Digital Minimalism: My 5 Surprising Takeaways

Person holding a smartphone in hand, showing social media apps
Mental Health / Personal / Social Media

Digital Minimalism: My 5 Surprising Takeaways

Digital Minimalism is a 2019-best seller written by Cal Newport. It explores our relationship with technology that we have today and how we can claim back our time that we tend to lose to a digital world.

I’ve just completed listening to the audiobook and wanted to share my 5 main takeaways from Newport’s ideas. Most of them are featured in the book, but they also allowed me to think further, so it is a mix of Newport’s ideas and my thoughts on them.

1. Spending time on your phone is wasting time

Ok, let’s start with a big one. This claim is to be taken with a grain of salt because such broad statements are rarely 100% true. However, it is worth tracking the time you spend on your phone, or simply how often you check it. Once you have your data, how much of this is actual “quality time”, so you’re doing something that you actively meant to do (for example watch a video about a skill you would like to learn) and how often did you find yourself meaningless scrolling through your feed?

I know that “meaningless” might seem quite a strong word and it most likely never feels this way, so you might prefer the term “purposeful”. With what purpose did you pick up your phone or scroll around? Simply boredom?

PRACTICE: Remove all the apps you don’t NEED, most of them have a desktop version anyway, and perhaps set times when you MUST NOT access your phone or certain apps. Start small, maybe with one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon. If this is too hard, there are apps for that (a bit ironic but at least they serve a purpose).

2. Question the how – not the why!

Newport points out how a lot of spokesperson for certain apps tend to focus on WHY people use their product, but not HOW. So they feature all the benefits of Facebook but don’t talk about the hours that are spend scrolling around as you feed the algorithm. And, inevitably, the how is the more crucial part when we talk about digital minimalism.

So once you have perhaps removed certain apps from your phone, start to focus on the ones that are still on your phone. By this point, you will probably know WHY you are using them. But now it’s time to talk about the HOW. Allow me to give you an example here. I use Instagram to promote my yoga business, but I also use it to connect with other people, such as friends or fellow yoga teachers. But I also find myself frequently scrolling around, watching reels (Instagram, as well as other apps, are really good at allowing you to scroll without any effort) and suddenly 20 minutes have gone by. But that didn’t enable me to expand my business nor did I connect with anyone. When I think about it, most business topics can be done outside of Instagram (taking pictures and writing content in my notes). And connection? Let’s talk some more about why there are better ways for that in the next takeaway!

PRACTICE: Once you have some data, start to question the how for your top 5 digital products that you consume. Is this the best way to connect your how and your why or does your reason why not really play into how you use certain apps anymore?

3. Digital connection isn’t real connection

A lot of us use digital apps like social media or communication apps like WhatsApp to stay in touch with friends and family. We like someone’s wedding photo or image of a newborn, maybe we even comment on it. We’ve interacted, right? Well, not really though.

Social media apps really try to make you feel like you’ve just spoken to your friend or family member in person by leaving a like or a comment. But, did you really? Why not instead schedule a call with that person or maybe even send them a message about the picture – this might still not really be a “real” connection, but it’s about progress, not perfection.

Besides, there are many other issues about social media in general. I’ve touched on this in one of my other blog posts about the yoga community.

PRACTICE: Schedule a phone call (can also be done via one of those apps) with a friend you would like to catch up with again. Perhaps you want to then do this with more people on a regular basis.

4. We don’t have time for solitude anymore

This point by Newport was quite eye-opening. I already know from my nieces that boredom makes way for creativity, but I never continued to think more about this. We live in a digital world, where we rarely do JUST ONE THING. Quite often, we listen to background music, cook or eat while watching something or scroll as we wait for the bus. It is quite interesting how looking at your phone makes us seems like we are doing something, like when we’re waiting.

And as it might be hard to be alone with your thoughts at home without distractions, the author introduces solitude walks. This allows you to sort your thoughts and enables your mind to rest and reset. I don’t know about you, but recently I’ve felt more over-stimulated, maybe thanks to this book. And my first impulse was to take my phone out, but that was even more stimulating. Instead, I try to leave the house daily without my phone, even just for a short time or leave it at home if I am out with a friend and know that I won’t need it.

PRACTICE: Leave all your digital devices at home and go for a short walk in solitude. Start slow, 10 minutes can be more than enough to start with.

5. Schedule your leisure time

This was new for me – and seemed a bit odd at first. That idea of Newport’s came at a great time, as I was struggling to schedule my days in general anyway. So in the afternoon, I schedule one hour for reading and other leisure activities. If you want to reduce the time of passive leisure (aka anything non-purposeful and mainly digital) you could schedule this too so that you don’t spend too much time on it.

Active free time, as the author calls it, won’t be easy to integrate. It might seem easier to just lay back and watch Netflix, but if you ask yourself – was it truly rewarding? Perhaps reading a book or actively listening to an audiobook (and doing nothing else) is just as relaxing and will leave you calmer and more relaxed at the end.

This concept also allowed me to focus my time and energy on projects that I have been meaning to do for ages. I’ve started sewing and upcycling again and this lead to a challenge that I’ve set for myself, which is not to buy any clothes until the end of the year (4 months) and only use what I find or get given. Who knows if and how I would have started with this if it wasn’t for that book.

PRACTICE: What is something that you want to learn or achieve in your free time? Learn a new skill or language? Work backward here, so what is a goal in the near future that is achievable? Then, slowly work from a monthly plan to a weekly plan, how much effort do you want to put into it to achieve this goal? And then prove to yourself that you can do this!

Let’s be real…

… we will probably never live in a world that is going to be less digital. But, we can learn how to be more purposeful with it and reintroduce analog habits from decades ago – such as board game nights, dinner parties (perhaps even without phones), or spending more time in nature without our devices. The opportunities to carve out non-digital quality time for yourself or loved ones are endless. Just take it one step at a time and start to talk to the people around you – maybe you can inspire them and vice versa.

If you have any more ideas on how to live a more digital-conscious life, put them down in the comments below.

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