Learnings from a year without WhatsApp

I've been off WhatsApp for over a year. Here are my observations!

I’ve always been a bit of a productivity geek.

When I first started working on freelance projects, I realized how difficult it was to stay focused for long stretches when you’re not in the flow.

Over time, I figured there were two reasons I couldn’t stay focused:

  1. I was not used to being focused on the task at hand, and I just needed to get used to it.
  2. There were too many distractions that take my attention away from the task at hand.

Solving #1 was easy. I just had to be patient with myself and give myself enough time to get used to being focused.

Solving #2 was tricky. Social media and messaging apps were my major source of distraction. I ended up deactivating Facebook and would put my phone away while I was working. Which was not always possible because I used to build Android apps at the time and I needed a phone to test.

And then, in 2017, my phone stopped working because I took it out on a monsoon trek. It took me over a month to get a new phone. But in those 43 days, I realized I did not really miss not having a phone all that much.

Since then, I have always responded to WhatsApp messages at my convenience. Notifications were always off and I would never keep my phone around while I was working. I always picked up calls, so people still had a way to get to me immediately if they absolutely had to.

Eventually, I ended up using an old phone for WhatsApp that I checked about once or twice a week. Last year, the battery of this old phone gave up for good. And I thought, let’s see how long I can go without WhatsApp.

With all of that background out of the way, here are some observations!

Clearer communication expectations

When I was on WhatsApp, people would almost always ask me if I ever checked messages. Some would go even further and ask why I did not respond to their messages.

I never ghost. I respond to everyone. But it’s hard to explain — particularly to those I’m not too close with — that I can take time to respond without sounding self-important.

But ever since I left WhatsApp, it’s much easier: I’m not on WhatsApp, but you can always call me!

Common reactions

When I tell people I’m not on WhatsApp, I’m usually met with one of three reactions: indifference, curiosity, or some form of complaining.

I love it when people are indifferent! Me not being on WhatsApp doesn’t bother them.

I’ve never figured what to say to the curious. Because it’s impossible to judge why they’re curious in the first place. Do they actually want to know why? Or are they just curious people by nature?

When people complain, I assume it’s because it inconveniences them in some form and try to find some middle ground. For example, if someone needs to send sheet music so I can come prepared for the next rehearsal, I’d ask if the sheet music could be shared at the previous rehearsal.

People find a way

From what I’ve seen in the last one year, the people that want to figure a way to be in touch. I tend to prioritize meeting people in person over everything else, so I do not really need WhatsApp for the people I see every week or so.

Staying in touch with others can take some work, particularly with those in different time-zones. But we still manage to figure a way.

I guess the people that find excuses, find excuses.
The people that care, care.
(But it's usually not that black and white.)

Favorite responses

Here are some responses I’ve tried when people ask why I’m not on WhatsApp:

  • I don’t need WhatsApp.
  • Do you know how sometimes you have a really busy day and you see that there’s 100+ unread messages on WhatsApp that you’re now low key expected to keep up with? I guess I figured I have no time for that.
  • It’s just an experiment. Trying to see how long I can keep the no-WhatsApp streak going for!
  • I don’t know. (And then I’d just shrug or change the topic.)

Sometimes, it turns into an interesting conversation. Or people make assumptions and about why I’m not on WhatsApp and I just roll with it.

Other times, it’s just awkward.

Closing thoughts

I don’t really miss out on much by not being on WhatsApp. I’d rather be fully available to the people in my life than be so-so available to anyone with my number.

Besides, people can always call me!


The real reason I wrote this post is that I’m going to, unfortunately, need WhatsApp in about a month :’(