Data is the beginning of a story. Stefanie Posavec came to that conclusion after participating in a year-long experiment. For 52 weeks, Stefanie and her counterpart Giorgia Lupi tracked their personal data around a shared topic. At the end of every week, Stephanie and Giorgia each created a hand-drawn representation of the data on a postcard and sent it across the Atlantic to each other; Stephanie lived in London while Giorgia lived in New York. Their goal was to get to know each other through the experiment they called “Dear Data” (Somerset House, 2016).

Like Stefanie and Giorgia, I also decided to conduct an experiment using my personal data; but it only lasted for five days and centered around how I use my cell phone. I purchased my phone seven months ago and although I am very happy with my choice, I often find myself getting frustrated with it. At the onset I hoped this examination would, at the very least, help me get better acquainted with my constant companion.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport said: “your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to” (2016, p. 79). By paying close attention to how I use my phone I became better-equipped to use it wisely. I also developed higher respect for the power it wields over my attention.

Here’s how I collected my data.

I carried a small notebook with me, recording anything I might have felt or observed each time I used my phone. At the end of each day, I used the notebook and my phone logs to enter my activity into a spreadsheet. Seven categories were used:

  1. Taking an incoming call
  2. Making an outgoing call
  3. Viewing a text
  4. Sending a text
  5. Checking e-mail
  6. Looking up information
  7. Checking Facebook

Before we get into the results, there’s something you should know about me. My friends will testify to the fact that I carp about texting frequently. When a text notification arrives, it’s very common to hear me utter “go away.”

Accordingly, I took the time to adjust my notification settings prior to the start of my experiment. And as naïve as I know I can be, I could not believe the number of apps I have. There were 68, and most of them were set to ON (by default no doubt). I happily turned all the notifications off with the exception of four: e-mail, messages, voicemail, and banking.

Ironically, I received an e-mail notification about a new posting from TechRepublic right in the middle of my collection week (Wednesday, to be exact). It was titled Top 5 ways to avoid notification stress, and it contained a great observation by the author. “Notifications are akin to somebody interrupting you to give you a cookie—it’s annoying and rewarding at the same time. Wiping them all out and starting fresh is a great way to get past that” (Merritt, 2019).

And so, without further ado, here’s a day by day summary of my phone usage.

MONDAY (A regular work day at the office)

I am not in the habit of using my phone before bedtime but I do keep it next to the bed overnight. I usually check my phone when I wake up, but in the spirit of trying to be mindful and getting off to a good start I resisted the urge.

I checked the phone for the first time at 8:07 AM for any last-minute text cancellations from my carpool. Only one notification, which read “1 apps are using battery.” My phone doesn’t have the best grammar skills but I appreciated the good news. Normally my phone is filled with more notifications than it can show on one screen.

My decision to adjust my notification settings was already paying off. I quickly came to the conclusion that if I was to learn nothing else from this experiment, at least I experienced two things: a better night’s sleep (the phone was wonderfully silent all night long) and longer battery life.

As Mondays usually are, it was a busy day and I only used my phone 13 times. Topping the chart was receiving/viewing texts (30.77%), followed by looking up information (23.08%), while checking e-mail landed in third place (15.38%). The four remaining categories tied for fourth place. All in all, a light day for the phone.

TUESDAY (Another regular work day)

Not much different than Monday. Two more instances of phone usage brought the total times I used it to 15. Receiving/viewing texts was again number one (33.33%), but sending texts (previously in fourth place) moved up to second place (26.67%). Checking e-mail remained in third place (13.33%). Another four-way tie for the remaining categories.

WEDNESDAY (1/2 day at work)

After a half day at work I headed to visit my daughter, who lives a fairly short train ride away. This deviation from the normal workday caused a surprisingly low uptick in usage – only 21 instances. Looking up information came in at the number one spot (23.81%), sending texts and incoming phone calls tied for second (each 19.05%), with outgoing phone calls in third place (14.29%). My daughter knows my preferred communication type is a phone call and the stats for the day definitely bear this out.

THURSDAY (Touring day)

Now the numbers go way up, which didn’t surprise me. I used my phone 33 times, mostly for texting. Outgoing texts came in at 27.27% and incoming at 18.18%. There was a tie for third place between checking e-mail (work, of course) and looking up information.

FRIDAY (Headed home)

This turned out to be the day I used my phone the most. I had expected to be back at work but things turned out differently than I had planned. Over the course of the day I used my phone 52 times, with incoming texts taking first place with a whopping 44.23%! Outgoing texts were a far second at 17.31% and outgoing phone calls a close third (15.38%).


The numbers are definitive. Despite my affinity for phone calls, texts are clearly the winner here. I cannot dispute the convenience and efficiency of using texts for short communications.

On Saturday I completed a short online questionnaire called the NPM-Q which measures nomophobia (the fear of being without one’s cell phone). My score was 64, meaning I am moderately nomophobic. This would have been more of a surprise to me had I taken the quiz prior to my data collection exercise, as the data shows I’m clearly more attached than I thought. I encourage you to take the quiz to see where you fall on the spectrum (Yildirim & Correia, 2015) .

Other observations:

  • I feel the desire to check my phone when I finish a short task at work.
  • I check my phone more when I am NOT at work.
  • I enjoy the convenience of checking my e-mail on the phone, although the desire to check work e-mail when I am out of the office may require a bit more attention on my part.
  • I use my phone as a reference device often, even when given the choice of another type of hardware such as a desktop.
  • I almost always forget to unmute my phone after an event (clearly not an extreme nomophobic).
  • Group texts are equally wonderful and aggravating when received at the wrong time.

Things the phone is definitely good for that I didn’t actively think about before the exercise:

  • Notifications of online order shipments and deliveries
  • Travel aid when out of town
  • Using text messaging to let people in your party know your location in a crowd


I have a love-hate relationship with my constant companion. Our relationship is complicated, and I am guilty of not taking the time to understand her better. I also believe that I can be happier when we have some healthy time away from each other.

Behavioral Science writer Winifred Gallagher found a correlation between attention and happiness. She said, “skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience” (Newport, 2016, p.77).

Be mindful and manage your attention.

Stefanie and Giorgia’s experiment in data visualization resulted in the realization that “data is the beginning of the story, not the end, and should be seen as a starting point for questioning and understanding the world around us instead of seeing it as the definitive answer to all of our questions” (Somerset House, 2016).

My conclusion? How much time I spend with my companion and what we do together is up to me. Like any good relationship, the experience can make me happy but it’s not responsible for my happiness.

Now I just have to convince Siri.

until nxt time …


Merritt, T. (2019, February 6). Top 5 ways to avoid notification stress. TechRepublic. Retrieved from

Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Somerset House. (2016, March 3). Big Bang Data: Dear Data. Retrieved from

Yildirim, C. & Correia, A. (2015). Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: Development and validation of a self-reported questionnaire. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 130-137. Retrieved from

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