Find go-to activities that aren't scrolling or watching
When you have "nothing to do", what do you do?
Many of us have built up a habit of picking up the phone and automatically opening the time-wasting app of our choice. This isn't great.
Deep down we know that those apps aren't fulfilling and that we could be using our time better. But how?
Many of us have tried removing one distracting app, only to spend more time using another distracting app instead. This is an unfortunate consequence of infinite scrolling or infinite recommendations. They keep us in Zombie Mode, an unfocused mental state from which it's hard to think of other things to do.
So what are some better options? When you have nothing urgent to do, what's a good use of your time?
We all have some ideas about what we'd like to do, besides staring at screens. Maybe it's reading, maybe it's rock-climbing, maybe it's fishing... All of these activities are more satisfying than passive consumption of online media. Yes, they might require more effort, but that effort is what makes them worth it.
Now, if you're tired of scrolling your life away...
Make a list of better go-to activities
Write down a couple activities on a post-it note or a piece of paper, and put that list where you'll see it. Make an actual physical list. Digital notes get lost too easily. Out of sight, out of mind.
I have a simple list written on my whiteboard in front of my desk. Whenever I lean back in my chair, is see:
- Walking / Working out
- Re-reading my notes
Every time I glance at that list, I'm reminded of other ways to use my time, besides checking social media or watching videos on YouTube that almost never lead to anything.
This doesn't eliminate distractions, of course, I have other strategies and tools to help me do that. This list is like a suggestion. When I have a moment of free time, that list is there to remind me that I could do some things I won't regret later.
Context prompts and environment design
From a behavioral perspective, the list is a context prompt—something in your surroundings that points you towards an action. I see the list (physical object) → I see "tidy up" (suggestion) → I start tidying (action).
Side-note: I quite like tidying, so this is an easy activity to do. For you, something else might work better. Try to pick activities that you can do even if you're not motivated.
Of course, there are other types of context prompts that you can use.
Example: You typically have your phone on a nightstand beside your bed. Every morning you wake up, and scroll Instagram for 5min to 1 hour. This probably isn't how you want to approach the day.
Instead, re-design your environment a bit.
A. Buy an analog alarm clock.
B. Put your phone further away from your bed, so that you need to get up to turn off the alarm.
C. Put a book that you want to read on your nightstand (this is the context prompt for reading.)
That is how you make it less likely that you'll scroll, and more likely that you will read a couple pages of a book to start the day right.
A book on a night stand, running shoes near the door, a list of 1-4 activities to do when you have nothing to do—these are all context prompts in your physical surroundings that will ensure that you won't forget what you originally wanted to do.
So when you feel a bit bored, how do you want to react? What do you want to do that you won't regret at the end of the day?
Make a physical list today.