Founder Diary

October 18, 2022

A never-ending journey to Mordor. With your phone.

A never-ending journey to Mordor. With your phone.

How our phones became a ball and chain, and what to do about it.

A hamster dragging an oversized phone. Deep scratches are seen on the ground
A hamster dragging an oversized phone. Deep scratches are seen on the ground
A hamster dragging an oversized phone. Deep scratches are seen on the ground
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

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You carry it with you at all times.

You’re terrified of losing it.

It stays within arm’s reach when you sleep.

It gives you powers beyond anything you could imagine, and clearly more than you can handle.

In fact, it’s gaining control over you whether you realize that or not.

Is it just me or is a smartphone a modern equivalent of the One ring?

While no orc hordes are after you, there’s also no fellowship to help you deal with the creeping digital enslavement.

Your burden doesn’t have shining golden letters, but it’s full of other bright moving objects. Wait until it gets a glowing island, too. I’m not sure which is harder to look away from.

And, of course, there’s no final destination where you can finally break free.

We clearly weren’t ready for our devices to get that powerful that fast. And once the now-ubiquitous gamification of everything kicked in, we completely lost control.

What started as a cool tool with a clear purpose became a jack of all trades. But all the productivity benefits we get from smartphones are easily eclipsed by addictiveness and an unending stream of distractions.

All the help in the world is now a tap away, but so is all the temptation. All the overwhelm. All the excuses to act busy. All the… you know it all already.

But there’s one tiny secret about carrying your smartphone everywhere.

You don’t have to.

That’s right! There’s no mission and no obligation. No world to save and no gray-bearded elders to answer to.

Eat without it.

Work without it.

Sleep without it.

Eat out without it.

Work out without it.

Your bathroom trip will be just fine without it.

Going for a walk? Leave it at home for all things holy!

But that’s easier said than done, huh?

When I look at my own phone addiction, I find there are two obstacles:

  • Context. My phone is routinely present where and when it’s likely to be a liability rather than an asset. My top two are the dining table and my desk. Nightstand is another common example.

  • Anchoring. Since it’s always at hand, I tend to use my smartphone by default even when other, better solutions are at hand. But just because it’s capable, doesn’t mean it’s optimal.

If you can overcome these two, your phone will cease to be an occupation in its own right and will be reborn to fulfill its true purpose — a helper.


It’s ironic that the very idea for this blog post came to me on a family walk.

I’ve long tried to get rid of my phone for walks but I often end up not having a place to jot down ideas that start pouring in as soon as I leave my den because changing the environment works wonders for background thinking. Forgetting most of those thoughts long before I’m back home is such a waste.

The tradeoff is that I can’t fully relax. I stay in half-work mode no matter how hard I try to disregard the pull. I can’t stop looking for ways to “boost” my in-the-moment productivity. The urge to look things up online, check the to-do list, build the best route or squeeze in a tiny little task on the go proves irresistible time and again.

This obsession with “efficiency” and “staying connected” muffles the benefits of so many activities, from family walks to reading, writing, or meeting with friends.

So, the million-dollar question is: Do you need to carry your smartphone everywhere, or is it just a destructive habit? When your focus, mental well-being and work progress depend on it, it’s not a trivial question at all.

The solution: See your phone out before you start anything that won’t clearly benefit from it. Three things I do to remember this:

  • Add a visual reminder. I have a post-it right on my desktop screen that says: “1. Cold Turkey (a distraction blocker) 2. Phone in another room.” So every time I sit down to work, I inevitably see the note and kick the phone out.

  • Enlist an accountability buddy. No complex arrangements. Me and my wife agreed to call each other out when a phone is spotted at the dining table or when we play with our toddler. Can’t say it works like a charm (occasionally we both forget), but it still eliminates a lot of “unauthorized“ interactions.

  • Focus mode. The key purpose of this feature is delaying notifications so that I eliminate most pings and interact with them on my terms. I get to review them in batches at the time that works for me, rather than getting interrupted whenever they deign to come.


Once phones turned into full-fledged computers, it became all too easy to assign more and more tasks to them, just because they’re always at hand. That escalated too quickly.

Sure, in theory, you could do almost anything on a phone these days. Design an airplane, if you wish — little stopping you technologically. Clearly, no professional would ever actually do that just because it’d be inconvenient — the form factor is inadequate. However, there are a number of tasks that we came to associate with a smartphone, despite them making much more sense on a bigger screen.

One good example is to-do lists. I’ve had an app for that on my phone for over a decade now. To-dos are such an essential element of today’s phone repertoire that we don’t really ever question if it’s reasonable to confine the task to such a small screen. Sure, when there’s no laptop around, that’s a natural solution. But in other cases? I’m not convinced at all.

Recently, I switched to using my to-do app mostly on my desktop, and that instantly eliminated what feels like a good quarter of my interactions with the phone. Plus, there’s now much less switching from one device to another (and better focus), less peering into small letters (and less eye strain), and more speed because I don’t have to jump through UI hoops to reach some of the secondary features on a bigger screen.

Bottom line: From to-dos to watching puppy videos to reading the news, I bet you that in two out of three cases, large-screen alternatives can deliver at least just as effectively as your phone but without a heap of unrelated notifications popping up in your way every single time.

Big screens are just one example. Sometimes, non-digital solutions work best. No one’s stopping me from packing pen and paper on those family walks, right?

Sooo… toss it into a volcano or nah?

Having the phone with us at all times is more distracting and debilitating than we care to admit. It interrupts us, depresses our cognitive capacity, and, ultimately, slows down our progress. Yes, smartphones make a lot of things possible, especially on the go, but as soon as they turn into the default solution to nearly every problem, things break.

When too many roles converge in one place, they inevitably cut in front of each other all the time, and it becomes next to impossible to avoid overwhelm and stay focused.

Yes, I still occasionally end up with my phone on my desk for no good reason. I still take it with me on family walks most of the time. But I believe that if I keep consciously expunging it from parts of my life where there are better substitutes, the result will be hugely positive.

The Lord of the Rings story I alluded to is remarkable in that there’s never a direct confrontation with the main villain. We don’t get to see the guy at all. He remains hidden, but always in the “background.” His presence is almost palpable but never explicit. But there’s his one manifestation, around which the whole narrative revolves — the ring.

Similarly, our lives easily come to revolve around our phones, and their influence can be overpowering even when we don’t interact with them directly. The true villain however is not the hardware, but our own failure to consider alternatives.

And that we are in control of.

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