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…

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