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Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly supports things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

When discussing minimalism, the first thing that springs to mind is physical stuff. And whilst it makes sense that we tend to focus on our overflowing wardrobe or kitchen cupboards, our lives are just as cluttered in ways that aren’t as immediately obvious to the naked eye.

In fact, when it comes to dangerously time-sucking trivia and distractions, the need for digital minimalism is perhaps the most pressing topic in a 21st-century world.

I’ve spoken at length about how to be intentional with your time, and distracted scrolling is something I’ve definitely had my own battles with. Whether it was lost hours on social media, mindless binging of trash Netflix series, or sale emails prompting me to splurge on fast fashion hauls I really didn’t need, there was a time in which I didn’t truthfully feel in control of my screen time.

However, I also acknowledge that there are loads of positive things about having the digital world at our fingertips. For instance, the very fact that I’m able to publish this blog post and connect with you, wherever you happen to be in the world.

In short, tech is an equally disruptive and empowering tool – depending on how you use it. Finding a balance isn’t always easy, so I wanted to discuss some of the things that have worked for me when getting intentional with screen time.

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The Problem With Being Constantly Connected

I think we all have an awareness, on some level, that we are addicted to our tech. That said, the statistics are still pretty shocking. According to recent data:

  • The average person spends 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phone every day
  • 1 in 5 smartphone users spend upward of 4.5 hours on their phones
  • We check out phones around 58 times a day

Even more worrying is what this means. I probably don’t need to tell you that excessive smartphone use is associated with depression and anxiety. Despite being more connected with our peers than ever before, spending too much time online is problematic for our mental health, causing increased social anxiety, shyness and low self-esteem. We’re also training ourselves to have low attention spans, making it virtually impossible for us to concentrate on tasks that require focus and deep thinking.

Always remember that your favourite apps are designed to be addictive. Algorithms are in place on YouTube and social media platforms to keep you hooked – constantly learning what you like and providing you with just the right cocktail of personalised content to keep you scrolling. Email marketers also know how to create a false sense of urgency with ‘unmissable’ or time-sensitive deals. And Netflix has nailed the cliffhanger documentary series you can’t help but binge in one sitting.

In other words, whether you like it or not, you’re constantly being manipulated. None of this is in your own best interests. And, if you’re not careful, the pull of your digital tools can start to dictate your life. If any of these sound familiar, then a digital detox is something to seriously consider:

  • You wake up on your phone and go to bed on your phone
  • You can’t remember the last time you had a proper conversation with your partner
  • You prefer the ‘Like’ button to meaningful interactions
  • You can’t ignore a notification popping up on your phone
  • Most of your free time is spent looking at a screen
A row of people glued to their phone screens

Why a Digital Detox Shouldn’t Mean Deleting Everything

If all this sounds a bit doom and gloom, then don’t worry! I’m not saying you should give up your tech altogether. Just like you don’t need to get rid of all your worldly possessions or subscribe to a prescriptive list of household essentials to call yourself a minimalist, digital minimalism works in much the same way.

Minimalism, in all its forms, is less about reducing how much stuff you own, and more about being intentional with why you own what you do and how it can support you to live well.

It’s about designing your life around the things which matter to you and being ruthless about the rest.

So as tempting as it may at first appear, you don’t need to delete all your social media apps or unsubscribe from every single email. You simply need to be more mindful about aligning your digital life with your values. This way, you’ll feel more empowered and in control of your daily technology use.

This sounds great in theory, but of course, it’s never quite so straightforward in practice. Because even when we realise things aren’t good for us and we need to make healthy changes, the likelihood is that we’ve been conditioned in our daily digital activities over a long period – to the point where they’ve largely become ingrained and habit-driven.

Read on to discover how you can be more intentional with your tech use – without unplugging altogether!

13 Tips to Be More Intentional With Your Tech Use

Whilst there are plenty of tips out there for keeping on top of your digital clutter, this list provides more of a holistic approach to navigating your digital world. I hope it helps you to become more aware of your current tech use, as well as how you can be more streamlined moving forward.

Minimalist desk set-up

#1 Understand your tech use

Firstly, you’ve got to become aware of the problem before you can start to tackle it. So it’s essential to identify where you’re currently spending your time online, and exactly how much of it you’re spending.

Fortunately, you don’t need to make a log of everything yourself. If you have Apple products, you can use Screen Time to accurately assess how much time you spend on different apps by category. Simply toggle the option to ‘Share Across All Devices’ to report on your combined screen time across iPhone, iPad, MacBook, etc (Android devices have a similar dashboard via the Digital Wellbeing menu).

The only thing you may need to manually log is how much time you spend watching TV and your go-to programs.

With Screen Time, you’re able to view by week, which should give you a good overview of what an average Monday-Sunday looks like for you. It also means that you’ll be able to see your own personal patterns and weaknesses more clearly. For instance, it might be obvious that your screen time runs away with you in the evenings. Or, perhaps weekends are your real nemesis. Either way, you might be surprised at just how much time you spend and where.

#2 Identify the feelings you’re avoiding

Instagramming your morning coffee

One thing that’s critically important to understand about constant social media use is that it’s a way to alleviate pain. We might not even know which pain we’re trying to alleviate. It might be so deep-seated in us that we’re not aware of it.

With any kind of addiction – from hardcore gambling to a spot of light retail therapy – what many of us aren’t aware of is that we’re using these things to avoid deeper feelings.

For instance, when you post a picture of your morning latté on Instagram, it’s most likely bolstering your self-image and giving you a sense of validation when the likes roll in. But why the compulsive need to share it with the world – to look good? To make others think you’ve got your life together? Or are you sidestepping complicated issues around low self-esteem and self-worth?

Sometimes, the feeling we might be avoiding is simply boredom – aka the fear of sitting with ourselves in a quiet room. We’d rather do anything than risk having to look at ourselves too closely.

When it comes to your tech use, use your list from the previous exercise and ask yourself what is going on beneath the surface when you feel the inexplicable pull of these activities. What feelings do they give you? And how might you be avoiding something painful?

#3 Unplug for 30 days

Next, I like Cal Newport’s suggestion of undergoing a 30-day digital detox (this is the most hermit-esque we’re going to get, I promise!). So before you take any action to change your tech habits, you should first take an intentional break from all optional technologies in your life. You need to go through an elimination phase to understand your triggers before you can begin to safely reintroduce things.

Whilst you can keep anything that’s absolutely necessary for your daily life to function (e.g. your work email), you should step away from everything else (e.g. social media, Netflix, games, etc). To help stay accountable, make a list and either delete the apps from your home phone screen so they’re harder to access, or go a step further and block them altogether.

Whilst this may feel extreme, just remember that it’s not forever. And, if you’re really finding it tough, then this is a good indicator in itself to sit up and pay attention. Once you’re out the other end, you’ll have more clarity on what to let back into your life.

#4 Create more, consume less

Couple enjoying a bike ride

Whilst you’re undergoing the digital detox phase, Newport encourages you to explore ‘higher quality’ analogue activities to fill your new-found time with. The importance of this cannot be overstated – turning you from a passive consumer into an active creator.

When you start your day with social media or the news, you quite literally let your digital environment control your emotions. And this can easily end up setting the tone for the rest of your day. Instead, it’s much better to spend your morning being intentional with your activities and nurturing your own well-being, instead.

Whether you spend your time rediscovering your love of reading, going on a bike ride, or pursuing a hobby, you start to gain an appreciation of what pursuits bring you real satisfaction and joy. A good rule of thumb is to find interests where you experience a ‘flow’ state – in which you become so engrossed that time seems to fall away.

If you’re interested in building a creativity habit, you can dive into the subject in more detail over here.

#5 Know your values

Next, as with any area of your life, you need to be clear on your core values to guide you. This means having a deeper understanding on a personal level of what drives you, what you want to focus on, and what brings you long-term satisfaction and fulfilment. This way, you can judge your digital activities based on your values for a greater understanding of how your tech is serving you (or not, as the case may be).

At a fundamental level, it’s about getting clear on what is truly important to you, as opposed to what gives you instant gratification in the moment. Because this should dictate how you prioritise your time.

For instance, if you value meaningful connection, does Facebook bring you this? Or, if Learning is important to you, does Duolingo have its place? There’s no right or wrong answer, by the way!

Once you understand your values, you can make better-informed decisions about how to use your tech. If you haven’t already, I’d strongly recommend my core values exercise and workbook (see below) to get started:

#6 Curate your digital space

When it comes to reintroducing each app or tool, make sure to go through the process of asking yourself how it supports your value system.

For example, if you value Connection, you may find that Facebook is only allowing for shallow interactions where you mostly view people’s lives from a distance. In this instance, it could be that email is a better tool for you to truly connect with your friends.

This process will naturally involve letting go of certain aspects of your digital life – coming off social media platforms, or deleting apps and games which don’t serve you.

For myself, a couple of apps that passed the test were my digital journal and Kindle. This is because journaling supports my core value of Health, whilst reading feeds my values of Independent Thinking and Creativity. However, when it came to my personal Instagram account, I realised that it was nothing but a time sink and an opportunity to compare myself to other people in an unhelpful and draining way – so it didn’t make the cut.

Whilst I initially had a sense of FOMO, the truth is that these were not the kinds of meaningful interactions I craved. Anyone I care about in my life knows I’m not on Instagram, and that’s totally okay!

#7 Set yourself clear boundaries

Identify your core boundaries to set healthy boundaries

Once you’ve made these decisions, you need to be crystal clear on your intended usage. Do not fall into the trap of being vague!

By setting yourself clear boundaries for how you’ll use these platforms going forward, you avoid being a slave to the persistent ping of notifications or the YouTube rabbit holes of no return.

For instance, if you decide that Facebook does still serve a purpose, you’ll want to make sure you don’t go back to mindless scrolling. It therefore helps to write down your own set of rules for everything you want to keep in your digital world:

Facebook supports my core value of Connection. I go on Facebook in the evening for a maximum of 15 minutes and meaningfully interact with my community. I’ve also minimised my contacts to just those I value (rather than using my friends list as a vanity metric).

Or:

I need to action my emails and keep them organised, but I’m not required to deal with every single unread notification immediately. I allocate myself 30 minutes at the start and end of each day to catch up on emails. If anyone needs anything urgently outside of this, they can call me directly.

#8 Unsubscribe, unfollow, unfriend

Rather than getting suckered in by emails (or spending half your life deleting them like I used to), set aside some time to go through your regular email recipients. Then, unsubscribe from anything and everything that doesn’t support your vision and values. As an example, I used to be subscribed to SO many fashion websites, which unsurprisingly wasn’t helping me when it came to my spending habits!

You should also periodically carry out the same exercise when it comes to your phone contacts, Facebook friends, and accounts you follow.

In doing this, I realised that I was ‘friends’ with so many people I wouldn’t even know well enough to say hi to if I bumped into them on the street. Whether it was classmates I barely recognised from school or one-off acquaintances I no longer had anything to do with, it was actually a bit weird having access to their personal lives in this way. Plus, there were plenty of social media accounts that made me feel less than, anxious and depressed.

A bit like a wardrobe declutter, making these calls can feel painful in the moment. But overall, it gives you much better mental clarity and bandwidth to concentrate on the people and things which truly matter.

#9 Clear the visual clutter

Minimalist phone home screen

If you were to walk back into your home after a day at work and see piles of laundry, a blinking voicemail, and last night’s dirty dishes stacked in the sink… you’d likely feel a little overwhelmed.

And I realised that’s exactly how the mobile home screen and computer desktop were making me feel. There was just too much visually going on. I always felt stressed and like I had a million and one notifications to check up on.

What’s the best cure for this?

Well, the image above is what my phone home screen now screen looks like. I intentionally removed all of my apps and created a calming visual colour palette, with just my most used apps pinned to the bottom of the screen. I’ve mirrored this on my laptop.

I used to be completely addicted to notifications and wouldn’t be able to rest until I’d checked them. But this would often end up derailing my day and stop me from being fully present on the task at hand. By switching off my notifications and clearing the visual clutter, it’s completely eased any sense of stress or urgency when opening my devices.

#10 Create resistance

The handy knock-on effect of having decluttered my home screen is that it creates resistance when looking for any app outside of my pinned ones. This way, I give myself much fewer entry points into distraction.

To access other apps, I have to swipe right and search in my library. Whilst it’s not difficult to do, this extra step helps to catch me in the moment – making me question whether it’s something I really need to do or not.

Another way to create intentional resistance would be to introduce ‘App Limits’ or ‘Downtime’. With app limits, you can set yourself time limits on specific apps each day. And with downtime, you can schedule periods where only a limited number of apps are available. This way, if you know you struggle with mindless behaviour, it makes it much more difficult to get sidetracked by easily accessible distractions.

#11 No-phone zones

Couple on their phones in bed

If you haven’t already, then I would highly recommend making at least your bedroom and dinner table into no-phone zones.

Particularly for the late-night or early-morning scrollers, I can’t recommend this tip enough! Not only has switching off from blue light been proven to help you sleep better (it interferes with your circadian rhythm), but it also helps you to get up on your alarm when you have to get up and out of bed to turn it off.

Similarly, not having your phone at family meal times will help you to enjoy quality time together – infinitely improving your relationships when you’re fully present. It’s also a good idea in general to stop multi-tasking and be more mindful when eating.

#12 Avoid shallow interactions

The ‘Like’ button is a hallmark of just about every social media platform now, but something you should be wary of becoming over-reliant on.

In fact, the act of ‘liking’ has even been given its own alternative dictionary definition:

To electronically register one’s approval of something (such as an online post or comment) for others to see (as by clicking on an icon designed for that purpose).

One of my personal rules with all of my digital interactions is to try and avoid things which involve little thought or input. I once heard it said that hitting the like button is the digital equivalent of fast food – instant gratification for little nutritional value. And I thought that summed it up perfectly.

#13 Get comfortable spending time alone

Getting comfortable spending time by yourself

Finally, I know that I promised you wouldn’t become a hermit as a digital minimalist, but it’s so important to remember that we do need time as individuals to restore, recharge and disconnect. In order to think clearly and have a good relationship with yourself, it’s a good idea to schedule some daily real-world alone time – whether that’s going for a walk, writing in your journal, or spending some quiet time in meditation or reflection.

If you’re not used to doing this, it may feel a little strange at first (you may even have some tech withdrawal symptoms). But by carving out time for yourself regularly, you can’t help but get more comfortable in your own skin and find yourself relying less on addictive digital tools.

Be Intentional With Your Technology Use: Embrace Digital Minimalism

Screen time may not be something you’ve ever even identified as problematic, but it can be a revealing exercise when you look at how much time you’re spending in front of a screen on a daily basis.

Being intentional with your tech is an important aspect of intentional living, which involves getting clear on what apps and tools you bring into your life, the purpose they’re serving, as well as how and when you use them. Building your digital world around your personal values is the best way to feel empowered and in control, rather than using it as a means to escape your feelings or allowing yourself to be manipulated by algorithms and marketing strategies.

What have been your particular challenges when it comes to your digital world? And what solutions have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!

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