During my workday I try to be intentional about creating pockets of time that are free from distractions. When I want to focus deeply on a project, I’ll put my phone in a drawer, silence all notifications and, most importantly, close all apps on my Mac that may provide even the slightest bit of temptation to peak and check for anything that may be new.
The chief offenders of the apps that can instantly zap my focus include iMessages, my email client and our internal work chat app. Even just a quick peak and glancing at a preview, even momentarily, can throw my focus for hours, or, worse, get my mind needlessly racing about something non-urgent.
However, the Mac has long offered a simple and elegant way to combat this: closing applications. On desktop computers, the guiding principle of applications is that they can be opened and closed. For years, we had no choice in the matter. Leaving apps open would slow our computers, rendering them nearly unusable; and thus we were encouraged, if not forced, to close apps that weren’t integral to the task at hand.
But then two things happened in relative tandem. One, our computers began to be engineered with bigger and faster memory chips. And, two, mobile phones were built with solid state drives that could hold apps open indefinitely.
The concept of closing applications, whether on phones or desktops, fell mostly by the wayside. And, yet, I still regularly close applications on my Mac. If I have to engage my mind on a complex task, like a contract or a budget, the first thing I do is close any open app that I don’t actively need. For the few hours that I’m then engaged in this focused work, I experience not only no distractions, but no temptation to open these apps and allow myself to be distracted.
However, there is no way to close an app on my iPhone or iPad. Sure, I can swipe it away. But the temptation still lurks to swipe it right back. Apple has tried to give us tools to help us manage this temptation, from Do Not Disturb to Screen Time, but these tools still depend upon our own ability to control our impulses.
Yes, it’s true, I could just as easily be tempted to re-open a closed app on my desktop. But, the funny thing is, I’m not. There’s something so satisfying, so concrete, about closing an application, that I almost have to will myself to re-open it when I’m ready for less focused work.
On iOS and iPad OS 15, due out this fall, Apple is rolling out yet a new system for helping us focus called, appropriately enough, Focus. The key benefit to Focus is that it will help us limit the people and apps who seek to interrupt us throughout the day. But will it be good enough to limit our own insatiable need to peak, check and crack at our own focus?
Something tells me it won’t matter how many new tools Apple rolls out to help users limit distractions on their mobile devices, nothing will ever compare with the ability on desktop computers to perform the most basic of all application tasks: close.