One simple trick to take back your life… (from your phone)

My New Year’s resolution was simple: spend less time on my phone

Easy to say, hard to do. I’ve attacked the problem of basically having a super computer in your pocket at all times from several directions – but the truth is a computer in your pocket is both helpful and hurtful at the same time… 

So what are the options?

Option 1) Ditch the phone. I’ve gone cold turkey by swapping my SIM card out of my iPhone and into a Nokia 3310. No interruptions (no one calls and no one texts – everyone’s on WhatsApp) but also no internet. Yuck. It turns out the internet is really useful for many things – like Ubers and maps and movie times. So the internet isn’t inherently evil. No internet works for a weekend or a beachside vacation with your BAE but isn’t really sustainable (or really desirable to be honest).

Option 2: Ditch the phone. I bought a new Apple Watch with cellular – that gives me the connectivity I want (same as Nokia) and drastically reduces the amount of internet. This is a *great* option and better than cold turkey – I *do* leave the house on short errands with only my watch on. No phone, no wallet. Again, not for forever, and not for every day – I need more than just a watch.

Option 3: Keep the phone, make some modifications. Well, this seems like a sensible option… so what does this mean?

There’s a great book I read a few years ago – Happiness by Design. The key tenet is you can set things up in a certain way that they effortlessly lead to a happier life. For example simply by going to be earlier each night, you can wake up BEFORE your alarm blasts you awake. This makes you happier, and requires only a little planning. 

The same applies for your phone.

I think the single most important change you can make – right now- is TURNING OFF NOTIFICATIONS.

At the least, this means you can engage with your phone on your own terms. You control it, it doesn’t control you.

This is a very simple, but very powerful change that comes in varying degrees. It starts with The Evil Red Notification Badge of Death and ends with all forms of notifications.

I turned off The Evil Red Notification Badge of Death a *long* time ago for most of my apps. And have only reduced that further with time. Currently, I have only one app that I allow badge notifications for – VIP Email (which is still set to Fetch New Data manually, so it’s not a real time Red Alert). But this means I do get alerted when something that’s important comes through. And that’s it. No other badges.

I have some screen notifications, but very few, and even less on my watch. For a full tutorial on how to configure your phone for, I recommend the very good (and VERY long) post on how to improve your phone [How to configure your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You]. 

I have adopted many of the recommendations. Duplicating the post doesn’t make any sense, but will post a screenshot of my home screen. You can see I have no social media and only SMS messages (still no notifications) on my home screen. “Healthy” options (like Medium) and utilities populate the screen. This is Happiness by Design so I don’t feel anxious when I open my phone. Mail, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, etc all live in a Messages folder on my second screen (with badges only for VIP email). I open them when I’m ready, not when they’re ready.

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We all have limited willpower and self control. A few simple changes can have a big impact on your life. A quick check shows I average 22 minutes per day on Social Networking (Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Messages, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin). That’s down from 2hrs+ before I made these changes.

New Year/New You. Give it a shot, see how you feel 🙂

Finding Purpose in the Pursuit of Profits

What is a Company’s purpose? To be profitable, and self sustaining, while providing a product or service.

But can it make a difference, not just make money?

The answer is yes, and this has been the key question in my mind for the past few years. Both personally and professionally, I’ve gone through a process where I’ve evaluated how I work and what I work on, and how I might be able to make a difference within my sphere of influence.

This isn’t a navel-gazing or self promotion post, so I’m not listing the things I’ve done or am doing, but rather posting this in case you are thinking the same thing. Maybe my process can help with your thinking. Or maybe you’re way ahead of me on this, and you write back with some tips for me. Both would be super.

See, I was deeply unhappy with work. I have one of the best jobs on the planet – I get to meet, and sometimes work with, amazing visionaries almost every day of my life. Directly and indirectly I’ve been involved with some of the best tech companies of our time. So why would I be unhappy? Well, I realized it was all really just about returns. Making money.

Was it a mid-life crisis? Probably. I didn’t always think like this. Once I did, it took me a solid 3 years to figure out how to achieve my personal objectives within the confines of my corporate life. I defined the problem very quickly – but working out the way to *solve* it was really the tricky part. But it’s all obvious now in retrospect.

Personal Health and the Environment. Pretty important areas in general, and two things that I’m really passionate and nerdy about.

How do I take those areas, a desire to make a difference and marry that with my responsibility to my corporate world? Answer: focus on technologies that achieve both objectives.

Many of you will know, I spend 80%+ of my time looking at autonomous car technologies. This is very central to my corporate world. Does a new sensor or an innovative Lidar component or maybe some smart path planning software change the world? Nope. Absolutely not. But it DOES enable autonomous vehicles to become a commercially viable reality. 

And this is where I get very excited. 

Car related deaths are a top 10 killer in every country on the planet. In some cases it’s a top 5 killer. Any part – big or small – I can play in reducing that number is a huge win. Millions of lives. Every year. Lost. Self driving cars means that number will change radically. And THAT is something I can get really excited about. I’m also a cyclist, and have had many near misses on the roads. Many friends haven’t been so lucky. This is another great by-product of self driving cars. No (or limited) car / bicycle related accidents or deaths.

I hear what you’re thinking – “But Jason, you’re a VC and of course you can do things like that! I can’t”. 

Let’s assume for a second you’re a waiter at a restaurant. You dislike plastic as much as I do. It’s poison for our planet. So you say to the manager “Hey, I found these cool straws that aren’t actually plastic – they look like plastic and act like plastic, but they decompose. Could we start using these instead?” Small win, but it’s a big win. That’ a LOT less plastic in the world. But maybe the manager says “No.” Ok, what are the recycling policies of the restaurant? Can you make an impact there?

When you stop and look at where you can make a difference in your daily activities, you’ll find all kinds of things you can do. Things that are meaningful to you. And then you’re not just making money (for you or for someone else) but you’re also making a difference.

And that’s something to be really excited about 🙂

If you’re doing some cool things, please shout – tweet, DM, comment, etc. I’d love to hear how anyone reading this is changing the world one straw at a time.

How to Save Four Hours this Weekend

Yes, that title is click bait. Gotcha. But keep reading, it actually could save you four hours tomorrow and make you happier.

Question: When is the last time you looked at your phone?

For me, it was 4 minutes ago. 

And I’ve already picked my phone up 41 times today (Saturday, May 5, 2018). It’s only 10:34am. Over the course of the day, I’ll clock in over 100 pickups, and over 4 hours of screen time. For me, this is is a problem. A problem I’m solving with a $50 device: the Nokia 3310.

Yes, I’m ditching my iPhone X for a Nokia 3310. Goodbye Whatscrapp and Instaself, hello four hours of leisure time.

First, some background: 

August 2015, Sri Lanka. For 10 days I lived in a hut on the beach with no electricity, no hot water and … no internet. I was doing my favorite thing (surfing) with my favorite people, so felt I only needed to be reachable by phone, in case of emergencies. I notified my family and turned data roaming off. Calls and SMS only. Ten days of surfing and lying around in hammocks reading paper books later, I felt like a new man. For the past 3 years, these 10 days have stood out in my mind like a Golden Age for many reasons, and a key ingredient was NO INTERNET.

July 2017, London. I read an interesting article about Tristan Harris, and his Ted talk on how technology is hijacking people (https://www.wired.com/story/our-minds-have-been-hijacked-by-our-phones-tristan-harris-wants-to-rescue-them/). Interesting enough to share on Twitter, not interesting enough to adopt…

September 2017, London. I tried a “Device Down” challenge where I turned my phone off at 7pm every night for a week. The first few nights my brain went NUTS, interrupting my dreams with people saying “Jason! Your phone is OFF!!”. WHAT?? If that’s not a key sign of addiction, then I don’t know what is… (and I don’t sleep with my phone in the bedroom – already a “best practice” approach). My concern grew.

March 2017, London. I finally download Moment and see in glorious detail how much of my life is spent on my phone: on average 4 hr 42 min per day, or 29% of my waking life. 

29% of my daily life??? Houston, we have a problem.

Enter my new Nokia 3310:

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I’m starting with weekends (work week is hard given how much I hop around, and I’m on the phone constantly for work). It will be with me at all times – so I’m still 100% contactable. Call me or text me. I may not text back thanks to the wonderfully limited non-qwerty keyboard, so I may call instead.

The objective is to focus on what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Not having an iPhone in my pocket means I CAN’T check it 100 times a day. I can check it on Sunday night and see what all I’ve “missed”.

I love my iPhone (and my Apple Watch, going back to my wind up watch). But I love them a little too much… and I don’t have the willpower to simply not pick it up. 

So I’m to leaving it on the shelf for now. One day soon hopefully forever.

Hacking Sleep (Part 2)

In my last post I focused on how I went from mediocre sleep to solid sleep by simply adding ZMA to the equation. And all things being equal, ZMA improves the quality and depth of sleep.

There are two further changes I’ve made in the past few months that have made an additional impact to my sleep that are worth sharing – one is an easy win, one is much more of a challenge. Both have improved the quality of my sleep, but incrementally, not by leaps and bounds like ZMA.

First, the easy win is adding a mattress topper. While reading one of my favorite self improvement hero’s book, Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich (good book, and his podcasts are fantastic), where he talks about sleep- he mentions how much a memory foam topper can improve sleep. So I ordered one from a UK company called Eve since it seemed to offer a good balance of price vs quality.

I already use (and love) my Tempur memory foam pillow, so adding a memory foam topper seemed like a good idea. And it was. For £199, I wake up feeling even better than I used to (which was pretty good)

Second, the hard one – kicking the coffee habit. I quit coffee cold turkey a few years ago in an effort to improve my sleep. It was possibly the worst 5 days of my life – foggy brain, low energy, irritable…squeaking by on decaffeinated coffee to get a tiny bit of caffeine in my system… awful. But after about day seven – I slept like I hadn’t slept in decades. I think there’s still an imprint of my body in that mattress – I slept so deeply. But travel and life conspired to get me drinking coffee again – and I love coffee.

But then life and travel conspired again to make me kick the coffee habit again (3 months now and counting). I spent three weeks in Japan at the end of last year and started drinking matcha lattes in Kyoto (the home of matcha). No, matcha lattes aren’t authentic, but they are very yummy. And matcha does still have caffeine (25mg vs 150mg+ for filter coffee). Since I was there, matcha was local, I made a point of only having matcha or hojicha (roasted green tea).

Since I had already kicked my decades old coffee addiction, making this transition wasn’t very difficult. I also noticed after 4-5 days that I was clearer in the mornings, with no “gotta have that first cup” craving/fogginess that comes with coffee. Matcha is well known for it’s mental clarity qualities (and health benefits) which I won’t go into here. After 2 weeks I ordered some brewed coffee, and after half a cup I was sweating, felt jittery and my stomach ached – I realized in that moment that coffee and I don’t mix, and that was that. I haven’t looked back.

Dropping coffee appears to be permanent this time, because I made a lifestyle change by substituting it with matcha. I still have a cup of warm liquid in the mornings, but it only has 25mg of caffeine, and I only have one, sometimes a second one on weekends. This is still only 50mg of caffeine before noon vs 2-3 cups of coffee with 150mg of caffeine each.

I wake up feeling clear headed, with no craving for a cup of coffee (or matcha in this case). If I don’t have anything, it’s ok. Not having coffee a few years back was catastrophic – instant headache and irritability.

Quitting coffee is hard. But if you really want to improve your sleep and mood, you should do it.

There you have it – three key tips to improving your sleep: ZMA, mattress topper and quitting coffee. Good luck.

Hacking Sleep (Part 1)

My sleep habits for all practical purposes are about as perfect as real life permits. I excercise almost daily, I eat well, and I follow the old “early to bed early to rise” philosophy. I travel frequently, but if I’m at home, I’m dialed in.

However despite doing everything “right”, I noticed I was dragging in the mornings. Day after day. I would go to bed early and wake up before my alarm could go off. Solid 8-9 hrs of sleep. But still felt tired.

So I started doing some detective work:

Going to bed early (10pm) – check
Limiting screen time 1hr before bed – check
Limiting caffeine to before noon – check

These are the biggest items that can disrupt sleep, so I got my Sense sleep tracker set up again and started monitoring my sleep. Sense’s scale is 60s= Red 70s= Yellow, 80s+= green. The sensor looks at room conditions – temp, light, noise, humidity, sleep duration, deep sleep duration and agitated sleep. And it seemed like a fair reflection of my sleep. Since I was seeing red and yellow I wondered what it take to boost me to green…

So I started tinkering.
5 days with no changes. Yellow and Red.
Day 6, add ZMA. Green.
Day 7, remove ZMA. Yellow.
Day 8, no changes. Yellow.
Day 9, add ZMA. Green.
Day 10, add ZMA. Green.
Day 11, add ZMA. Green.
Day 12 – Travel –
Day 13 – Travel –
Day 14, add ZMA. Green.
Day 15, add ZMA. Green.

Seeing a pattern here?

Simply adding ZMA boosted my sleep score by 10+ points almost instantly. What is ZMA you ask? It’s Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6. It has a host of benefits you can read about here, but the most important one for the purposes of this post is SLEEP.

Now, do I sleep *perfectly* every night? No chance. The real world intervenes but I have more green dots than yellow dots now and no reds.

I wake up after 9 hrs of sleep and I see I got 4.5hrs of deep sleep. No wonder I feel great.

Sleep is one of the most important things in our lives, yet many people often don’t focus on it. If you’re not sleeping well, run through the brief checklist above. And if you’re already doing these things and want to make further improvements – grab some ZMA. (I buy Phd ZMA in the UK, but if you’re in the US I’d recommend you get Jym ZMA)

Apple Watch – One Year Later

It’s one year that I’ve had my Apple Watch, and people still ask me “How is it?”

“I love it”, I always reply.

It’s as simple as that. It’s the best watch I’ve ever owned because it’s the one I *enjoy* wearing the most. Other watches just tell time (and maybe the date); this watch does that, plus gives me weather at a glance (that’s important in London) and is my credit card, on tap, on my wrist, always.

Yes, the watch does many more things, but those are the incremental functionality over and above a dumbwatch that have me hooked.

Haters ask “But would you turn around and go get it if you forgot it?” Well, no. But then, I wouldn’t go back for my snazzy Swiss time piece either. It’s a watch – not my primary communications device (aka iPhone).

Will I buy a new one when they come out? You bet. And they’re only going to do more things better, while getting faster, sleeker and sexier.

So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence, I’d say go buy one. And a year from now you’ll be glad you did.

I hear your final doubts: “But will an Apple Watch make me younger, thinner, richer and more popular?” Yes, it absolutely will. It also offers a time travel via a secret key press combo. But I’ll save that secret for another post.

Until then, go get your watch on.

Top 5 Apps of 2015

At the end of the year, I try to stop for a few minutes, reflect on the apps I’ve found (and found useful) over the course of the past year. Last year’s result was surprising (I was very pro Android), and this year’s result is equally surprising:

It turns out that three of the five most useful apps to me are Apple Watch apps. Yes, there are many Apple Watch haters out there (I seem to meet them all and they tell me what ridiculously stupid fan boy I am for wearing one), but I genuinely miss the watch if I’m not wearing it, and using Apple Pay on the tube and in stores has become a motor reflex – I reach for my watch, not my wallet…

So, my top 5 for 2015 are (in no particular order):

  1. Lifesum – health, food and fitness tracker out of Stockholm, Sweden. It’s the only health app I’ve used consistently – and has almost *every* single thing I eat already in the database. Reminders to drink water are reason enough to use the app. They have a great Apple Watch app too. Surprise.
  2. Fitstar Yoga – Yoga is awesome for your back, but getting to a yoga class is always challenging for me. Fitstar Yoga let’s me get in a 15 minute session in the mornings, keeping my back happy and flexible.
  3. Apple Weather (Watch) – The UI for the weather on the watch is fantastic (if you live in a place where the weather changes). I use the complication to check temperature and check % likelihood of rain during various hours of the day. Lifesaver for a Londoner.
  4. Apple Pay (Watch) – I’ve ended up migrating all of my purchases to my watch. I thought it was a neat idea, but never realized how quickly I would start reaching for my watch vs my wallet.
  5. Apple Activity (Watch) – Having an activity tracker on my wrist at all times has made a huge impact on my knowledge of my fitness levels. Yes, I use the dedicated app for running and workouts, but it’s the overall Activity app that’s really given me insight into how much I actually move on a daily basis. Wearing a dedicated tracking device never lasted for me, and using an app on my phone was never engaging enough. Seeing the Activity circles on my watch keeps it front of mind. Fitness tracking and payments are probably the two killer apps on the Apple Watch. And I use them both multiple times every day…
  6. (Honorary mention) Citymapper and Uber – the two apps I use every single day to move around London and can’t live without.

That’s it for this year’s list, we’ll see what 2016 holds… Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section or via twitter.