Photo by Trevor Raab
Once every few months, I take my iPhone and go to Settings -> General -> Reset -> Erase All Content and Settings. I skip the offer to use a backup, or transfer data, and build from the factory settings. My friends think I’m masochistic. But hear me out.
Clearing out old apps or files, even if it’s just to re-download them, will help almost any device. But deleting is tedious. The trick is to do it all at once, with a clean wipe.
Your vital stuff will still be there. Modern cloud systems, as long as you have your password, will keep the stuff most of us really care about—your SIM card is your phone number, and as long as you have iCloud or Google Photos, copies of your photos and videos are safely stashed in a data center.
💡Whenever you Google a solution to an error, include the term "solved." Most help forums use that word to identify the process that actually works.
Sure, the performance benefits might not be obvious. So if your phone’s fine, why bother? Because you create an opportunity to resist the temptation of tech maximalism. If your
day has ever felt overloaded with dings and scrolling, a clean phone helps you distinguish what’s useful from what’s just novel.
I start by turning off almost all notifications. I try to go at least a week without downloading Instagram or Reddit. And last round, I fully broke up with those language learning apps, the software equivalent of the jeans I refuse to donate because, someday, I’ll lose that weight and wear them again. Just focus on stuff that’s really useful, right now.
Years of testing consumer tech has made me appreciate this one Seinfeld scene. Jerry and George are trying to write a script. After discussing pen choice, Jerry halts further attempts at procrastination: “It may seem outwardly that the pen and the paper and the chair play a large role. But they’re all somewhat incidental to the actual using of the brain.”
For anyone whose phone, like mine, distracts you from the actual using of the brain, hopefully, this approach will help you turn that device back into what it is: a tool.
D.I.Y. I.T.: How To Reset Your Phone (A Step-By-Step Guide)
1. Save a new, full backup of your device to iCloud, your Google account, wherever. This is your safety net.
2. If possible, open a computer, or any secondary device that you can use to sign in to your email accounts. This is so you can respond to security prompts or emails from Apple or Google and say, “Yeah, that’s me,” when you re-log into everything.
3. Handwrite (seriously) the apps you can’t function without. For me, that’s stuff like
Fantastical, Slack, and Outlook. Only the essentials.
4. Write down the passwords for your most vital memberships. If you forget one, most are (unnervingly) simple to recover, so focus on ones that could be annoying to reclaim in a hurry. For me, that’s Amazon, Spotify, my Google accounts, and Lyft.
5. Jump off the cliff. Settings -> General -> Reset/Erase All Content and Settings.
6. Skip the prompt that asks if you want to restore it from a backup, and choose to set it up as new. Add more apps only when you absolutely need them.