To be more present I am continuing to do less. Here’s how that has affected my phone and email habits.

Phone Lockdown

I miss landlines. In the landline era, these undesirable situations couldn’t occur:

  • 3AM phone call for anything less than someone dying or a house burning down
  • Being interrupted on the phone by another call
  • Voicemails (we didn’t have an answering machine til much later)
  • “Multi tasking” while talking on the phone (rude)
  • Being “reachable” when driving or otherwise “out”

I’m going back to that world via Focus States

Focus States

iPhone natively supports Focus States (Settings menu). Here are mine.


Turns on automatically while driving. No notifications, not even Maps. Trying to get better at memorizing directions before leaving.


Turns on from 8AM to 4PM. Notifications allowed from Reminders, Calendar (personal), and my 2FA app. No other notifications, not even phone calls.

I should note that I am fully plugged in via my work computer. When working I work. I don’t text or read the news while working. I turn on “do not disturb” in Slack when I’m deep in the code and need to focus, but coworkers can press a button to notify me anyways, sometimes they do and it’s always important when that happens.

Do Not Disturb

Turns on from 6PM-8PM (family dinner!) and ad hoc. No notifications at all.


Turns on from 9PM to 8AM. No notifications. Also dims phone display and hides time.

I don’t ban myself from texting or checking Instagram during these periods of time, but I am not beholden to the “ding”. I choose to check my messages, my messages don’t check me.

Contacts in my “Favorites” can break any of these focus states but they are all people that still observe a landline era social contract regarding phone calls.

My phone is powered down at night (if I’m home with family). A late night phone call risks waking “Her Majesty, the baby” (she sleeps in the same room). If that were to occur there’s a risk of me becoming homicidally angry at the caller.

Email Day

I only respond to emails on Mondays for one hour. With the influx of new readers to the blog, my inbox has become unmanageable. Instead of doubling down and doing more emails I’m acknowledging my limitations and responding more thoughtfully to less emails.

Longwindedness is a self indulgent habit (who me?) I wrote software that only shows me emails under 500 characters in length as plain text.

Emails > 500 characters are:

  • Ramblings (not enough time to read)
  • Recruiters (happily employed right now)
  • Automated (inline CSS counts towards character count)
  • (Rarely) useful or interesting things. Useful and interesting things are usually also simple.

My “vacation” auto responder replies to all emails notifying people of this system. At worst I respond to concise emails within a maximum of six days and 23 hours.


Doing less is countercultural. Society keeps trending towards doing more low quality things. I say “enough”. The less I choose to do, the more my doings become imbued with quality and meaning. Reactions to this, as with any other intentional actions I take in my life, have ranged from incredulousness, to hostility, to understanding. This is not hubristic because I don’t think that this is the “best way” but I am certain that right now it is the best way for me.

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