Spending too much time scrolling through Facebook or Twitter? Just finished a 4-hour YouTube binge when you’ve got chores to do? There are many reasons why people turn to digital minimalism as a method of creating more time in their day.
Decluttering your home is one thing, but to declutter your digital life when most of us rely on our phones and laptops for daily communication is another. Social media platforms are designed to be addictive, so it’s no surprise that most people spend hours on their phone each day.
We’re going to take a look at how to start your journey into digital minimalism. But first, we need to know exactly what it entails.
What is Digital Minimalism?
Like normal minimalism, digital minimalism is focused around eliminating excess noise from your life – specifically on your phone, laptop and other digital devices. In truth, this is easier said than done.
By selecting the few essentials you really need on your devices, you can then enjoy more time online doing things that you actually like and find productive. Or, you can use this extra time doing offline activities (a crazy idea, I know!).
The idea of digital minimalism has been popular for many years, though it was popularized by Cal Newport and his Study Hacks blog in more recent times. This really focuses around three different concepts.
Firstly, practicing digital minimalism means acknowledging that the digital clutter in your life may be having a negative impact on your life. This can be both in terms of productivity when it comes to work, but also in your personal life too.
Secondly, this means that’s important to optimize your online life if you want to maximize your potential. Technology is a gift, but too many of us use it to excess. This can have a negative impact on our and mental health.
And finally, replacing these bad habits with positive habits is satisfying to us humans. It may not be immediately apparent, and it may not feel that satisfying at first when you’re disconnected from your social media apps.
But after a while, when you replace those addictive habits with more wholesome and productive activities like reading and cooking or whatever else you like to do in your leisure time, you’ll feel more satisfied than spending 4 hours scrolling Twitter.
Declutter your digital life first
My own interpretation of digital minimalism is similar to Cal’s, though it does differ a little. For me, digital minimalism is best split into two different parts; first, the decluttering of your current digital space.
Then, optimizing and implementing new measures to minimize digital distractions from gradually creeping back into your life. Getting rid of time wasters can help you to focus on the good things in your life.
Here’s some of the things you’ll want to consider when you’re trying to declutter before you introduce some structure into your digital experience.
Spring cleaning tasks
There are some simple tasks that you can start with that will reduce digital clutter, both now and in the future. This includes things like;
- Spring clean your emails – Going through your emails is a long, but necessary, task. Once done, you can continue to maintain them on a daily basis.
- Unsubscribe from Newsletters – This can be done over the course of a month. Read every email you get, and make sure to unsubscribe from anything you’re not majorly interested in to reduce distractions.
- Cancel that subscription – Subscriptions are building up for most of us. Try and stick to one or two streaming services, but make sure to cancel anything that you don’t use on a weekly basis.
Of course, keep the subscriptions and newsletters that bring you the most value. The point of this task is to make sure that you don’t waste time reading things that don’t have an impact on your life.
You may also want to delete all your files that are no longer necessary on your digital devices. This can include deleting photos, documents and whatever other files you may no longer need.
Monitoring your smartphone use
If you want to significantly improve your productivity, you need to know where you’re spending your time.
You can do this by going into the Settings on your iPhone or Android device. Here, you should be able to find your app usage for each individual app, which tells you the most common ways you’re wasting time.
Some app usage can be essential, but many users have the same common culprits. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the ultimate time-killer TikTok
And with more new technologies being released daily, it’s important to keep track of exactly where you’re spending time before making a drastic change.
Delete the apps you barely use
Deleting apps on your phone really revolves around separating the useful apps on your device from low value digital noise. Fewer apps means less distractions.
Run through your most used apps and see the ones that you truly need. This is often apps like Google Maps or our email apps, as they can be an essential part of day-to-day life.
Then, scroll down to the bottom of the list and find the unused apps on your phone. Make sure to delete them, along with those that you only use on very rare occasions.
You may also want to consider apps that you can use on a different device too, as there’s sometimes no need to have the same app on your phone and laptop.
Disconnect from your social media accounts
When most people want to enter digital minimalism, it’s because they’re spending way too much time on social media apps.
This can be across more than one app too, and in the digital age, it seems likely there’s an interesting new download every month.
For this reason, it’s important to narrow yourself down to just one or two social media accounts. Pick your favourites, as you’re only going to be allowed a limited amount of screen time on them anyway.
All of your other social media accounts can be either deleted, deactivated or abandoned if you want to come back to them in the future.
Take a full weekend off – A Digital Detox
Once you’ve run through a full decluttering of your devices, it’s then a great idea to spend time away from technology. This is where digital detoxes come in. Give yourself some room to breathe, and see what you end up doing.
More important, what you crave to do. The point of digital minimalism is to give us more time to do the things we truly love. For me, that’s walking in the mountains, and spending time with my family without checking my phone every two minutes.
For you, this may be completely different. However, it’s important to know the benefits of digital minimalism, as this can help you to stick with it long term.
Once you’ve decluttering your digital life, and you’ve given yourself a break to determine exactly why you’re interested in being a digital minimalist, you can then start to minimize your technology use.
Here’s some of the things that I do after to ensure the good habits stick, and you keep your unproductive digital usage to a minimum.
Create a routine
After you’ve cleared your devices, one of the best digital minimalism tips you can follow is to set up a routine to make sure you don’t lapse back into bad habits. For example, this is things like;
- Running through browser bookmarks once a week. You can set aside time to do this if you often make bookmarks of things to read later.
- Go through your emails on a daily basis. Delete anything you don’t need, and bookmark the important emails.
- Making sure to backup your files regularly. This will come in handy if you ever lose them.
Doing this on a regular basis is an essential part of digital minimalism, as it means you won’t need to go through the initial period again.
Limit your screen time
It’s essential that you limit the amount of time you spend on your devices each day. For some people, this is simple enough to do, and they can just stop after 30 mins or an hour of social media use each day.
For others, you may have to download a specific app or play around with your Settings to put limits on your phone.
Apps like Cold Turkey work extremely well for this, as they can stop your social media use after a certain period of time – it’s my favorite option, and one of the best minimalist apps available.
Confining applications to your laptop only is a great way to become more present in communication with your friends and family.
You can usually find ways to limit screen time on your phone, tablet, laptop or whatever other digital communication tools you may use. You may want to put restrictions in place if you have an addictive nature.
Switch off your notifications
Whilst some people choose to actively ignore the notifications they get on a regular basis, many digital minimalists find that they’re better off disabling them on their phone.
You can sometimes do this by switching your device into Silent mode. Or, you can disable them from within your Settings.
Notifications aren’t going to significantly disrupt your day, but they can definitely affect your state of flow when using your device.
Consider grouping apps or using folders
The less apps that you have on your phone, the easier it is to find apps that you need. Something that can help to make things more organized is to put your apps into groups with each other.
You can base this around a common theme, like Finance or Social. If you’re using desktop, sorting all of your applications and files into folders is another way to make things neater.
Automate what you can
Some people are heavy social media users with social media accounts across all of the big platforms. If this is you, then you may want to look at automating certain functions like posting on your socials.
To do this, you can look at something like IFTTT. This can take your Tweet and turn it into a Facebook post or Instagram post automatically, meaning you only need to post on one account. You can then log out or temporarily deactivate the others.
This can enable you to reduce your reliance on an internet connection, and sometimes even completely disconnect. Going away for a few days without any internet can be extremely beneficial.
Optional: Get rid of your smartphone
My favorite thing to do when I am truly looking to embrace digital minimalism is to get rid of my iPhone completely.
This is what I refer to as a “hard reset” – you don’t have to do it forever, but getting rid of your smartphone for a month or two will allow your brain to get used to living without it.
Some people like to get rid of their access to technology completely. You can then reintroduce optional technologies after a period, though obviously for many this may not be possible due to work and other commitments.
But by simply switching from a smartphone to an old phone, you can still receive phone calls on your device, and you’ll still be able to send a text message when needed too. Plus, using a flip phone feels pretty cool.
It can definitely be annoying if you use specific apps for payment and transport, but if you can do without your smartphone for a short period then I’d highly recommend trying this out.
Do the Things You Truly Love
Once you’ve run through everything above, a huge part of both minimalism and digital minimalism is trying to be intentional about what you do.
This means that with the time you save from decluttering and optimizing your life, you should do something valuable. It’s an ongoing process, and there are many positive aspects to living life this way.
And by “valuable”, this doesn’t mean money. In some cases, if you want to work more then that’s absolutely fine. But the idea is to use the extra time to focus on your core values.
This could be learning about philosophy, meditating, spending time with loved ones and doing other activities that add value to your life.
Whatever time you’ve saved should be filled in with wholesome replacements – just try not to get dragged back into your previous behavior.
More than just clearing your home full of physical clutter, it can be a good idea to perform a digital detox too. To truly embrace digital minimalism, you need to commit to change over the long term.
Tech companies are launching on a regular basis, and with them comes new digital distractions that we need to be aware of. Once you stop wasting time, you can begin to get a deeper understanding of your true desires.