Creating the Intent Case—a Portable Timed Safe for My Phone

Creating the Intent Case—a Portable Timed Safe for My Phone

All my adult life I’ve been wrangling with the double edge of the internet: on the one hand, it provides incredible opportunities for learning and connection. On the other hand it creates incomparable distractions.

Ideally, what I want is a conscious relationship with technology—one where I can wilfully engage in learning and connection without getting caught up in algorithmic content feeds.

In service of this goal I’ve tried many tools:
• Developing mindfulness of my internet use via ‘Screen Time’
• Blocking distracting websites and services during key intervals in the day, via ‘Freedom’ and other VPN-level software tools
• Using a desktop ‘timed safe’
• Colour filtering my iPhone to take the edge off of engaging product UI

Some of these approaches have been great!

During long virtuous periods I’ve found Freedom to be exactly what I’m looking for. Freedom allows you to define a list of distracting sites, and a time interval where they’re inaccessible. It accomplishes this via VPN, so that services are blocked both at the app level and the browser level (e.g. block twitter access at My approach is to define a list of all websites and services with an algorithmic content feed, and block them during work hours and before bed (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit.) I’m also a compulsive bicycle buyer and seller, so I throw in EBay and my local buy / sell site Carousell for good measure.

The problem is the Freedom app can be uninstalled! The commitment to an interval of undistracted time is easily and impulsively reversible. If I’m out in the world with an impulse to check twitter, it takes two clicks to uninstall Freedom from my phone. If I’m in a focused and virtuous period of my life, I can generally control this impulse, but if I’m feeling disparate—exactly when I need the externalized restraint I’m using the tool for—I might uninstall and reinstall Freedom multiple times a day.  

I’ve also found some success with a desktop lock box. I originally stumbled on the technology when researching the role of subreddits and public health vis a vis fentanyl overdoses in the US. Cities across the US have subreddits where users share information about general risk in the opiate supply. When the supply is ‘hot’ — i.e. when there is an unreported influx of fentanyl — users warn other users to exercise caution.

While browsing these subreddits, I stumbled on the ‘timed safe’ — a tool opiate users employ to space their doses. The timed safe is a plastic box with a time-lock. Set the safe for 24 hours to space opiate doses at a sub-compulsive threshold, or set the safe for four hours to keep your phone inside and win back some peace of mind as you read and write for an afternoon.

I found the product a game-changer. Whereas software based tools have an always-available exit switch via uninstall, the timed safe is an irreversible commitment to phone-free time.

Key use-cases with the timed safe include:
• Dropping your phone in with a 10 hour timer before bed. This guarantees an undistracted sleep, and puts a nice two hour phone-free buffer of time in the morning to start your day more intentionally.
• Dropping a family’s phones in together to create a distraction free dinner
• Dropping your phone in during the workday to delimit focused time for writing and ideation

While I loved the timed safe in concept, its size and bulk ensured that it’s strictly a home-device. Use-cases I was looking for that the timed-safe didn’t account for:
• Delimiting phone-free time when I’m out in the city, whether

• On a long walk
• Reading and writing in a park
• Reading and writing at a cafe
• On a date with my spouse

Further, the existing timed safes use disposable batteries, and the current tech is a power monster, requiring a battery change every two weeks.

With this in mind, I’ve been wondering whether it might be helpful to myself and other people to develop the timed safe technology into an elegant and portable package.

In essence, the timed safe case—let’s call it the Intent Case—is a minimal phone case with a chargeable timed lock. It offers everything a desktop timed safe offers, in a form factor you can bring with you out into the world. Key use cases so far include:
• Time blocking 10 hour intervals from bedtime to morning, ensuring a distraction free sleep and a distraction free morning
• Time blocking 2 hour intervals when I’m doing deep focused work, either for my day job or for my creative work
• Time blocking when I’m out with my friends and my wife
• Time blocking when I’m out photographing and strolling around Singapore
• Timeblocking at home

What appeals to me about a portable timed safe form factor is it does everything the bulky timed safe does, while opening up a whole new set of applications.

Some folks have suggested I should ‘just leave my phone at home’ — this is a great suggestion, but it isn’t always convenient. Oftentimes I want focused time between other intervals where phone access is necessary—e.g. running errands after a quiet afternoon in a cafe.

So! I’m building it. My product requirements are:
• Elegant form factor
• Bag-portable
• Irreversible time lock
• Rechargeable battery

I’m currently prototyping in two material variants: leather and xpac. I’m also exploring different form factors for large and small phones, as well as cases that can accommodate one or two phones (date night variant)

If you’re interested in reserving an Intent Case, I’m running a product pre-order here.

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