By the end of my first couple weeks of isolation, I thought I’d perfected my quarantine routine: wake up promptly at 8 a.m., take a long walk, shower, then get to work at my kitchen table. As the sun was setting, I’d FaceTime a friend, Zoom into a game night, or, when I needed a screen break, tackle a jigsaw puzzle. But as social distancing dragged on, as the world got scarier, as my dining room chair started to ruin my back, I found myself in a deep funk, binging YouTube videos I had already seen of people playing video games I would never play. I would roll over in bed at 9:56 a.m., barely awake, to crack open my work laptop. I wasn’t moving much. For lunch, I’d nuke frozen chicken fingers and French fries. There’s nothing wrong with frozen chicken fingers. But there’s something wrong with frozen chicken fingers five days a week.
In March of 2019, my phone tells me I averaged over 11,250 steps per day. During the bleakest two weeks of this past March, that number dropped by 30 percent. According to new research by Evidation Health with data from personal fitness trackers, physical activity in from March 1 to April 6th of this year declined by 48 percent nationwide. As weeks in isolation turned into months, I needed something to get me back on track, to help me spend time in a way that didn’t fuel my shame spiral. What I needed, it turned out, was my forgotten Apple Watch.
When Tim Cook introduced the Apple Watch in 2014, he said the company was trying to make “the best watch in the world.” Early adopters flocked to the Apple Watch for its productivity features, reveling in the ability to get notifications on their wrist instead of in their pockets. Later versions of the Apple Watch began piling on fitness tracking skills—a GPS chip, activity recognition, a heart rate monitor. Apple now pitches the Watch less as a wrist-mounted personal assistant and more as a personal coach. It’s working: Last year, the Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch industry.
My own Apple Watch had been gathering dust in my drawer since last fall, having been stashed there not long after I got it. That first go-round ended after a couple weeks of annoying buzzes. Bzzzt “Tinder: Activity is up by 34% in your area! Get swiping!” bzzzt “Instagram: Two people liked that vacation photo from last year!” bzzzt “Gmail: Come back to Williams-Sonoma and finish your purchase!”
This time around, desperate for motivation and deep in a nugget-fueled state of self-loathing , I immediately went into the Apple Watch app—also gathering dust in my phone’s junk drawer folder (ayyy, Stocks)—and set up the watch with intention. I lowered my activity goals, which I had previously set optimistically and routinely failed to hit, which did not inspire more activity. I turned off most notifications, except for texts and Aloe Bud (a colorful app that helps you set little self-care reminders—highly recommend). And I spent an exorbitant amount of time customizing the watch face so that it displays information I actually care about (the weather), rather than distracting info, like emails about chairs I am trying not to purchase.
It’s been more than four months since I started self-isolating in Brooklyn, and three months since I started wearing my Apple Watch again. Now that I’ve dialed back all those supposedly productivity-enhancing notifications, I actually pay attention to the ones I’ve let through. When the Apple Watch tells me to stand, I get up and fill my water bottle. When it tells me to take my allergy medicine, I actually take my allergy medicine. When it warns me that I’m not moving as much as usual by a specific time in the day, I mentally set time aside for yoga or a long evening walk. I’m doing things that help me feel good. In June, after getting my step count back up to pre-COVID levels, I started running again. (And I’m eating fewer chicken tenders, knowing they making me feel like garbage during a run.)