The Blog.

That pesky little habit

28 Feb 2013 | Personal Productivity

Psst… ever find you keep doing something, knowing it really isn’t helpful, but you do it anyway?

And the idea of making a change makes total sense but also makes you want to stick your fingers in your ears and sing “la la la la…”

That’s when you know you’ve got a habit. And a pesky one at that. One that’s made itself completely at home and claimed squatter’s rights.

I found a pesky habit squatting in plain sight recently. My phone addiction. Not necessarily talking on the phone but checking (often) and being a little (okay maybe a lot) over-connected.

It’s funny how a habit develops. Sneakily, giving you the illusion of choice and control, and then one day you realise it is dictating how you work and live, not the other way around.

I know when I unplug to work, I am extremely focused. It’s how I managed to get my book written and it’s something I advocate in my book, coaching sessions and workshops. The times when it catches me out is when I’m not deliberately focused on one thing. When I’m out and about, in between things, cooking dinner, waiting for the kids, at the dinner table, in the evening when I’m vegging out in front of the TV. That’s when my hand goes to the phone and my finger starts swiping.

Which is fine when it makes use of dead time. But not so great when it overspills into burning the dinner, tuning out of the conversation or making someone I love feel like they are less important than some random post about cats on Facebook.

It’s funny how that pesky little habit has its way of making itself feel really at home, so much so that you go out of your way to accommodate it, with one or a combination of:

  • Denial – no problem here officer, move right along.
  • Helplessness – there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s just the way it is/I am.
  • Justification – but it does some good…
  • Defensiveness – my husband pulled me up on it, quoted some stuff I’d normally say (don’t you just hate it when they do that?!) and I reacted badly. “Are you saying I’m a terrible mother?!” Oops. Never a good sign, overreacting.
  • Guilt – “I am a bad mother!” It’s no longer just a behaviour, it’s who I am. Not the most useful place to go, where all you feel empowered to do is to beat yourself up.

So, inspired and rugby tackled by friend and chief ninja Graham Allcott’s crazy productivity experiments and Jon Kuhrt’s post “Dad, you’re a nicer person without your iPhone” I’m facing up to my pesky habit and serving an eviction notice.

I’m going on a phone fast. Or more precisely a phone only fast.

I’m keeping my phone, and taking off my email, Facebook, Twitter, any app that ‘pings’ and yes even Words with Friends. The talking cat stays as that’s my daughter’s pacifier not mine.

I’m going to take it off for 30 days, for the rest of Lent, and see what happens.

It’s an experiment. 

Often when I’m coaching clients who are stuck in indecision, trying desperately to make the ‘right’ decision, I suggest we conduct an experiment. Try it once, for a limited period of time, and see what happens. Then make your decision about what you do next, informed and armed with experience rather than estimation.

So this is my experiment. I’m challenging my habit, and here’s what I’m hoping to find out:

How useful is it really to have this stuff on my phone? Will I miss it for usefulness sake rather than just habit?

What happens if I give myself those little spaces, moments, pauses, without instantly plugging in to plug those gaps?

For example, I’ve got a pile of books I’d love to read that I usually only make time for when I’m travelling or on holiday. What if being unplugged gives me the opportunity to pick up a book more often?

Or just to have space to think, to be more present, to pay more attention to my husband and kids, notice what I may have been missing when I’ve had one eye on the phone.

Perhaps it will open my brain to do more of that accidental free thinking that often gives us our best ideas.

Or maybe I’ll just find I have tons more work to do when I get back to my laptop, that I actually had a great system in place to mop up the bitty jobs.

But at least I’ll know 🙂 And I’ll have choice again.

Watch this space, I’ll let you know how it goes. And let me know if this inspires or challenges you to do anything about your pesky little habits.


  1. Ntathu Allen

    You are right, it is a pesky little habit…..well done Grace for looking at “your innocence phone use” and seeing how it all goes. It is too easy to get into habit of checking phones and constantly updating. Keep us posted…whether you are more focused on social media/emails when restricted to laptop or if it really does make a difference to time if constantly reacting to “ping”

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks for the encouragement Ntathu! I’ll keep you posted 🙂

  2. Alison Reeves

    Oh this is an interesting one. Having recently (in the last few months) discovered the joys of checking almost everything on my phone, I am in danger of being a little too connected too. My premise is that I ‘only check it for business purposes’ – however I know that isn’t really the case – after all what am I going to miss business wise at the weekend? Definately food for thought – thanks Grace!

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Alison. Always interesting to stop and examine what and why we really do things isn’t it? Glad it’s provided you with some food for thought. Let me know what comes of it!

  3. Naomi Richards

    Good idea. I do that every so often. I also think about the purpose of why I do it and think how can it be so important that I know about this now! I check my emails on my laptop twice a day so why do I need to chekc my phone.


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About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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