Using the Brick Method on My Phone Has Made Me a Better CEO

Here’s how and why I disable my smartphone several times a day, every day

A photo of a iPhone being put away in a case.
Going phone-free. Brick LLC

IIt’s strange to think that a little more than a decade ago, smartphones weren’t even around. I was still using my Motorola RAZR to make calls and send occasional texts. I never thought about how much time I spent on my phone in a given day, or how many notifications I left unopened, or how many likes I had on a post. Phones were simply a communication tool.

Now we use them so much that we find ways to limit our screen time and wear blue light–blocking glasses to protect our eyes. In my opinion, the iPhone is the most important product Steve Jobs ever launched. It has created whole new economies, new types of design, and new behavior patterns, some of which we are trying to unwind.

As a founder, I have to focus — a lot. On any given day, I have hundreds of tasks that need to be executed in a well-orchestrated manner so I can make the slightest progress on the incredibly ambitious goals that drive me day in and day out. Like many of us, however, I often succumb to the infinite scrolling of social media, news, shopping, and chats on my smartphone. Procrastination has always been a struggle for me, and the iPhone is doing me no favors.

Early last year, a friend invited me to an event hosted by Brick, an organization focused solely on digital wellness by reducing screen time and fostering more meaningful connections. It all centers around “brick time”: essentially, turning off your phone or putting it in airplane mode for stretches of time each day. Even an hour a day can have significant positive effects on your life—at least, it has for mine.

I now start my day with brick time. My phone is across the room when I sleep, and I don’t reach for it until at least an hour after I wake up. It’s helped me keep to a more structured morning routine consisting of coffee, meditation, reading, and exercise. Brick classifies brick time as simply engaging in some activity that you like without your phone. It could be cooking, reading, or playing with your dog, to name a few examples. There’s no mandate on what activity or how long.

Tommy Sobel, founder of Brick, started it after he noticed some unhealthy habits cropping up around his phone usage. He found that frequently checking his phone was making him anxious and irritable, and he felt that he couldn’t keep up with everything.

Sobel has a background in neuroscience and worked on a six-year project that was published with Duke University and UCLA. From that research, he knew enough about the dynamics of the brain and neuroscience to implement changes for behavioral rehabilitation. He applied those changes to his own life and started sharing them with others.

These days, I’m more observant of my phone usage and notice more and more how phones affect peoples’ ability to stay present.

According to Sobel, Brick operates under one simple premise: “Turn your phone into a brick for an hour a day and do something meaningful in the world.” It has since expanded into a community focused on digital wellness, which he says is simply “having a healthier relationship with screens and phones.” There still isn’t a lot of research on the impact of phones on our long-term mental health, but Sobel points to work by Jean Twenge if you want to dig deeper.

Tommy Sobel. Photo credit: Lorelei Nelson

These days, I’m more observant of my phone usage and notice more and more how phones affect peoples’ ability to stay present. I see toddlers using iPads like pacifiers. I see families around dinner tables, each with their phones out, their faces lit from below by the blue glow of their smartphones. It’s almost so pervasive that we don’t even notice what moments are like without them. Many of us have some level of dependency on our phones, whether we’d like to admit it or not.

My own experience has shown me that the world is far better when I can be present and not in a low-level state of anxiety, thinking about what’s happening on my phone. One way Brick helps foster meaningful connection and remaining present is by hosting events that require attendees to check in their phones and engage with one another. Those activities range from adult sleepovers, retreats, beach cleanups, hiking, karaoke, and more. I have been to several Brick events and can attest to the greater level of connection that can be created when there are no phones in the room. “Even having your phone on you has shown to increase cortisol levels and also make for less meaningful connections,” Sobel says.

The ultimate mission is really about bringing more joy into our lives by allowing us to be more present and experience life more fully. My life has significantly improved after implementing some basic changes in my life to reduce screen time.

  • I start my day without checking my phone.
  • When I need to focus on work, I put my phone in airplane mode and set my Mac to “do not disturb.”
  • When I’m out with someone, I put my phone in airplane mode.
  • When I watch a movie or read a book, I keep my phone in a different room.

These simple changes in my daily behavior have reduced my anxiety, increased my ability to focus, allowed me to make better decisions, allowed me to be more present in the company of others, and directly increased the bottom line of my business as I’ve been significantly more productive.

Brick has broken new ground in opening the dialogue around phone dependency and built a strong community to help foster positive change. Sobel sees Brick growing to become a global organization where people share with each other and support one another on their journeys to digital wellness. I, for one, am fully behind that mission.

I believe that the more intentional time we spend being present with ourselves and engaged with the world around us, the more content we will be and the more capable we can become. I’ve seen direct evidence of this as a founder of an early stage startup. I don’t think I would have the ability to follow through on all the demands of startup life without intentionally working on my digital wellness practices. That’s why I use what has turned out to be the most powerful feature of my smartphone: the off button.

CEO & Co-founder of SkyHi, flyskyhi.com, the flight club for everyone. Lifetime technologist, musician, writer, chef, and dancer.

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