Geoff's Life

Thoughts Conceived While Walking

Digital Declutter Diary: Day 8

One of the principles outlined in Digital Minimalism is the idea that you should use the time claimed by spending less time on digital distractions to pursue hobbies and leisure activities. I’ve certainly found quite a lot of new time, and I’m using some if it on this blog.

I’ve intentionally picked at “hand-on” tool for managing content. Specifically, I’m use the Hugo website development framework. It’s been a delight to use, and I’ve enjoyed flexing developer muscles that I haven’t used in years. I started with the Blackburn theme, and I’m working bit-by-bit to create my own iteration for this site. Once I have it working to my liking, I’m going to release it to the large Hugo community.

It’s not a huge project, but it’s certainly been enjoyable to do a bit of digital carpentry!

Digital Declutter Diary: Day 7

Wow … I can’t believe that I’m one week in to the 30 day digital declutter already! The last couple of days have been super-busy. On Sunday I skied a 40k Tour of Anchorage cross-country ski race with my 13-year-old, and between prep, recovery, and coaching for Jr. Nordic on Saturday I didn’t find much time to write. And the last few days at work have been crazy.

I don’t really have a ton of time to write today either, but I did want to mention the fact that I’ve started to carry a weekly print edition of The Economist with me.

I simply keep in the same bag that holds my laptop and paper planner/notebook. It’s delightful way to keep informed, and the weekly format helps my escape the craziness of the 24-hour news cycle. I was originally intending to read it in a single sitting on Sunday morning, but I find that the “15 minutes here, 15 minutes there” method works well. And instead of spending time waiting at the dentist scanning headlines and reading summaries, I actually get time to digest the news in a much more in-depth format.

And I have just a few stray “one-week-in” observations before I sign off:

  1. The whole FOMO thing is subsiding.
  2. Folks have been remarkable supportive about the changes in my communications habits. I was expecting more pushback, but just the opposite has occurred.
  3. Not carrying a mobile phone most of the time has helped me be a lot more engaged in the moment, but on the downside I’m finding other people’s addictive phone behavior to be more frustrating.
  4. I’m finding that I now have a lot more time … in fact it’s enough that it’s simultaneously exhilarating and horrifying.
  5. The impact on my professional life has been 100% positive. I’m both more focused and more productive.
  6. The level of anxiety and stress in my life increased quite a bit for first three of four days of this experiment, but I’m new feeling less stress than usual in life. It’ll be interesting to see how that holds up over time…

Digital Declutter Diary: Day 4

Not too much to report from the weekend. Per my original plan I didn’t carry a phone with me either Saturday or Sunday, although I did compromise by keeping keeping my personal mobile phone in the car all weekend. I think that this represented a pretty nice compromise.

On the one hand, spending time at restaurants, trails, ski races, coffee shops, etc. sans phone is remarkably nice. It definitely helps me be much more “present” and less distracted in my life.

On the other hand, being able to coordinate with folks while I’m out of the house (although not while I’m driving!) is one of the real benefits of having a mobile phone. I don’t particularly want to give up the ability to call my wife from the grocery store, call for help if my car/bike breaks down, tell somebody if I’m running late for an appointment, etc.

And simply leaving the phone in the car allowed me to realize that advantage while still remaining phone-free the rest of the time.

My weapon of choice for the “car/bike” phone is a Nokia 3310:

It’s a great phone for the task, since it’s small, cheap, light, and has a batter that lasts for days.

Digital Declutter Diary: Day 3

So I’ve set up the Focus app on my laptop. I’m using this to block my access to the following sites:

  • Google News
  • Politico
  • The New York Times
  • The Economist
  • The Anchorage Daily News
  • FiveThirtyEight
  • Reddit
  • Apple Trailers
  • KTUU

As a result, when I go to site on the above list I get to see a page that looks something like this, complete with a random and annoyingly earnest productivity quote:

I bet I hit this page thirty or forty times today. It turns out that I have a fairly strong reflex to check a news site any time I get stuck on a task, frustrated, or bored. And I expect I lose several minutes with each news distraction. So the net result of not doing this is that I’m gaining quite a bit of extra time every day.

I kinda knew that I’d see something like this, but the result is a bit more dramatic than I imagined.

Digital Declutter Diary: Day 2

I have to admit that the FOMO-factor in this declutter experiment is higher than expected. I was thinking that because I’d already suffered through the pain of leaving social media many months ago that I’d have an easier time with this.

A significant percentage of my FOMO anxiety relates to texts. Today I processed all my texts twice as planned … once about mid-morning and again before I finished up with work. But in between those sessions I did spend time wondering whether I was missing anything time-sensitive communication.

One person who texted me did end up calling when I didn’t respond to his text quickly. But in that case I would’ve had to respond to the text with a call anyway. And in another case a coworkers simply came by my office when she didn’t hear back from me immediately via text. One day of data certainly isn’t enough to make a strong judgement, but so far it seems like people are clever enough try multiple ways of getting my attention when they really need it.

Interestingly, I probably saved time and had higher quality interactions with both people than I would have if I’d responded to their queries instantly via text. And when I was in “batch processing mode” I had time to carefully think though my response to each text in the queue and give them all better-considered responses.

So my FOMO anxiety is totally unjustified so far. Intellectually I expected that, but that doesn’t change the embarrassing emotional reality that I feel the FOMO anyway.

Digital Declutter Diary: Day 1

One of the initial challenges of this experiment is getting folks comfortable with my new communication regime. The fact that I’ve decided to stop (regularly) carrying a mobile phone outside of work hours has already caused some consternation at home. And my decision to maintain stricter separation between work and personal contact numbers and hours is prompting questions of “how do I know which number to use when I call or text you?”

I have to admit that I wasn’t anticipating this particular issue.

It’s a funny thing, since I remember when we all had separate work and phone numbers. But I do recognize that I’m breaking the what’s become the normal pattern, and that means the burden on communicating this to others is on me. To that end I’ve updated the contact page of this site, and tomorrow I’m going to email a select group of folks with my updated contact info. It’ll be interesting to see what reactions I get…

30-Day Digital Declutter

I’m just about to embark on the “Digital Declutter” exercise detailed in Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. The process includes three steps:

Step one is putting aside a thirty-day period during which I will take a break from all optional technologies. That starts today!

Step two is exploring and reengaging in non-digital activities and behaviors that I find particularly satisfying and meaningful. I’m honestly pretty excited about this part of the exercise. My hope is that the technology break will free time for me to chase a variety of neglected hobbies and interests.

And the final step is to thoughtfully reintroducing optional technologies into my life once the break is complete. For each technology I introduce, I’ll to determine what value (if any) it serves in my life, and then come up with a concrete plan detailing how I’ll use the technology to maximize this value while mitigating any negative impacts the technology has on my life.

In the book, Cal give the reader a fair amount of space to come up with his or her own definition of “optional technologies”. That probably make sense given the varied lifestyles and obligations of his readers, but since the slope here is fairly slippery I’m going to try to take as hard a line as I can manage.

So here’s my personal list of rules for the coming thirty days:

  1. No social media. This will actually be a pretty easy for me since I gave up Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter about a year ago. I still do have a LinkedIn account for work, and my intent is to only check it when I need to chase down contact somebody’s professional contact info. (Of course that should be easy, since that’s typically my primary LinkedIn use case.)
  2. Only read paper books. This is going to be a bit more work, since I’ve built up a habit of reading books using the Kindle app on my iPad. But I think this is probably an important step, since I often distract away from ready books to browsing the web while I use the iPad.
  3. Leave my smartphone at work. I currently carry a Unihertz Atom smartphone with an aggressively stripped down interface and suite of apps. I purchased the Atom part of a (partially successful) campaign to tame my phone use. This is my primary tool for communicating with coworkers and clients.
  4. Only carry a phone when it’s logistically helpful. In addition to the Atom, I have a Nokia 3310 dumb phone with a personal number. My plan during this 30 day period is to only carry either phone when I know that I need to communicate with somebody while I’m away from the house or office.
  5. I’m going to process emails and texts in batch. Unless I have some sort of communication emergency, I’m going to process work emails and texts once in the morning and again before I leave the office. And I’m going to process personal emails once daily in the morning while I’m going through work email. I’m lucky enough to have the flexibility to deal with personal email while I’m at the office.
  6. As part of the above step, I plan to turn off notifications for email and texts.
  7. I’m going to only watch TV socially.
  8. I’m going to stop reading all digital news. This includes The New York Times, Politico, FiveThirtyEight, the Anchorage Daily News, Reddit, Google News … just off the top of my head. I’ve set up Focus on my laptop to help enforce good habits. The means that I’ll be down to my print subscriptions for all news. This includes the Anchorage Daily News, the Economist, and the Anchorage Press. Plus I’m still planning to my local NPR station. I’m a news junkie, so I expect that this part will be a challenge.

During this exercise I’m going to pen a daily journal entry daily to chart my progress. My primary reason for journaling is really to keep myself honest, but I’m also hoping that other aspiring digital minimalists might find some useful lessons in adventure.

So here goes nuthin’! I’ll be back tomorrow with reflections on the first day, and hopefully I won’t be too stark raving mad by then…