Just over a month ago, I read Digital Minimalism by computer scientist Cal Newport and started a ‘Digital Declutter’, a 30-day abstinence from using my usual array of digital communication tools.
The aim of this detox period was to review and reflect whether the services I use are helping me add value to my life and business. Or was I using them because they are there and then getting sucked into the mindless, addictive scrolling.
I wrote about the rules I set up for reducing my tech use in Part 1: The Digital Declutter.
Having now finished the decluttering period, I want to report back on how it’s gone and how it has affected both me and my business.
The experiment got off to a great start when I opened my web browser to do some work and habitually started typing t-w-i… because going on Twitter is burnt into my muscle memory.
One of the aims of the experiment was to try to identify the bad habits emotional triggers that lead me to habitually check my phone (for example boredom, anxiety or loneliness), and then actively doing something more productive instead, like cleaning. I have done a lot of cleaning.
Thankfully, the feeling of FOMO faded away pretty quickly and I soon fell into the new rhythm of a semi-analogue life.
The taming of the smartphone
One of the key rules during my declutter was to shift from using my phone to my laptop for checking the internet.
Doing something as simple as removing the web browser from my smartphone’s home screen had a massive positive effect on reducing my desire to check stuff simply because it’s convenient.
As time has gone on, I’ve started to just leave my sim card in my basic banana phone, and only switching the smartphone on if I want to check my Signal messages over wifi.
Thanks to Jennie at Intuition Wellbeing I also recently learned that Android phones have Digital Wellbeing settings where you can turn on focus mode (to block notifications), turn on a blue light filter or even make your screen turn to greyscale during the evening (to make the screen easier on your eyes).
There is also a dashboard listing your daily usage stats and I was amazed to find that my smartphone usage is now down to less than 30 minutes per day!
I wanna be a-bored
One of the topics discussed in the Digital Minimalism book is the importance of solitude: being alone and away from distraction long enough for your brain to process your thoughts properly.
With fewer distractions, I have more spare time as well as the energy and mental capacity to do other more productive and enjoyable things with my day, such as:
- Going on longer walks with the dog
- Cooking more complicated meals
- Talking with my friends and family on the phone
- Tidying more
- Planning this year’s veg patch
- Watching the birds (shout-out to Wanda and Vision, the blue tits, and Bert and Ernie, the wood pigeons)
Best of all, with a more focussed working week I’ve been able to take Friday afternoons off to do art classes over Zoom with my niece and nephew.
The main thing is that I’m comfortable with the fact that I don’t have to rush. It’s a much slower pace of life and I have enough time in my day to get my work done while doing other things too.
How’s your head, hun?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this experiment has had a pretty good impact on my wellbeing. In particular, switching from reading news websites and Twitter to buying a paper on a Saturday has been a big win (the news is still awful but at least now I’m only consuming it for 1 hour a week).
Throughout the month I realised I am:
- Feeling less anxious and better rested thanks to improved sleep.
- More focused and finding it easier to find my flow.
- Better able to switch off from work in the evenings and at weekends.
- Not completely frazzled by tea time. I’m tidying the kitchen properly before bed, so it’s clean when I get up in the morning.
- Enjoying a slower pace of life and not rushing.
- More happy to just be in the moment.
In many ways the world feels much smaller, and while I’m connected with fewer people, I’m having better conversations with those closest to me. I’ve come to appreciate, even cherish, just talking to people on the phone or the rare chance to have a conversation in person.
So long and thanks for all the dopamine
Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of the dangers of social media, so one question I was eager to answer during this experiment was whether reducing my output on social media would have a negative impact on my business?
I’d arranged with my marketing partner Karen to post updates on Twitter and LinkedIn when we publish a new blog, but otherwise we’d be keeping a low profile on social media.
Reviewing my analytics this week I found that my website traffic remained pretty much the same as last month. More importantly, my project enquiries remained consistent with last year based on search traffic and recommendations alone.
This is almost certainly down to the cumulative effect of both making ongoing SEO improvements to my website and practicing a fortnightly blogging strategy for the past 2 years.
I’m thankful that with this in mind, Karen and I can instead focus our energy on writing the monthly PJWD newsletter instead.
Practising digital minimalism over the last month or so has been great, and I hope to keep it going.
My smartphone will remain in its stripped-back state, and news will be staying strictly paper-based for the foreseeable future!
I’ll probably check in on socials from time to time, but I won’t be actively engaging unless I actually have something worth saying.
One thing I couldn’t beat was staying away from work emails, so I’m eagerly waiting for a Windows version of the Spark email app so I can manually schedule messages to come in and out three times per day.
Likewise, since passing the initial 30-day detox marker, checking my website analytics has snuck back into my routine more than it should. I worry I could very easily slip back into my old addictive habits if I’m not careful! Some days my mind seems to just want to seek distractions.
Tips for practicing Digital Minimalism
- Try to identify which emotions trigger you to habitually use a digital service so you can train yourself to do something else instead.
- Simplify your smartphones home screen and hide anything that you open just being it’s there.
- Make use of your smartphone’s inbuilt wellbeing settings.
- Swap out the instant messaging for a phone call!
- Find something rewarding and enjoyable to do with your extra time so you aren’t tempted to fill it with mindless scrolling.
I’ll probably do a follow-up to this in a few months to see how things develop, and I’d love to hear from anyone else who has tried this about how you have experienced the switch to digital minimalism.