Savor a Screen-Free Morning

May 14, 2020

One of the big ideas that underlies this newsletter is that making small, simple changes can have a huge impact. This is especially true when it comes to our defaults.

Defaults exist all around us, but we tend to take them for granted. Here are a few common examples:

  • On your phone, the default setting is to send you a notification for every message, call, or ‘like’ you receive.
  • At work, the default meeting length is usually 30 or 60 minutes, when often a quick chat would suffice.
  • At the grocery store, the default check-out lane is filled with sweets, making an impulse purchase almost inevitable (Hi, Snickers).

While defaults are pervasive, they are especially challenging when it comes to our technology. Consider this: the average American spends more than four hours per day on their phone, plus 4 hours per day watching television. Nobody has that much screen time as a goal, it happens because of defaults.

With that in mind, I wanted to share one of the simplest, yet most impactful defaults you can change to brighten your days.

Skip the Morning Check-In (Tactic #23 from Make Time)

Think about how you feel right after you wake up. You’re rested, calm, and fresh. Savor that feeling!

Don’t check your phone.

Don’t respond to messages from the night before.

Don’t stream a podcast or listen the news while making breakfast.

Instead, give yourself a window of time (say, one hour) that you fill with more enriching activities. It could be journaling, it could be reading. It could be going for a morning stroll. That’s up to you! But try to do it screen-free.

As soon as we turn on our screens, the battle for our attention begins and the non-stop news cycle, endless feeds of social media, and the daunting to-do lists start clouding our minds.

If an hour sounds impossible, start small!

Even if you make time to spend the first twenty minutes of the day just with yourself, you are setting the stage for a day that will be lived on your terms.


The simple advice would be to just avoid looking at your phone, but I know from my own experience that relying on self-control isn’t good enough. So here are my top tips to create new defaults.

Sleep separately from your phone. This is a game-changer if you are prone to waking up and checking your phone (maybe while still in bed). Try charging your phone overnight in a different room, like the kitchen. This small change made a huge difference in my morning routine.

Do Not Disturb. I find this is one of the most under-appreciated settings on our phones. By keeping it on, my phone doesn’t interrupt my mornings. If you’re worried about missing an emergency while your phone is silenced, you can mark important people as a ‘favorite’ contact so they can bypass this setting. (note: since publishing this article, iOS has released a new Focus Mode feature that gives even more customization options for Sleep, Work, etc.)

Go Distraction Free. If you want to make a big change to your defaults, give the Distraction-Free iPhone a shot, even if just for a week. It’s amazing what removing a few apps and silencing notifications can do to ease your mind. (and here’s a guide for Android phones)\


“Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.”

— The Dalai Lama