On walkabout in life and technology

How the Apple Watch Has Changed My Behavior for the Better

I have the nerd watch, the 42mm Space Gray Aluminum with the Black Sport Band. It was ordered at launch and arrived late. I have been wearing and using it every day since.

The Apple Watch is a perfectly good watch for doing watch-like things, like telling the time. But if you view it as a wrist computer, one that has had a real impact on how one acts and behaves, it is something uniquely special.

And it has changed my behavior patterns, without me knowing about it, for the better.

Let’s start with the initial time-checking glance itself. In my case I have the rings, the temperature, the date and my next appointment added to the utility face. Invariably I am looking for the time and the analog face presents that clearly.

The first behavior change comes when I see the red dot at the top - indicating unread notifications. To explain the situation, a short digression. The iPhone presents notifications on the lock screen. And I, like all of us, used that a lot. Before Touch ID, I would tap on the home button to wake my phone and glance at the notifications. If anything looked important (or interesting), I’d unlock my phone and go take a look. Touch ID messed up that pattern. I would touch the home button to see the alerts and instead, the iPhone would log me in and show me the home screen - not what I wanted. It took a while to retrain my lizard-brain to tap the power button to see notifications instead of the home button. And then they moved the power button on the iPhone 6 which reset my home-touch-to-see-alerts behavior. Which meant I went back to unlocking the iPhone to open apps to see if anything happened.

With the Watch, if I see the red dot, I just swipe down. The notifications are always there, easy to find and read. And yes, I have gotten into the behavior of using the digital crown to scroll them. I also force-touch to delete them when read, so next time I only have to deal with new alerts.

The result of this behavior change is that I spend less time trying to see if there are notifications for me.

The second behavior change comes when I actually read a notification. Which requires another digression. Swiping a notification on the iPhone takes you to the application that sent it. Easy. Which is what I used to do. I’d then deal with that one, but then would find that I had forgotten what other notifications were there before, and locking and unlocking the iPhone clears them. Swiping down categorizes them by app, when arrival time order would be better. So I would check my Twitter, Facebook, email and other applications in case I forgot about a notification there too. Each time I pulled out my iPhone to check notifications, I would spend minutes jumping around applications looking at other things, and then forgetting my place in what I was doing before checking notifications. We all do this, whether we are aware of it or not.

With the Watch, I rarely feel the need to process notifications. If a notification comes in, I do glance to read and absorb it. Most of the time, it seems, I now realize that it does not need my full attention and get back to doing what I was doing. No more going down iPhone rabbit holes, no more losing my train of thought.

And when I do need to respond, then, and only then do I reach for my iPhone. But since I have to reach for the iPhone, I find that I have started checkpointing what I am doing (I make a note, I add a ‘HERE’ comment, etc) and then reach for the iPhone. Once I am finished with that one and only response, I get back to work. I do not look to see if I missed anything, they are still on the Apple Watch and I can get back to them later. Of course, when I am not sure what I may have missed, I swipe down again on the Watch to see.

The result of this behavior change is that I spend less time processing notifications, way less time futzing on my iPhone and more time being productive.

The third behavior change comes when I have a few moments between tasks. In the iPhone days, that meant I had time to spend on the device. I could check email, Twitter, Facebook, my calendar, the latest news and sports and then get back to work. The reality of it was that the time spent on the iPhone was more than a few moments, it could take up a quarter hour or more.

With the Apple Watch, I check my glances instead. Swipe up and the Fantastical glance shows me my next appointment, the OmniFocus glance my next task and the MLB At-Bat glance just how badly my team is doing this year. Since these change so rarely, I actually get back to what I should be doing quicker. I check email, Twitter and Facebook less, relying on notifications in case I need to do something. Otherwise, I make time during the day between major tasks to process these. Less time in email, more time productive and, it seems, no impact on how I communicate with people.

The result of this behavior change is that I spend more time on task, and then focus and respond more clearly when on email and social networks.

And then there are the activity rings: move, exercise and stand. They have changed a lot of my behavior. Digression? Sure, why not. Back in the day when I was younger, sprightlier and more active, I used to use the Nike sports watches to track my running or riding. Later on, when the iPhone got better, I’d use apps like RunKeeper to goad me into exercising.

One thing has not changed. I have been walking to work (when not working at home) for 15 years now, first in Tokyo and now in New York. I never thought of that as exercise or healthy, just convenient. But I started doing less of that over the past year as my feet and back have started to ache as the wear and tear of many miles kick in. So I started walking less and taking the subway more.

The activity rings on the Apple Watch have lured me back. The blue stand goal is, for me, the easiest to achieve because I use a standing desk at work. The Watch does seem to think I am sitting when standing sometimes, but that’s OK (see the stand alert below).

The green exercise goal is harder to achieve, but thats where the walking comes in. I now kick off an “Outdoor Walk” exercise when I leave to walk home. Before the Watch, if my feet or back ached, I’d grab the subway. Now, I feel the need to complete the green, so I walk. And I try walk the long way round. It adds minutes to my walk, I walk further, and I get closer to the exercise goal. And when I get home and the green is still not completed, I feel bad. I may then go downstairs and hit the treadmill for more.

The red ring, move, is the hardest target to reach, even with the daily commute walk. Mostly because I have set it a tad high. Intentionally so. When I first got the Watch, I took a few days of walking and running to find a reasonably high-exercise day and see what the move (calorie) number was. Then I set the goal to that. I know I will not achieve the move goal on days where I work and then go out at night, thereby skipping additional exercise (I still walk everywhere so the green exercise still gets filled). But on days when I have nothing to do after work, the red ring calls. It draws me into walking more, going places and doing things.

The result of this behavior change is that I walk more. But since that is not enough, I just purchased a bicycle. Less stress on feet and back, and less excuse not to go out and exercise. We’ll see how this works out.

The Apple Watch, as part of the rings, sets off a stand alert every hour. I assume this is for people who actually sit all day and should stand to achieve their blue goal. For me, this alert has a far better outcome. Final digression. I pretty much program all day. Which means I get onto the zone; and lose complete track of time. If it were not for my colleagues, I’d forget to eat lunch. If it were not for calendar alarms, I’d forget to make calls or go to meetings. And since I have few lunches and meetings, it is not unusual for me to stare at the screen for many, many hours on end oblivious to time. The result, I need glasses and I get eye strain headaches. My old solution was to get better glasses.

With the Apple Watch, the tap to remind me to stand feels unique, and my lizard-brain has picked up on this as a way to get me to look away from the screen. When in the zone, I can easily ignore all alert sounds and taps, but not this one. This one makes me look at the watch (probably because it feels like no time has passed since the last one). And once I see this alert, I realize time has actually passed. I now snapshot my work, look away, drink some water, walk to the kitchen to refill my cup, glance around to see if anybody needs me, and then get back to work.

The result of this behavior change is I remain better hydrated, but more importantly, its easier on my eyes, leading to fewer, weaker eye-strain headaches.

Having and using an Apple Watch in my case has actually made me more productive, less distracted and is pushing me on health. It has changed my behavior to do so, without me actually thinking about it, being forced into it or fighting it. Some of the results are easier to observe, the fewer headaches and the improved productivity are noticeable. And the exercise improvements are starting to show.

Follow the author as @hiltmon on Twitter.