Embracing digital minimalism by doing a digital declutter

24 July 2020

In his book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport recommends taking a month-long digital declutter. In this time, you should take a break from all “optional technologies” in your life.

Why? It’s easy to spend a lot of time on things like Twitter, Facebook or even reading the news. But these things don’t always add value to your life, and can distract you from the more important things.

Personally, I use my phone a lot. I scroll Reddit as I walk my dog (he’s old, so our walks involve a lot of standing still), and watch random YouTube videos as I eat dinner (and then continue to watch videos for a while longer after that). Sometimes when I wake up I'll scroll through Twitter and DEV before I can convince myself to get out of bed.

On my laptop, the internet can be super distracting too - I’ll be doing Japanese flashcards in one browser tab, but it will only be a few minutes before I think of some unrelated question that I want to Google, and before I know it, half an hour has gone by.

I don’t think mindless internet browsing really adds any value or enjoyment to my life, and I want to replace it with “better” things like reading a book, or listening to audiobooks.

My digital declutter

This coming week I’m taking a week off from work to relax, and I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to do a declutter.

My phone

The biggest obstacle to this my phone. In the past, I've tried to stop myself using it by putting it somewhere out of reach, or by telling myself to just not open up my browser. (This has not worked). I still want to use my phone though - as an alarm, for audiobooks, and to keep in contact with my family.

So the compromise for this week will be to turn off its connection to WiFi and data. Of course there's nothing stopping me from turning it back on, so we'll see how well this works. I'm hoping that the longer I manage to keep it off, the easier it will get, because I don't want to break that streak.

My laptop

Usually I still program on side projects during my time off, but this time I’m going to take a break from that too, because I can feel I’m starting to get a little bit burnt out.

I still want to use my laptop for Japanese study, so I’ll be using the Cold Turkey blocker to stop myself from browsing any unnecessary sites. In the past I’ve used it to block a list of sites, but I find that it’s still very easy to get distracted because the internet is endless and infinite. I could block 10 news sites, but I can still Google “news” and find one I can browse, if I really wanted to.

Instead I’m going to use its wildcard filter and block all sites. You can set certain sites as exceptions, so I’ll be allowing myself to visit a select few sites related to Japanese language learning, as well as Gmail and Google Calendar.

My gaming PC + PS4

I could take the digital declutter one step further and stop myself from playing any video games. I think for my 15 year old self, this could have been useful, but to be honest I think now I don’t play enough video games! So this week I want to allow myself to spend as much time as I want playing them. I've picked up the recently released Ghost of Tsushima, and if I finish that, I'm going to jump back into finishing off Red Dead Redemption 2.

I’m hoping with these rules in place I’ll be able to totally unwind and do more of the things I enjoy. And then come back as a more refreshed version of myself, ready to get back into side projects and work.

Wish me luck!