I have been looking for practical ways to put my mind at ease. For one, I have designated time on my calendar for email. I now schedule a daily meeting with my inbox, as opposed to letting messages barge into my life throughout the day. When I feel the need to check, I remind myself I’ll get to it soon and that there’s an apportioned time for it.
While internal triggers cue behaviors through mental associations, there is another type of trigger I have to deal with if I want to break the habit. External triggers prompt action by telling the user what to do next. The notifications, icons, and buttons we see throughout our day tell us to check, open, and respond. Sometimes these notifications are helpful, other times they are not. These digital tidbits can needlessly distract us.
I knew what I had to do — remove the external triggers prompting me to check email. However, actually doing what I knew had to be done was harder than I expected.
I’d stopped charging my phone by my bed for some time, so that was no longer a problem. But to go a step further, I turned off email notifications on my phone. Not seeing the red jewel hovering over the Gmail app icon on my phone would reduce the temptation, or so I thought.
Unfortunately, that idea backfired. The app icon was still on the home screen, implicitly telling me what to do every time I used my phone. “Open me! I have something special for you!” it seemed to scream.
Although I can’t kill the email app on my iPhone completely (Apple doesn’t allow it), I did the next best thing. I buried it.
Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab posits that making a behavior harder to do makes it less likely to occur. I looked for ways to make opening email more difficult. Surprisingly, I found just adding a few extra steps makes me less likely to check my email.
By moving the email icon to the second page of a nested group, opening the app requires a bit more effort. Opposed to the one tap needed to open it before, now I need to open the group, swipe to the right, and tap on the app. Remarkably, adding just two more steps actually makes a difference. Not only is Gmail no longer staring me in the face every time I check my phone, but the extra steps give me a bit more time to think about whether opening email is really necessary at that moment.