These days, feeling overwhelmed at work is easy. It feels like we never have time to do anything meaningful between schedules packed with emails, meetings, and catch-ups and the constant pull of social media and the 24-h news cycle.
In early 2016, when author and computer science professor Cal Newport released Deep Work, many saw it as a better way forward. In the book, Cal proposed to be intentional with how we spend our time doing our best work and live a purposeful life.
And while that advice made sense in 2016 (and still in many ways), our lives have since become busier and messier.
Especially about our technology relationship.
Depending on how you use them, email, chat, social media, and other tools can be as productive as distracting. So how do we make the most of good technology while protecting ourselves from the bad?
In his new book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Noisy World Focused Life, Cal attempts to answer this question. By becoming a digital minimalist, we can rebuild our technology relationship to serve us. Not the other way.
RescueTime helps you make your digital devices more intentional by blocking distracting sites, giving you in-depth reports on how you spend your time, and more. Try for free.
Digital Minimalism’s Minimalism
In the past decade, the word “minimalism” was thrown around a lot. As many of us are sucked into the “more” lifestyle, the idea of living happily with less becomes more enticing.
For Cal, his feelings about minimalism started forming in a 2016 blog post where he presented a loose framework on his technology relationship.
“I am a computer scientist who studies and improves these tools,” he writes. He’s optimistic about the role technology can play in our lives.
However, he also explains how he criticizes many Internet Era developments, including our over-reliance on social media and communication tools.
The challenge, Cal writes, is finding a balance. The answer, he suggests, is digital minimalism.
The modern minimalist movement stems from a desire for less. But for more control and intention to spend our time and energy.
“Minimalists tend to spend less money and own much less than their peers. They also tend to be much more intentional and often quite radical in shaping their lives around important things.
This intention is sorely missed in our modern technology use. Rather than being purposeful in what gets our attention, we’re letting everything in and assuming the best will stick. But it’s not.
As we’ve written in the past, many apps and sites are designed to keep you back, even without your realization. To be a digital minimalist, your relationship with technology must be hyper-conscious.
“Being a digital minimalist means accepting the idea that new communication technologies have the potential to massively improve your life, but also recognizing that realising this potential is hard work.”
How exhausting innovation became
Digital Art artistry. While awareness is essential, our full-blown technology adoption in every aspect of our lives is not always easy. We spend the day watching screens, reading books on Kindles or iPads, and coming home to relax watching a movie or TV. Indeed, if you’re like most people, you’re:
Spend 8 + hours daily on your computer (including 40% of days after 10 pm) Use 50 + apps and websites a day and switch over 300 times. Take your phone at least 48 times and use it for 6.5 hours.
But, as Cal writes, the problem isn’t just technology use.
It’s how digital technologies combine well with bad like some omnibus bill.
Few of us are willing to give up the good technology (through Google Maps, seeing family photos on Instagram, etc …) in return for reducing harm. However, constantly policing your apps and behaviors can only lead to one thing: exhaustion.
Cal writes: “As many people clarified, the issue was the overall impact of so many different shiny baubles pulling their attention so insistently and manipulating their mood.”
It’s no longer just your calendar and scheduling. Instead, Cal explains: “The urge to check Twitter … becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support an intentional life presence.”
Take back your time (without giving up digital devices).
Try free RescueTime. Why Digital Minimalism doesn’t just stop your phone or delete Facebook. Nobody signed up for our technology to lose control. Digital minimalism isn’t all about throwing out your technology. It’s about reclaiming control over what you’re letting into your life. And it’s not just deleting apps or getting rid of your phone.
Cal defines Digital Minimalism as:
“A technology philosophy that focuses your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss everything else.”
When you clearly understand your values and how they affect your technology philosophy, you can make informed, confident decisions about what to use and when. You prioritise long-term meaning over short-term satisfaction.
Does this mean deleting your Facebook account or giving up your smartphone? Maybe. But instead of going cold turkey and then assuming your willpower will keep you going strong (it won’t), doing digital minimalism allows you to choose what you bring into your life.
No one signed up to lose control by modern technology.
With digital minimalism, you learn to take back control over your time and your attention. CLICK TO TWEET
More than that, it’s about rediscovering the non-technology-powered activities and behaviors you enjoy doing and supplementing them into your life.
Digital Minimalism … So how do you practice digital minimalism in your life?
Let ‘s start by breaking down Cal’s definition, pulling out the essential elements of a minimalist lifestyle.
First, choice and intention. You are still using technology, but only in ways that connect to your values. Then optimizing the tools you use. What you allow to work for you in your life. This means separating good and bad.
Finally, you won’t be everywhere all the time. Tech firms survive FOMO. But digital minimalists are happy to miss the things they don’t bring value to their lives.
Developing a minimalist mindset is not easy. In the second part of the book, however, Cal presents a plan to break your current technology habits and become a minimalist.
How to Declut Digital
In changing your technology relationship, gradually changing your habits won’t work. The pull of the attention economy is too strong. Instead, Cal offers another suggestion.
Set aside a 30-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life. (“Optional” means anything where their “temporary removal would harm or significantly disrupt the daily operation of your profession or personal life.” Work email is not optional.
You’ll explore and rediscover activities and behaviors you find satisfying and meaningful during this break. And after the 30 days are up, if you determine the value it brings you and how specifically you can use it to maximize that value, you can reintroduce the optional technologies you want to reintroduce.
This isn’t a simple “tech detox” or break. It’s meant to reset your technology relationship.
When returning optional technologies to your life, create “operating procedures” around them. These are rules on how and when to use them exactly. This doesn’t mean you can use everything you’ve done in lesser fashion.
As you re-introduce new technologies into your life, ask if it supports something you value deeply. As Cal explains,
“The fact that [a piece of technology] offers some value is irrelevant — the digital minimalist deploys technology to serve the things they find most important in their lives, and they’re happy to miss everything else.”
2 Tips for Digital Minimalist lifestyle
As we’ve written in the past, it’s the hardest part of any productivity strategy. So it’s unsurprising that a good chunk of the book focuses on practices to maintain digital minimalism.
Specifically, Cal outlines two ways to rediscover non-digital activities you love to support your new digital autonomy.
Spending time alone. So much technology to keep us connected. But loneliness—both physical and mental—is important to think clearly. Instead of feeling the social media and email FOMO, try to leave your phone at home while walking, journaling, or simply spending more time alone.
Don’t click. Social media and digital interaction have become digital fast-food versions. They’re too easy to consume, but don’t give us what we need for a healthy, happy life.