Digital Minimalism

I recently finished reading Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” and it got me thinking more about my personal struggle to reclaim my focus from the grips of technology. I was happy to find that I’d already been following a lot of Cal’s suggestions, even though I haven’t done the actual digital declutter he recommends - stepping away from all optional technologies completely for 30 days, then reintroducing things that are truly valuable.

Over the past year, I’ve slowly backed away from technology traps that were sucking up way too much time. Almost all social media is gone. Facebook is still there, barely. In the book, Cal talked about finding ways to use technology smarter and that is something I’ve done to keep Facebook around, at least for now. You won’t find me lingering on it these days.

I thought I’d share some of the changes I’ve made in my online habits and life in general. For me, it came down to wanting my focus back. Today’s technology is an outright war to capture and hold our attention. I realized it was a problem that needed to be addressed in my life when I was feeling the twitch to check my phone throughout the day, having trouble focusing when trying to get lost in a book, or struggling with racing thoughts during meditation sessions. It was time to join what Cal calls the Attention Resitance.

Here are some of the things that have helped me:

  • No social media on my phone. Not that I have much left besides Facebook, but I don’t want the temptation to scroll through the feed. I have to be at home to access it, so there is no temptation during the work day.

  • Avoid Facebook itself as much as possible. Most of the value I get from Facebook is from Messenger and events. Messenger is grudgingly there for me because it is the best way to communicate with a few people. Still, I don’t need to be immediately available. For events, Facebook has an app called Local that I use as a calendar for things I want to attend. I can do this from my iPad at home. None of the peripheral Facebook apps need to be on my phone.

  • Check any social media or email in designated time slots with a predetermined limit. I check Facebook in the morning during my one cup of coffee, along with email and a few other things. 15 minutes total time allotted to get in and out with everything. Same in the evening - brief check of messages or emails before moving on to more productive things.

  • Unsubcribe from distracting email. I was spending too much time deleting emails I didn’t want to begin with so I started killing the subscriptions.

  • Online use is intentional. If I need to go online to look something up, research something, check news, etc., there is an intentional purpose. No aimless Internet surfing. Time limits apply here too. Rather than watching a clock, I tend to use a somewhat flexible time, such as the time it takes to finish a drink or snack. Alternatively, I might also fit in some online time in a short time span before I have a hard stop for something else. Setting a limit is key.

  • Use curation to gather together truly valuable online resources. When I find a blog that I get value from, I’ll add it to the Feedly app on my iPad. When I have free time to devote online, instead of surfing around, I’ll go to my own curated feed instead of hitting up Google.

  • Find something else to do that involves a physical activity, learning something new, or doing something creative. I take long walks, read, write, meditate, practice photography, or work on post processing. Recently, I took up archery. It is a wonderful and very mindful activity.

If you struggle with technology keeping a strangle hold on your attention, consider starting your own resistance. Cal’s “Digital Minimalism” is a good resource for starters.