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Smart ways to break those bad smartphone habits

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Smartphones are a staple in our daily lives, but we should be careful on how we spend our time with them.



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You used to call me on my smartphone

It’s no secret that smartphones have revolutionized the way we communicate and gather information. We now live in a 24-hour news and communicative cycle, with the ability to reach and be reached at any given moment.

This has its advantages, and it’s great to be able to be in contact with those you may not be able to see often. However, do you ever stop and take into account how much time you’re actually spending on your phone?

How smart am I being?

I never gave it much thought until a few years ago when my friend said that he doesn’t like to use his phone when spending actual face time with people. This makes sense as, even when I think I’m present in the moment while simultaneously staring at my phone, that just isn’t the case.

From there, I began slowing my phone use when spending time with others.

When I really thought about it, the idea of making future plans with someone while hanging out with someone else is kind of strange.

What really got me thinking about my smartphone usage was when I had to get glasses for screen fatigue. I then made it a point to think about the way in which I use my phone, and how I want that to change.

1. Utilizing Do Not Disturb

This has quickly become one of my favorite features on the iPhone. I used to have a terrible habit of leaving my phone on vibrate at night, convinced something would pop up at 3 a.m. that would require my attention.

What wound up happening was, the phone would go off in the middle of the night, the message wouldn’t be important, and then I wouldn’t be able to fall back to sleep.

Then, I would be crabbier than normal when waking up the next morning.

So, every night after I set my alarm for the next morning, I put my phone on Do Not Disturb, knowing that whatever nonsense comes through at night can wait until the morning. Just because we have the option to be constantly accessible, it doesn’t mean we have to be.

2. Minimizing Social Media Scrolling

One day as I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook (likely ignoring more pressing tasks) I wondered how much time I’ve spent over the last 10 years doing this exact thing.

I decided to start counting how many times a day I open my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. apps.

Turns out to be a little staggering when you start putting numbers on things.

My recommendation for combatting this issue is to set a limit on the amount of times you can visit each app per day. Try a regimen of morning, noon, and night. I mean, let’s get real, seeing what your college roommate is having for dinner isn’t all that exciting.

3. Keep Phone Out of Sight in Social Situations

A bad habit I’ve had in the past is going out to dinner with a friend or hanging out in a group and constantly being on my phone, chatting with friends who aren’t there. Unless it’s a pressing matter, I’ve learned to just enjoy what’s in front of me and keep my phone in my purse or pocket.

At the end of the day

Smartphones are great to have, but they shouldn’t be the heart of our lives. Try to enjoy what’s in front of you, rather than forcing something in front of you 24/7.


Taylor is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and has a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Illinois State University. She is currently pursuing freelance writing and hopes to one day write for film and television.

Opinion Editorials

How I pitched the CEO of Reddit onstage at SXSW with no notice

(EDITORIAL) This is the story of how luck, networking, preparation and being at the right place at the right time got me onstage at SXSW with no notice, to pitch Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of Hipmunk.



daniel senyard pitching the CEO of Reddit

After graduating from Austin’s Capital Factory accelerator earlier this year, Shep, my travel tech startup was in need of our first office. The team had grown to more than seven people, and while coffee shops had sufficed for product meetings when there were only four of us, we’d started getting dirty looks when we began putting tables together and colonizing entire corners. We looked at dedicated offices, office shares, and coworking spaces like WeWork. When it came down to it, at this phase, Capital Factory was the right choice for our company.

We’d already raised our seed round with Capital Factory with several of their partners as major investors, so we decided that, as a startup in Austin, we had to be where the press, investors, and partners were most likely to show up. Past visitors to Capital Factory have included Barack Obama, Apple CEO, Tim Cooke, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and many more. We knew that we might be able to get a space for less, but the community, education, and flow of people through the space optimizes our startup for serendipity.

Fast forward to this year’s SXSW and I was meeting with team members on the fifth floor when I received a text telling me that Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of travel startup Hipmunk, was downstairs and he had just said that creating a travel tech startup is the most difficult thing he’s ever done.

“The CEO of Reddit is talking right now and saying that doing a travel startup is the hardest thing he’s [e]ver done. You should tweet at him.” said the first text. “Baer just told him about Shep,” came the next one, referencing Josh Baer, the founder of Capital Factory, who was conducting the interview downstairs.

So, being in the right place (or at least four floors above) at the right time, I rushed downstairs and made eye contact with Josh before taking a seat in the back of the room. I planned to wait until after the talk and fight the crowd to introduce myself as the person Josh had mentioned and hand Steve a business card.

SXSW had other plans for me.

“So, we only have about three more minutes, and because SXSW is all about doing things on the fly and taking opportunity as it finds you, I’m going to ask Daniel Senyard from Shep, who’s just joined us, to come up and pitch Steve for 90 seconds,” said Josh from the stage before getting up and giving me his seat. I proceeded to tell Steve how Shep allows smaller businesses to set up and track travel policies and team spending on travel websites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Southwest through a free browser extension. My hands were shaking, but I got it all out in about the right amount of time, and he immediately responded by saying, “I love the Premise.”


Steve asked some questions about customers (closed Beta) and target market (companies that spend less than $1M in annual travel) before enquiring whether Shep had to have relationships with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Orbitz or Meta Searches like Kayak. I said no, but that through our strategic investors, I’d spoken to many of them.

“I’m trying to grill you, but I honestly think they would love this,” he said, stating how OTAs and other travel sites lose lots of bookings when companies grow and move from letting their team book on their favorite websites and instead mandate bookings be made on enterprise booking tools like Concur or AmEx Travel. Now Steve knows this world better than almost anyone, having co-founded an OTA that was actually acquired by the very company he says OTAs lose business to, Concur!

After a few more comments, I thanked him and took the opportunity to slip him a business card before heading back to my seat.

Now, to some, this may seem like pure luck but these moments of serendipity take years to create.

While there are several factors at play, it all essentially boils down to just showing up every time. As Josh said to me afterward, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” and I’ve been preparing and pitching non-stop (albeit within three different businesses) for seven years. Over those seven years and three companies, I’ve slowly built up a vast network of connected people who will text me when my name is mentioned and will invite me onstage when they see an opportunity.

While I didn’t nail it, I didn’t flub my pitch because I’ve rehearsed various forms and lengths of pitches in mirrors, while driving, and to every family member that can stand it. I’ve taken my bumps and done my reps while probably pitching 200 times. I even won a contest and was sent over to Oslo to represent Texas at Oslo Innovation Week back in 2015. But even after pitching at every chance I’m given, I still get nervous, and my hands are still a little shaky while writing this, an hour after it all happened.

It was an amazing opportunity, and I’m very thankful to Henry for texting me, Josh for inviting me onstage, and John and Henry for recording the whole thing. While cool moments like this are certainly highlights, it’s just a step towards building brand recognition for our solution. Now I need to follow up and see if I can get Steve to join our advisory board…

Also read “Why your being the ‘Uber of’ or ‘Netflix of’ is bad for your business” by Daniel Senyard.

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Opinion Editorials

Twitter’s awful leadership is why the social network is failing

(EDITORIAL) Will Twitter’s leadership allow spam and hatred to continue being the albatross around their neck? Probably.



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Last year, Twitter celebrated their first time making a profit, after over a decade of existence. Hooray? Perhaps the question of how successful twitter has (or has not) been has to do with their leadership crisis, earning a reputation of indecisiveness and a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.

As Vanity Fair asserts, Twitter is losing the Internet war, and we can’t help but agree. From the troubles that come from a highly dysfunction of management with three CEO changes, and not one cohesive vision.

A simple Google search can tell you that Twitter’s fake news, fake accounts, and fake people problem is a hot spot on the public eye. Del Harvey, Twitter’s Head of Trust and Safety deals with the landscape of Twitter – the ominous mountain of Donald Trump and the Russians, Nazis, hackers, and harassers that has overwhelmed Twitter like a post-apocalyptic army of bots that would be right at home in a J.J Abrams movie.

Harvey is talented, but the company lacks a strong technology solution to these problems, and clearly lacks a clear set of rules (i.e an action plan) for tackling these issues (what is abuse on Twitter? What should be censored? What is Twitter’s responsibility?). The lack of clarity and the shifting definition of what constitutes a problem in regards to content on Twitter, follows a consistent trend set by Jack Dorsey in 2011 – when asked what Twitter is, he responded, “We don’t have an answer.”

Not much has changed, I guess.

What is clear is the lesson that we can take away.

A company cannot be successful without clear vision, strong leadership, and a sense of urgency. Twitter is a large company, therefore may appear successful to those unaware of their finances, but taking over a decade to finally make a profit would have put most companies out of business. Nearly a decade ago…

Their problems run rampant, and are growing exponentially with more and more fake accounts and abuses. The social media giant needs a clear understanding of what abuse is and needs to stick to it. Leadership needs to go for the wins and formulate a clear, decisive vision and a framework for how to get it done. And it needs to do so quickly – an urgency to fix the image problem that not only affects the public, but the recruiting pool. And the next pool to grow sour will be the investors, who had to wait for over 10 years to see any profit.

If the mega brand expects to keep changing the landscape like it has, it seems like they have a lot to change. It’s time for Twitter to get out of its awkward phase and clear up the very muddy pool it’s in today. Or, as they say, get off the pot.

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Opinion Editorials

How employee perks give competitive companies a serious edge

(BUSINESS) Breakneck speeds of innovation are now the norm in business, and the most competitive are offering employee perks in the name of progress.



employee perks

The nature of business is simple when you boil it down: get the edge and monetize it. To keep the doors open, companies either have to do one thing extraordinarily well that transcends trends or innovation, or they must continually progress and change the rules of their platform with each release.

Case in point, there’s little to improve on when it comes to a Chicago hot dog or a New York slice; these culinary feats will forever be favored because they’re ingrained into the culture as a staple. A pair of Levi’s jeans or Vans sneakers don’t need to innovate, the classic appeal of the brand sells itself.

Technology is a different animal. Innovation is everything.

People wanted a new app or SaaS (Software as a Service) tool yesterday, and they want to hit a button on their phone to get it. We want new apps to automate mindless tasks, and we’re always looking for a way to cut paperwork when it applies to everyday life. We want to pay bills with a click or know who’s ringing the doorbell via the camera attached to our network. We love Nest because it controls our house and who doesn’t love a Spotify playlist connected to a wireless speaker out by the pool?

Companies bending over backwards to create faster and with more of a wallop allowed for these breakthroughs.

Because anything technology-related is crushing financially-speaking, there’s a constant hunger for talent. And talented developers, marketers, SEO junkies, office managers, all use the hyper-competitive talent market to their advantage. If a new job pops up that pays more with better benefits, people will bounce without so much as more than two-week notice and a “sorry, not sorry” letter of resignation.

The company loyalty of the past is long, long gone.

Companies like Twitter or Google throw the kitchen sink at their teams to keep them happy and offer everything from education stipends for their kids, dollar for dollar 401(k) matching, improv classes, catered gourmet meals, and even monthly mani-pedis. These things seem crazy, but they’re small measures to make sure the best talent doesn’t walk for a huge reason – they need the best minds to keep pushing the brand to new heights.

Make no mistake; if a SaaS tool is dominating the market, there’s one right behind it, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. Because of the dog eat dog landscape, retention is critical. If the best members of a team move on after a year or two, pushing the brand forward becomes harder and harder because there’s a rotating door. Teams have to find ways to keep their staff engaged not only through work that matters and a thriving culture, but the perks offered need to be sticky and make it hard for employees to walk away from.

One of the more revolutionary retention methods of the last few years has been student loan debt repayment, and as a result, teams are staying together, longer.

The probability market for student loan repayments is massive.

Nearly 70% of new grads walk off the stage with at least 25K owed to private and federal institutions and the debt clock is ticking upwards toward $1.4 Trillion, with a T.

Because student loans are a soft target, it’s an easy win. Often touted as the new 401(k) for millennials, many companies are offering to match dollar for dollar with their teams or just make a monthly contribution on their employee’s behalf. For the companies, this move is killer because of simple math: the average student loan bill is low thanks to all of those deferments, loan interest rates, etc.

In some cases, the loan amount could be as low as a $200 monthly contribution, which is easy for an enterprise-level businesses pocketbook. The employee’s student loan is out of sight, out of mind, and often with a few bucks extra, moving the debt needle faster. The best part: the employee feels like the company has a vested stake their well-being and future growth.

One of the easiest wins for a company is how they view time spent in the office. Because wifi is everywhere and checking email on an iPhone is only a swipe away, more and more companies allow for staff to work remote. Life happens and some days, sitting at the desk is a real wrench in the gears if the dog needs to go to the vet or the AC goes out in mid-July.

A change of scenery helps, and for many people (and let’s be honest), banging out six hours of good work is a more realistic output than drifting through eight hours of “sort of” productivity. Fully 53 percent of workers want free time over a raise.

Companies with a liberal work from home policy lead the charge in perks employees want. Same goes for generous vacation time policies. Even if the average employee doesn’t come close to using their allowance, the central thread that matters is the freedom of knowing they can.

Another way to put a lid on employee churn? Companies are taking a real swing at healthcare.

Because affordable medical care isn’t always available, many companies are covering significant portions of what’s taken out of an employee’s check. Some ultra-progressive businesses like Google or Atlassian even offer 100% covered healthcare for their American workforce. While universal healthcare would make sense, many companies are picking up the slack and are keeping their employees healthy.

Employees, especially millennials, see these moves toward a workplace with a work/life balance, but also as a place that cares about their wellbeing. Gone are the days of death by a thousand papercuts during the workweek. Today’s workforce knows what they’re after and it’s up to companies to decide if they’re willing to play ball to make that work.

Progress is everything in business and if companies are looking to continue to lead trends or upend the status quo, they can’t have their brightest and best looking toward the horizon wondering what else is out there. Perks most definitely matter.

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