Phone Charger Challenge: Save 60 Hours
Every Year with this Simple Morning Hack
Written by:Environment Design
Social media, crypto prices, email. Bam, bam, bam.
Sound familiar? This used to be my morning routine.
A mindless cycle. It took me years to figure out the total cost (spoiler: it will stun you).
The Phone Charger Challenge is a quick win that will have an outsized impact on the quality of your life. You'll see how moving your phone’s charger—outside of your bedroom—has cascading benefits on your entire day.1
Before diving into this powerful behavioral hack, let’s talk about what’s at stake…
MANUFACTURE TIME WITH SYSTEM REDESIGN
Take a conservative estimate of ten minutes every morning for unconscious scrolling.
That adds up to 60.8 hours per year—a time period equivalent to that in which you could listen on Audible to these four life-changing books: Sapiens, Principles, Extreme Ownership, and Work the System.
Now, let’s go a step further. Ten minutes saved per day for ten years is 608 hours—a little over 25 days!
In other words, in the next ten years, you can manufacture about an extra month of your life (and that’s just with THIS system redesign).
However, this is about more than just saving you time. It’s a paradigm shift in how you think and approach the world.
FROM REACTIVE TO IN CONTROL
Know this: In a split millisecond (from seeing a notification that your crypto investment is tanking…or that your crush didn’t view your Instagram story), your entire mood/morning can be derailed. To eliminate this risk, thriving people construct their mornings to be proactive—rather than allowing themselves to be vulnerable and reactive.
The simple truth is: you are either being proactive or reactive—creating your dreams or serving someone else’s (even if involuntarily).
There’s a common refrain in Silicon Valley that if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. As shared in the documentary Social Dilemma: “There are only two industries that call their customers users: illegal drugs and software.”
This quote brings me to an all-important question:
Would you say your mindless morning scroll—on average—makes you feel better or worse?
Because here’s what I’d routinely experience:
- A glazed stare
- A tightening sensation in my chest
- Self-loathing for being inadequate
- An impulse to chase the wrong thing
- And—worst of all—a sense that I didn’t have control over any of it
Every morning, people voluntarily open the gates of their castle to be pillaged and plundered. And sadly, they don’t even take stock of the damage…before doing it all over again.
The Phone Charger Challenge is for using technology as a tool. And for ceasing to be a tool of technology.
Time savings, check. Proactive mindset, check.
SLEEP BETTER, STRENGTHEN INTIMACY, ENJOY PEACE
There are many additional benefits to sleeping with your phone outside your bedroom. These include:
- Improved sleep (learn more about my system for improving sleep).
- Higher likelihood of evening intimacy with your partner2
- Better mental health through enhanced work/life balance
Show of hands—who wants these benefits?
(In the words of writer John Carlton, “You better be waving your hand over your head like a third-grader with a full bladder.”3)
So, here’s how to ace the Phone Charger Challenge…
PHONE CHARGER CHALLENGE (IN FOUR EASY STEPS)
Step 1: Identify a New Phone Charger Location Outside Your Bedroom
Pick a new place to charge your phone—outside your bedroom or, at least, far away from your bed.
Next, physically move your charger. Stop reading and do this now.
…unless, of course, you are OK starting your day being reactionary to the world around you…and living a life that’s NOT of your choosing.
Great, I didn’t think so. Because if you’re reading this, it means you’re ready to take control of your castle and rule over your inner domain.
This step is an act of conscious courage! You’ve got this.
All finished? Good.
|THE BEHAVIORAL HACK
“Ben, why focus on the charger?”
Relocating the charger is a simple-yet-brutally-effective behavioral hack. You see, many of us are already in the habit of charging our phones before bed. For most, the desire for a charged phone the next day is preferential to the alternative of sleeping with a non-charged phone on the nightstand. So, we can simply move the cord and let this fully-charged desire work in our favor.
Step 2: Determine Your Alarm Tool
This challenge is compatible with readers who use their mobile phones as an alarm. Not only is it compatible—it’s optimal.
Let me explain.
Every morning, the alarm sound begins an internal negotiation between our two selves: the Present You and the Future You.4
- The Present You wants instant gratification, staying in a warm cozy bed.
- The Future You wants long-term satisfaction—kicking off the day to pursue your goals.
This internal tension is known to behavioral economists as time inconsistency.
Which got me thinking: how can I ensure the Future You wins the negotiation? In other words, how can I engineer the success of my future self?
Well, when it comes to negotiation, look no further than Chris Voss’ bestselling book Never Split the Difference.
From Voss, I learned the power of Norms as a leverage multiplier.
“Normative leverage is using the other party’s norms and standards to advance your position,” says Voss. “If you can show inconsistencies between their belief and their actions, then you have normative leverage.”5
Now how does this relate to setting the alarm outside of my bedroom? Like many of you, I have a personal code where I try to live in a way that doesn’t negatively affect others. So when that alarm first sounds, I feel an obligation to spring out of bed and turn it off (before my girlfriend wakes).
However, while a brief alarm outside of your room may cause others to stir, I’ve found it won’t wake them for good. So, it’s good news for the both of you!
Here, my Current You is defenseless against my Future You’s normative leverage. And all I can say is, “Well played, Future You. Well played.”
Also, whether you’re in a relationship or not, you’ll discover setting the alarm outside of your bedroom (or far away from your bed) will improve your odds of forgoing Snooze. Why’s that? Well, once you’re standing, it’s much easier to stay vertical. And the day is on!
All to say, you can keep your mobile phone as your alarm. At this stage, we’ve simply changed its home base.
Step 3: Set an Implementation Intention (What Will You Do When Your Alarm Goes Off?)
The Phone Charger Challenge will get you out of bed. What you do next is a decisive moment.
Remember: proactive > reactive. So, if you spend ten minutes mindlessly scrolling anyway—while sitting in a chair (instead of in bed)—you're doing it wrong.
Here an implementation intention, defined by James Clear as “a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act,”6 works astonishingly well.
A study by the British Journal of Health Psychology found that—without a stated intention—only 38 percent of participants followed through on their exercise goal. However, 91 percent of those who used an implementation intention did hit their objective. One simple action more than doubled their odds of success.
Like a software engineer writing an “If…, then…” statement, people can program themselves to perform an action when a prior “if” condition is met.
Here’s the algorithm for waking up:
If the alarm sounds, then I will [insert proactive action].
So, what’s my current algorithm?
If the alarm sounds, then I will read ten minutes of The Daily Stoic. (Sidenote: I like Ryan Holiday’s book so much that I bought the leatherbound version).
Some other powerful ideas include:
- Make the bed
- Enjoy the process of crafting tea or coffee
- Take an internal shower by drinking a full glass of water
- Practice gratitude via journaling or meditation
What’s not listed above? That’s right—no mindless scrolling on your phone.
I encouraged a high-achieving friend to take the challenge for three days. She replaced the “mindless morning scroll” with writing in The Five Minute Journal. After taking the challenge, here’s what she told me: “I had no idea how much time I’d been losing. I’ve found that starting my day intentionally (looking inward) rather than reactively (solving external problems) sets up my mind for the day. Totally redefined my relationship with my phone.”
Okay, let’s address the hairy gorilla in the room. The one SO BIG that 1) we know he passes basketballs and 2) precisely how many times.7
“But Ben! I need to check my email for work.”
First—I hear you. And I know where you’re coming from. When I’m not writing at System Sunday, I'm a management consultant—an industry known for its always-on culture.
My advice is: wake up a little earlier and give yourself a minimum of 20 minutes to gear up—mentally and physically—before checking email. Again, it’s about starting your day FOR YOU—rather than starting the day solving other people's problems.
Afterward, you’ll step into the arena ever-formidable, ready for whatever comes your way.
Step 4: Test-Run This Wakeup System for Three Days
Here's a quote that I love:
The polished, poised, clear-headed man is not an accident. He is a house built on a foundation, laid brick by brick – day by day. Take everything away the man possesses but the house cannot be moved.8
That’s the essence of the Phone Charger Challenge: to lay a perfect brick to begin your morning. Today, tomorrow, and the next.
Because without a plan, our house is like an ill-fated Jenga game…ready to come crashing down at the whim of external events.
I’m not asking for you to commit to this forever. Just to keep an open mind for three days, and note your results.
BRINGING IT HOME:
PHONE CHARGER CHALLENGE
In summary, the steps of the Phone Charger Challenge:
- Identify new charger location; physically move your charger
- Determine alarm tool
- Set an implementation intention for your morning’s first action
- Test-run system for three days
And one unofficial step…let me know on Twitter how it’s working!
My bet: you’ll turn that “Good Morning” display on your phone into a reality.
- After journey mapping my evening and morning routines, I discovered the culprit of mindless scrolling—having my phone’s charger by the nightstand. So in this article, I isolate the charger as a critical ingredient for behavior change (and realizing the benefits). Later, I discovered that Nir Eyal writes about sleeping with one’s phone outside the bedroom in Indistractable (p. 223). I’m excited to help spread this life-changing message initiated by others.
- “Would you rather give up sex or your phone?” by Nir Eyal.
- The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together by John Carlton.
- “Two Harvard Professors Reveal One Reason Our Brains Love to Procrastinate” by James Clear
- Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. p. 224.
- “Achieve Your Goals: Research Reveals a Simple Trick That Doubles Your Chances for Success” by James Clear.
- A reference to the famous Awareness Test from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, YouTube.
- Does anyone know who said this? If so, please let me know! I'd love to give them credit.