addicted to relationships…constantly checking social media and email. But when I got hungry enough for success as a writer, I gave up my distracted lifestyle and adopted one daily goal that changed my life forever: Do. Your. Best. Today, five years later, I’m a productivity coach who’s published on the world’s biggest sites (including Entrepreneur, Fast Company and Mindbodygreen), and I’m transforming lives through the best-effort, zero-distraction lifestyle that worked so well for me. Come and and learn how to always give your best at Millennial Success!