Every so often I like to undergo a digital cleanse.

Sometimes that means unplugging completely and tramping in the woods, like the weekend I spent camping along Devil’s Path in the Catskills last month. Other times it means taking a break from the notifications to stroll around the neighborhood, usually while listening to an audiobook. (Less commonly, an Internet service outage offers some unexpected peace-of-mind; thank you, Slack.)

Another favorite cleanse of mine: Reorganizing my phone’s home screen. The start of a new year seems as good a time as any for this one, which is why I share it with you now.

A screenshot of my phone’s home screen as of January 2021.

You’ll notice an absence of the usual suspects—no email, no Google services, no social media. I’ve shunted the majority of those apps to a cluttered, secondary screen. The fewer distractions, the better.

My guiding principle has less to do with utility and more to do with aspiration. I want my phone to reflect not necessarily who I am, but the person I strive to be.

That might sound hokey, but it’s based in some science. As James Clear hammers home in Atomic Habits, a user manual for the human mind I strongly recommend, one of the most effective ways to nudge oneself into better routines is to create a new identity.

The person I aim to be involves some combination of health (Peloton, Health app), education (Duolingo, Libby), and efficiency (Otter.ai, Dashlane). I favor Mozilla Firefox’s Focus web browser over, say, Google Chrome, for its enhanced privacy features. The weather and calendar widgets are mostly self-explanatory, offering useful information at a glance.

Cleanses like this app-reorg work. I’ve kept up a 728-day Mandarin learning streak since moving Duolingo to my home screen. Dashlane now stores more than 300 of my passwords—all strings of random letters, numbers, and symbols—headache-free. I read—or listened to, rather—two dozen books last year, the majority through Libby. (Currently, I’m consuming The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin, the second book in his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.) One day I swear I’ll get my daily average step count to 10,000. (It’s around 7,000 now.)

Which apps are helping you become who you wish to be? I recommend ringing in 2021 by doubling down and putting them on your home screen.

Robert Hackett

Twitter: @rhhackett


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