Digital minimalism – a book to read
I just finished reading a very interesting book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. My husband had originally recommended it to me and now felt like a good point in time to read it. Like many others, I have been suffering from the social isolation due to the COVID-19 restrictions and somehow along the way my social media and mobile phone consumption has sneakily crept up to definitely unhealthy levels. It started innocently enough last year: we were all stuck at home and it was easy to justify that “this is how I connect with people nowadays”. Then I was on maternity leave for most of 2020 anyway and I continued telling myself “Well you have plenty of free time now, it’s not so serious, you can waste time on your mobile phone just fine”. But now in the spring, the corona situation kept improving, vaccinations progressed, weather got better and the world started opening up. And suddenly there ARE many better ways to spend your time than mindlessly scrolling your mobile phone or checking for updates in an app for the umpteenth time. And I didn’t like the feeling of being constantly a bit jittery and distracted.
After reading the book on digital minimalism I became more and more convinced that I really need to get a hold of this thing. One of the key messages we’ve been repeating in this blog has been how important it is to make intentional choices – regardless of what those choices are. But if you want to live a good life by your own standards, you can’t just let things drift to a certain place, you need to be the one steering the boat. So I decided to tackle this quite big area of my digital life next.
The digital decluttering process
The book tells a compelling background story about how the attention economy is built around tempting us to overuse different social media and technology, but here I will focus on the methodology of the digital decluttering process and openly commit myself to my own process 🙂 I warmly recommend reading the book in any case to get a more thorough understanding of the topic.
The basic process follows three steps:
- Start with a 30-day digital detox period, during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life
- During the 30-day break, explore and discover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful
- At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies, but do it intentionally. For each technology you must determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you want to use it to maximize the value.
This post will focus on the first step and then I’ll cover the next steps once I get there
For the first step you’ll need to define your technology rules. Technology in this context includes apps, websites and related tools that are delivered through a computer screen or a mobile phone and are meant to either entertain, inform or connect you. It’s also good to include rules about video games, television / streaming services and news sites / apps. Once you have identified technologies that are relevant in your case, you must decide which ones are sufficiently “optional” that you can take a break from them for the full 30 days. This will depend also on your work role, if you e.g. must use a certain site or work purposes.
The important thing is not to confuse “convenient” with “critical”, when you are determining what is actually optional. You can also define operating procedures for technologies that are largely optional with the exception of a few critical use cases. So you define exactly how and when you are allowed to use that technology, so that you can use for the actually critical purposes but won’t default to unrestricted access. Examples of these would be:
- Configure your phone to allow phone calls / texting only with certain people in your offline time (e.g. your kids, spouse and parents who might have an emergency)
- You can use a web browser but only for email and ordering your e-groceries
- You can watch Netflix but only when you are watching WITH someone else or no more than two episodes per week
As I believe that committing to something publicly will make the commitment more sticky, here is my list 🙂 I commit to the following digital detox plan for the whole month of July in 2021.
As I am on holiday for the whole month and switching jobs after the holiday, I can easily commit to not doing ANYTHING work-related on any device during the whole month. It’s almost too easy as I must return my previous work laptop at the end of July and will get a new one only in August. However, even in the previous summer holidays I have typically been pretty good in taking myself completely offline from work stuff. I firmly believe it makes me a much more productive and creative employee too, when I get a real break from everything and often I notice the excitement and energy coming again towards the end of the holiday when I WANT to start working on stuff.
Television / Streaming services
I commit to not watching any television, Netflix or other streaming services for the whole of July.
Not relevant for me, as I don’t play any video games or mobile games anyway.
I will commit to deleting the news app from my phone and not reading any news on electronic devices during July. It’s okay to read a paper newspaper or leisure magazines if I happen to get one in my hands.
In general during July I will try to minimize the use of my mobile phone, so in mobile phone should not be used except for the following activities:
- Phone calls – always ok
- Checking Oura app once in the morning
- Log sports activities in HeiaHeia and check step count on Fitbit
- Using Todoist and ToDo to manage tasks
- Checking the weather
- Listening to audio books on Audible
- Listening to music on Spotify
- Use Tide app for meditation (if I actually will ever meditate :D)
- Downloading app updates once on Sundays during my weekly check and check screen time average
In the end as I was going through all my apps I decided to disregard the actual utility apps from my digital detox process because I feel like they are not the issue here. So I decided not to delete or limit more strongly the use of any apps related to mobility or food services or ebanking. But I will keep track of my general mobile phone screen time averages and reconsider this if they seem to become problematic.
What I will do to my iPhone
- Disable ALL notifications (sound, symbol, etc.) on apps except for phone calls, whatsapp and text messages (mostly done already before)
- Organize apps in 3 screens
- Screen 1: Most used, listed above allowed apps are here
- Screen 2: Mobility, food services and photo storage apps are here
- Screen 3: Ebanking & payments, password manager, public health apps
- Screen 4: “Storage” = all apps I did not want to delete but don’t currently use or want to use, stored “far away” to minimize temptation and put on app limits through screen time
- Keep mobile phone in quiet state mostly (phone calls will vibrate on Fitbit)
- Delete Gmail and messenger
- Delete all social media apps
- Delete all streaming apps
- Delete the HS news app
- Hide Apple-native apps like Safari and Podcasts and put them on banned apps list
- Use Do not disturb-functionality always between 21.00 and 6.00
- Use Screen time functionalities – downtime every day 21.00-7.00
In general during July I will try to minimize the use of my laptop, but the following activities are allowed:
- Doing my traditional weekly check and written half-year review that are part of my excel of my life process
- Writing diary on my computer
- Combined limited use time allowed for checking private email, taking care of things, doing online shopping or looking for information online for 15 minutes per day Mon-Fri, 30 minutes Sat-Sun
- No social media or news sites allowed on computer
- Eckhart yoga website for yoga (paid for 1 month to avoid Youtube)
I was most unsure of how much time on my computer I should allow for myself and also considered whether I should just ban it for a month. However as I am on holiday for the whole month, I will not use a computer that much anyway and if I ban Gmail and Safari apps on my phone, my general technology use will be quite limited. And in a family with two small kids there is ALWAYS some life management chores and purchases to take care of and I’d rather take care of them during the holiday then in August when we are both starting in new jobs. So I decided to allow for some daily use, but cap the time very clearly.
I own but do not currently use my iPad for anything, so I disregarded it in this listing.
What I will do instead
The book emphasized the importance of thinking what you will do instead of wasting your time with the overuse of technology as it will play an important role in helping you pull through with the detox
Here are some of the activities that I thought of doing instead:
- Focus on playing with my kids
- Spending time with my husband
- Exercise, such as (Nordic) walking, home muscle training program, yoga or stretching
- Meeting friends live or calling them on the phone
- Reading or listening to books
- Just sitting /standing around and being bored 😉