If you want a focused life in an increasingly noisy world, embracing digital minimalism is the way to go.
You’ve cleaned out your garage, pared down your wardrobe and tidied up the hall closet. Now it’s time to declutter your smartphone.
“Technology hijacks people’s minds,” says Google’s Design Ethicist, Trstan Harris.
That statement might sound hyperbolic, but it’s anything but. The fact that smartphone apps work like slot machines is not an accident. It’s by design.
[Watch] Smartphone Apps Work Like Slot Machines
Be honest, doesn’t your smartphone sometimes drive you crazy? Don’t you wish you could just turn it off and enjoy a little solitude?
But at the same time, you feel powerless to its pull. It draws you in. Five minutes quickly becomes half an hour without you even noticing.
Remember that guy who got me to quit social media? In his latest book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport advocates for a massively dumbed down smartphone.
The phone isn’t the problem. Obviously. It’s the apps you have on it that distract you from the present moment.
They’re preventing you from connecting with the people around you. They’re stopping you from doing work that matters.
And, let’s face it, they’re giving you a damn crick in your neck.
Remember, they’re designed to hook you, so don’t beat yourself up. It’s not that you have no willpower or work ethic, you absolutely do. But how do you reclaim your power?
I’m glad you asked, it’s actually pretty simple.
Embracing Digital Minimalism
As always, a quick caveat. Reclaiming your power might be simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. There’ll more than likely be a period of withdrawal.
It’ll be worth it though, I swear.
The fastest way to reclaim your power is to declutter your smartphone. Delete all those apps that are distracting you. You know the ones I mean: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.
Get rid of ‘em. Now.
In his book, Cal Newport suggests a 30-day digital detox. Deleting the apps frees up mental bandwidth. It gives you the room to figure out what you enjoy.
At the end of the 30-day period you should have a much clearer idea of which apps serve you and which ones don’t.
Social media is easy, but what about work-related tools like email and messenger?
Making Use of Desktop Apps
Some companies are banning email (and getting more done), but it’s going to be a while before that approach really takes off.
It it ever does.
This means there are some things on your phone that you might want to to delete, but can’t. How do you manage this and still embrace digital minimalism? Is it even possible?
It absolutely is. There are two approaches to this conundrum. Firstly, make a point of switching off notifications when you’re not at the office.
If you have the kind of job that requires after hours attention, then you need to put some boundaries in place. If you don’t, all you’ll do is work.
Designate a period of time to check in and respond to urgent emails. When you’re done, put your phone in airplane mode or better yet, leave it in another room.
Secondly, when you are at work make use of your desktop. Don’t communicate via your smartphone if you don’t have to.
For example, if you have an iPhone, you can set up iMessage on Mac and converse on your computer. That way you eliminate the need for your phone while you’re working.
Yes, it can still be distracting, but it’s less so than picking up your phone every time it buzzes.
Ultimately though, what you should be aiming for are blocks of time where you can focus on deep work without any distractions.
Freedom from the Input of Other Minds
In their book Lead Yourself First, co-authors Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin, define solitude as freedom from the input of other minds.
Chew on that for a moment.
Rather than suggesting you hide out in the woods Thoreau-style, these guys are essentially telling you to unplug.
Take out the earphones, put down your phone, shut your laptop and just be with your thoughts.
It’s tempting to fill the void. Don’t do it. Solitude is crucial and we don’t get nearly enough of it. One way to get more solitude is to adopt a no phone morning routine.
In our ‘always on’ world we’re constantly receiving input from other minds.
We listen to podcasts, scroll through social media, watch Netflix and television and YouTube, read the news online, the list goes on.
Input from other minds is the norm nowadays, leaving no time to digest the information we’re taking in. It comes at a price, though.
Things like clarity, creativity, emotional balance, and moral courage wane without solitude. You’ve likely noticed this in your own life. Perhaps you’ve been feeling more anxious than usual. Maybe your creative output isn’t what is used to be.
Finding Solitude in Everyday Life
The next time you’re alone, resist the urge to plug into a device. We’ve been conditioned to believe that every waking minute must be productive. But that approach isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Instead of listening to yet another podcast or watching yet another YouTube clip or reading yet another article online, just be in the moment.
These micro moments of solitude add up over time. Little by little, you find you become calmer and more relaxed.
Leave your smartphone in your car or bag, don’t immediately pick up a magazine, forget about the podcast you downloaded.
[Watch] Digital Minimalism with Cal Newport & Rich Roll
Running just shy of two hours, this interview is way longer than our modern day attention span can cope with. Watch it anyway.
Despite having interviewed well over four hundred people on his podcast, Rich Roll rates this episode among his most consequential.
If you’re at all concerned about the amount of time you spend on your smartphone and the effect it is having on you, this talk with Cal Newport is worth the time spent. In it, he unpacks exactly why we’re so addicted to our devices.
It’s fascinating and more than a little worrying. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Cal also provides a bunch of action steps to help you free up precious time, declutter your mind and connect more deeply to the things that matter most.
It’s like a roadmap back to solitude.