When “focus harder” doesn’t work (does it ever?), I have to turn down the noise. One area of my life that used to be a major source of noise and distraction was my digital life. I literally remember taking my laptop everywhere I went to squeeze in a few more e-mails, listening to news radio in the car to make sure I was “up to date”, and mindlessly scrolling Facebook under a blanket as I rubbed my daughter’s back to help her get to sleep. These habits didn’t increase my productivity or happiness, but they did increase my stress levels. When I took control of my digital life in a very intentional way, I was embracing what is now known as digital minimalism.
Having practiced digital minimalism for years now, I know it’s a key component to thriving at work. A digital minimalist is one who focuses their attention on only using technology that adds value to their lives. It’s about clearing the noise generated by devices, apps, feeds, and pings that can overwhelm us. It’s not going off the technology grid. It’s refining my digital footprint down to the important few tools that bring joy, value, and ease to my life.
Interested? Here’s are 5 key traits of a digital minimalist that I practice.
- My phone is used for a purpose when it is touched. It isn’t checked unless I intend to respond or take action. It is a tool that connects me to people, entertainment, and information on my schedule. It doesn’t draw me in with alerts and push notification that I did not request.
- My social networks are limited to people I know and would want to spend a Saturday night with should they call. Or in the case of LinkedIn, people I would make time to have (virtual) coffee with or would help in a job search.
- I treat my inbox as a collection place for new messages, a place to be checked when I actually intend to answer e-mails. Imagine running to the physical mailbox every few minutes to see what someone has dropped off? Or even standing by it as you try and create a power point deck? It’s easy to say that’s a poor use of your energy. Yet, we pride ourselves as being “responsive” when we live with our inbox open in the background, switching out of tasks the moment something new comes in. What’s actually happening is we’re depriving ourselves of deep thinking needed to complete complex projects we are paid take on at work.
- I turned off the news feeds. Digital news isn’t like the old daily papers that could be picked up in our leisure. Instead, digital news can be forceful, loud, and biased. Digital minimalists take control of their news sources and limit ruthlessly. I’ve been actively filtering the news from my life for three years. Yet, I know who wins elections, I know when major events rock our world, and I know when my favorite authors release a new book. Have I missed anything? Yes, and that’s the point. For instance, I JUST found out Angelina and Brad got divorced. Sad news, but not necessary or helpful.
- I “shut down” at the end of the day. I go through a routine of closing my laptop, then use my phone or desktop computer for any further tech needs. Then, about an hour prior to bedtime, my phone goes upstairs for the night. Does this always work? No, but if I do need to reengage with the outside world, I’m doing so intentionally and not just out of habit or fear of missing out. If I keep the tech going all the way till bedtime, I don’t sleep well. And if I don’t sleep well, I don’t perform well the next day. I owe it to family, my colleagues, and myself to do everything possible to get sound sleep so I can greet each new day with energy and drive to care for others and get things done.
Is this sounding good, but you don’t know where to start? You can try one of these practices each month OR if you’re still not sure, check out my post on disabling e-mail notifications and getting more time for real work.