Back in January I decided I’d had enough of having my brain scrambled on a daily basis and started practicing Digital Minimalism, an idea proposed by Professor Cal Newport on purposefully cutting back on habitual tech use.
I took part in a 30 day digital declutter, where I created a fairly strict set of rules limiting my tech use.
The benefits of the initial digital detox on my mood and energy were almost immediate and at the end of the and the month I reviewed the choices I’d made and put together a further plan to use tech in a healthier way going forward.
Almost 6 months later I wanted to do one last follow up to reflect on my time reducing my digital tech use.
No news is good news
One of the key aims of the experiment was to reduce the anxiety caused by the constant barrage of negative news I was choosing to consume.
Avoiding online news is something I have kept up throughout the year and I absolutely feel happier for that.
I started buying a paper instead to read on a Saturday morning which felt a much slower, controlled way of reading news, though even that has dropped off over time.
“Important” stuff still manages to filter through, either via radio bulletins or friends and family passing stuff on.
FOFOMO (The fear of fear of missing out)
The other main driver for starting the digital minimalism experiment in the first place was kicking my social media addiction.
I’ve never really been one to post that often, however I did think about it a lot and compulsively consumed a lot of it.
So following my initial break from socials during the declutter I decided it was time to unplug myself.
Acknowledging that I mostly used social media for a quick dopamine hit rather than to do anything useful I introduced a bunch of new rules to help my use social platforms in a more healthy way:
- Turned off all notifications. All of them.
- Disabled DMs, so all enquiries have to come via my website. This removed the extra FOMO anxiety.
- If I want to check up on a specific person/account I’ll actively go to their profile rather than looking at what the algorithm serves up in my feeds.
- No liking or commenting on posts or anything that feeds the algorithm.
- Only use the desktop versions of social platforms, no apps on phones. I’m forced to enter my password every time, making it more difficult to ‘just check’.
- Only log on if I have something to post.
- Turned off anything that says I’m online when I’m logged in.
All of this seems like the least social way of using social media I can think of, but I’ve accepted it is the best approach for me.
The world feels much smaller. However, by limiting my social media use I’m encouraged to actively contact friends and family to speak to them, rather than passively spotting their social posts.
The other main difference is that I no longer feel like I have to post something. When I do, it’s something worth saying (I hope) and it gets my full attention.
Less tech, more productivity
My digital declutter has inspired a number of other helpful changes which I’ve introduced over the past six months. For example:
- I’ve ditched Google Drive, and now use a paper notebook to keep my weekly to-do list. This also means Google doesn’t know what I am getting up to!
- Daily tasks are then written on post-it notes, so I only see what I need to do that day. No more getting overwhelmed worrying about tomorrow’s to-dos today.
- Not starting work until I’ve walked the dog, showered, got dressed and had breakfast. This has arguably been the biggest boost to my productivity.
- Putting my laptop away at the end of each day and tidying my desk, which acts as closure to the work day.
- Unsubscribing from any email newsletters I no longer found useful. The result is a clearer inbox and a greener digital footprint.
- Locked down my smartphone to the point it only makes any sort of noise if one of my close family calls. Fewer distractions!
From FOMO to focused gratitude
The opposite of FOMO is gratitude for what you have. One of the things I’ve learnt since practising Digital Minimalism is to appreciate the work I have, rather than constantly searching for new opportunities.
I’ve noticed that since I’ve stopped constantly being on high alert to look for more clients, I can focus more of my energy on doing a better job for the great people I already work with.
Rather than spending an hour scrolling social media to spot someone who might need a new website, I can spend that time adding extra polish to a client project, improving my own site’s SEO or just taking the time to go for a walk in the sun with the dog.
Looking back at my original post when I decided to do the Digital Minimalism experiment, I certainly sounded quite strung out at the state of things. Six months later I’m pleased to report that I feel much more clear-headed and happier in myself.
I’ve also certainly found a healthier work/life balance, feel less rushed and I have been quite amazed to fit in a lot more DIY and cleaning into my routine.
That said, some compulsive habits have snuck back in over time, such as checking work emails, my website analytics and Signal messages.
I always say it’s about progress rather than perfection, but to be honest, I’m starting to consider doing another digital declutter…