Unfollowing Freedom

Through my teen years I experienced the mainstream adoption of smartphones and transitioned into adulthood with the internet in my pocket. It seemed like just a few years earlier, we were still using Nokias, Hiptops, and Motorola flip phones. With the release of the iPhone 4 and the explosion of Instagram, it was clear to me that this was going to be a huge part of my life. My job was promoting and selling scooters, and until then I had been relying on Facebook, YouTube but mostly real world events such as competitions at skateparks.

When given the option to allow notifications, my default response was always no. In hindsight, this has probably had a bigger impact on my life than most other decisions I've made. I didn't give it much thought at the time, but it just became my go-to for every app or platform I ever used.

It makes sense nowadays to turn off notifications because phones and social media seem to have taken over many people's lives, and the idea of taking a break from it all is seen as the equivalent of meditating in the forest. But back then, we loved it – these apps felt so new, and especially since there were still so few users, people were low key hyped to get a notification.

But for whatever reason, I just thought "no, not for me." I open the apps enough anyway, so I'll see the notifications when I do.

For the next 10 years of my life, I watched as everyone around me became increasingly distracted by the dings, vibrations, and prompts on their home screens. Don't get me wrong, I was just as addicted to social media as the next person, and the freedom-sapping algorithms had well and truly sucked me in too. But one thing I could never understand was how all these people were letting these applications interrupt them constantly. I actually suspect this played a big role in my success building companies. The compounding benefits of 10 years without notifications have likely been significant.

While turning off notifications may have been a productivity hack for me, it's not exactly the hack of the decade. In recent years, I took things a step further when I noticed that the Instagram algorithm was keeping me on the app much longer than I wanted. It was actually the Instagram stories and the little red ring around people's faces that kept me engaged when I wanted to leave the app.

While i was yet to come across his work this quote from Jack Butcher rings true here:

"If you're not working the platform, the platform is working you." 

I needed to be on Instagram for work, and I enjoyed the small amount of meaningful connection I had with people through it, as well as the occasional entertainment value. But it was painfully obvious that I needed to reclaim the time that Instagram was stealing from me whenever I let it.

The platform was definitely working me.

I unfollowed everyone I hadn't personally met. Then I unfollowed everyone I hadn't hung out with in the last year or two. This was better, but not enough. I kept only my family and friends, and saw cute photos and stories of my siblings and friends' kids. But eventually, I had to unfollow even my family and friends. Now, the only accounts I follow are those of my wife and the businesses I own. When I want to see pictures of my extended family and friends, I can still go to their profiles, but the idea of putting my attention in the hands of a feed designed to retain it became absurd to me. When you open Instagram and there’s no infinite feed topped with red circles, you'll wonder why you came here in the first place.

It was unbelievable how much of a difference this made in my life. I regained so much of my time and had so much more focus. This small exercise on Instagram made me hyper-aware of my unconscious habits and patterns, and it made me wonder where else I might be losing valuable moments each day.

I now noticed myself falling for email newsletters, sometimes even clicking the links and getting sucked into the various rabbit holes designed to grab my attention. To fix this, I found an app called MailmanHQ. It allows you to batch all of your emails and only release them into your inbox at certain times of the day, or even just once a day. It also helps you ruthlessly filter out emails that aren't actually important.

But the distractions persisted, I realized how some of my friends and I would chat via text. Texts pop up on your home screen and can quickly distract you, sucking you into a discussion. Of course, I want to talk with my friends when I want to, but being unexpectedly prompted into a conversation and finding myself 10 minutes deep in a not-exactly progress-oriented chat doesn't feel like the best use of the hours I have available in the day to focus on the things I love most. I started muting the contacts that would regularly message me and only checking for their messages if and when I felt like chatting - as opposed to being distracted by texts when trying to focus on work or spending meaningful time with loved ones.

Eventually, I just stopped answering calls too. If I wasn't expecting it, or if I didn't know exactly what it was about and how long it would take, I would let it ring out and wait for the text or email instead. Then I could reply in my own time.

I stripped away distractions from every app, platform, program, and daily function that I could. I was reclaiming time, but more importantly, I was reclaiming focus. This changed the way I operated on so many levels. We've given up so much of our freedom, and it's not a lack of funds that's stopping us from tapping into it - it's a lack of focus. We all say we'd love to get financially free so we could buy back our time, but the truth is that a lot of that time is already there, and we're just giving it away.. for free.

At the time of writing this, I'm going into the third week of having my phone permanently in "Do Not Disturb" mode. I feel like a proper noob for not finding this earlier, because it exemplifies everything I'm preaching in this article. It could have saved me many months, but also, if I didn't slowly wean myself off, I might not have been able to push the concept as far as I did. After all, we grow through what we go through.

In the last 12 months of my entrepreneurial journey, I came across Naval Ravikant, who dramatically changed my perspective on wealth, business, time, money, and ultimately freedom. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that you have to be wildly protective of your time, and by extension, your attention.

"If you want to create wealth, it has to be your number-one, overwhelming priority." -Naval

To me, wealth means freedom (or, wealth buys freedom) and freedom for me is having hours and hours every day where I can do whatever I want. No alarms, no deadlines, no meetings, and no schedules. To achieve this type of lifestyle, turning notifications off, unfollowing everyone, and relentlessly avoiding texts and calls will make the process a helluva lot easier.

Be unreachable to become indistractable.

That's where you’ll find focus, thats where you’ll find freedom.

Keen for more Freedom Frameworks? Check out: 35mm Of Freedom,  The Fairway to Freedom,  Fortune Favours Freedom,  Unfollowing Freedom,  Don't Stop Yourself From Starting and more.

What makes me qualified to speak on these topics? Check out My Story or view my Proof of Work.

Back to blog