proximity and propensity

William Liao
2 min readMar 29, 2023

I’ve been on a serious mission to reduce my phone usage lately.

I discovered from Apple’s screentime app that I was spending an average of 2 hours total each day across social media and entertainment apps like Instagram, YouTube, and Reddit.

That’s 730 hours a year — or, in more salient terms, one whole month every year. If I live another 50 years and my behavior stays the same, I will have spent over 4 years just staring at my phone.

Hard pass — especially considering all the other things that my time would probably be better spent on.

The most effective intervention I’ve introduced so far is an app called “One Sec” which forces me to pause and take a breath before allowing an app to open.

To my surprise, by introducing just a little bit of space — a short pause — before opening these apps, I’ve been able to successfully put the phone down and redirect my attention more often than not.

My daily usage of social media and entertainment apps over the last 7 days has been < 20 minutes.

This whole experiment has revealed to me just how strongly our proximity to things can influence our propensity to act on them.

When my apps were one click away, I was using them a lot.

When I built a little bit of distance — of friction — between me and them, my usage reduced dramatically.

I find myself reminded again and again of James Clear’s quote, “environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior”.

More often than not, and perhaps more than we care to admit, what we end up doing versus not doing is dictated by how easy or difficult something is to do.

It should come as no surprise that the very apps I’ve been trying to reduce my usage of have teams of brilliant engineers exclusively focused on how to make the app easier for users to use.

If we’re serious about our resolution to do something or not do something, we need to be equally serious in our thinking about how we’re going to remove barriers to access, or in some cases introduces barriers.



William Liao

Taiwanese American, daily blogger of ideas about impactful work in service of others, photographer (