Thirty-day digital declutter

I finally got around to reading Cal Newport’s latest book: Digital Minimalism. Newport’s previous book, Deep Work, is one of my favourites so I had high expectations – and it delivered. Go read it if you haven’t already.

Newport makes the case that much of the technology that we use – in particular smartphones and social media – has a detrimental impact on our ability to live a deep life. Newport describes the deep life as “focusing with energetic intention on things that really matter – in work, at home, and in your soul – and not wasting too much attention on things that don’t.”

The antidote to the addiction that many of us have to our devices is to become a digital minimalist. Newport defines Digital Minimalism as, “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

The first step to becoming a digital minimalist is to do a thirty-day digital declutter, where you take a break from optional technologies in your life to rediscover more satisfying and meaningful pursuits.

There’s three steps to the digital declutter process:

  1. Define your technology rules. Decide which technologies fall into the “optional” category. The heuristic Newport recommends is: “consider the technology optional unless its temporary removal would harm or significantly disrupt the daily operation of your professional or personal life”.
  2. Take a thirty-day break. During this break, explore and rediscovered activities and behaviours that you find satisfying and meaningful.
  3. Reintroduce technology. Starting from a blank slate, slow reintroduce technologies that add value to your life and determine how you will use them to maximise this value.

This was a timely read for me. I’ve slipped back into bad habits despite knowing full well the toll that social media and my smartphone can have on me.

September felt like a good time to hit reset and do my own digital declutter experiment so for the next thirty days I’ve committed to:

  • No Twitter use (deleted TweetBot from my phone and iPad, blocked access on Mac)
  • No Instagram use (deleted app from my phone)
  • No email on phone
  • No Trading 212 on my phone
  • Not wearing my Apple Watch
  • No news consumption (RSS and a brief check of the news in the morning is okay)

I’ve introduced a few rules that I’m doing my best to follow:

  • No screens in the bedroom
  • Leave my phone in another room while working
  • Run Focus on my Mac while doing 40 minute work sessions (this blocks email, Slack, and a slew of distracting websites)

I’m also tracking a few habits and metrics every day using the Theme System Journal:

  • 10 minutes+ of meditation
  • 30 minutes+ reading
  • 10k steps
  • No alcohol
  • Journaling
  • Whether I’ve completed my daily highlight
  • The number of sessions of deep work I’ve completed (I aim for 4 40-minute sessions per day)
  • Hours on my phone/pickups via iOS’s ScreenTime feature

I am convinced that a reduction in the time I spend on Twitter and Instagram will be beneficial. The Apple Watch is more interesting: I use the health and fitness tracking features which I find useful, but I am also convinced that it creates a low-level anxiety (have I closed my rings? what’s my heart rate? etc.). It’ll be interesting to see how I feel about the Apple Watch at the end of the month.