It’s time for a Book Review – I’m reviewing Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and sharing my thoughts and experiences with his digital detox process and how it’s helped me to rebuild my relationship with technology over the past couple of months.
Digital Minimalism is part how-to manual and part social and technological philosophy manifesto. The book jacket proclaims that minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough and goes on to explain that digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology usage. This book is about choosing a focused life and zeroing in on what we value in this life amidst the noise and distraction that comes from modern technologies – in our pockets and around every corner.
I was able to both listen to and read Digital Minimalism – both thanks to our local libraries audiobook and inter library loan process and I’m so glad it was recommended to me by a new friend and podcast guest. I have tried to decrease my dependency on and establish boundaries with my relationship with technology in the past by “life hacks” and simple tips and tricks such as leaving my phone plugged in in another room and disabling notifications. This was absolutely effective… in a very temporary way. In the book they dive into the fact that it’s hard to permanently reframe your digital life with tips and tricks – which made me feel better about the relative decrease in screen time these approaches temporarily generated in my life.
The crux of the book is that you have to dig deeply into your relationship with technology and breakdown the structure you’ve built… then it’s time to rebuild your relationship with technology from the ground up utilizing your core values. If you’ve been hanging around me here on Fulfilled or on Instagram @mrstracybingaman you know that core values are my spirit animal. Getting clear on your core values is so important and it’s essential as a part of this process to become a digital minimalist – head to the show notes to download your free guide to curate your core values as a part of this process.
Before we dive further into the process, let’s define Digital Minimalism as author and scientist Cal Newport does in the book.
Digital Minimalism – A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
In order to do this, to make this transition to become a digital minimalist – you have to develop a philosophy of technology use wherein you define the tools you’ll use, the reason you will use them and constraints or boundaries that specify how much and when you will utilize that tech.
It’s important to note that this digital minimalism – the goal is not to use as little tech as possible – the goal is to know how much is just enough to contribute to and work in alignment with your values. Essentially you do a quick cost-benefit analysis on each piece of technology in your life and use your values to determine your choices about using it. It helps to change the technology in your life from distractions to tools that support your one precious life to be a life that is well-lived. My favorite part is the fact that this entire process puts you back in the drivers seat – you are the curator of your own life and it empowers you to cultivate your own tools that are unique to your life that will result in massive and significant, specific benefits that align with your values.
WHY IT WORKS
3 PRINCIPLES of DIGITAL MINIMALISM
Ok – here are the 3 principles that are outlined as the keys to Digital Minimalism.
1 – CLUTTER IS COSTLY
Cluttering our time, attention, and life with devices, apps and services is costly. It costs us our focus, time and being present in our lives.
2 – OPTIMIZATION IS IMPORTANT
It’s the reason why you are listening to a podcast about improving your life, why you’d pick up a book like Digital Minimalism and the reason that you are reaching for a life that is better and more fulfilling than the one you are living today. This principle shares the importance of being careful with how you use tech first by deciding if you are going to use it and second by defining how you’ll use that tech.
3 – INTENTIONALITY IS SATISFYING
Being more intentional about the way you use technology in your life leads to significant satisfaction.
THE DIGITAL DECLUTTER
The method Cal Newport shares about and champions throughout this book is the rapid transformation of a 30-day digital declutter. Doing this process quickly and with determination has been shown to be more effective than small tweaks over time.
Here are the 3 prongs of The Digital Declutter approach:
- A 30-day period where you eliminate optional technology from your life.
- The exploration and discovery (or re-discovery) of activities and behaviors that are more satisfying and meaningful than the readily available and mind-numbing nature of the use of tech.
- Selective re-introduction of optional technology back into your life at the end of the 30-day declutter. For each technology that you re-introduce back into your life you take time to determine the value it adds to your life and you are exceedingly specific about how and when you will use it.
Ultimately this process, which I’ve done and I’ll share with you a little bit later on, it’s like hitting the reset or reboot on your relationship with technology. We’ve all accumulated this haphazard collection of habits, compulsions and sometimes truly addictive behaviors when it comes to how tech exists in our lives that can often subvert our values. This process of detox, declutter and selective reintroduction helps to leverage tech that is going to support your values.
Let’s break it down in a little bit more detail, for those of you who are really wanting to dig into this process, but might not have the book in your hands today.
STEP 1 – DEFINE TECHNOLOGY RULES
- Get clear on what’s optional in your life
- Be careful not to confuse convenient and critical technology
- My rules for technology during this digital declutter are as follows:
- No Instagram or Facebook scrolling
- Answering DMs on my laptop only
- Email on my laptop only
- Phone away (in glovebox) when the car is in drive
- Only checking text messages 3x daily at predetermined times
- Only logging in to peep podcast downloads 2x per day
STEP 2 – TAKE THAT 30-DAY BREAK
The book and my experience share about the first 1-2 weeks being an unpleasant detox period… After that, the discomfort decreased and new routines, habits and less dependency developed.
This detox period leads to clarity – it’s the thing that sparks sustainable transformation in your digital life.
The key – according to Cal and according to me – is spending time trying to discover what’s important and what you enjoy outside of tech. The success comes from cultivating high-quality alternatives to the relatively easy distraction that tech presents.
Hobby, books, family time, real time vs. time near kids with all eyes on devices/screens – increasing intentional interaction and decreasing rush and distraction.
STEP 3 – REINTRODUCE TECHNOLOGY
It’s been 30-days – you now have a blank slate and you strategically only let specific tech back in based on your new digital minimalism standards.
Tech to improve, align with core values and you joyfully miss out on everything else.
The Minimalist Tech Screen
- Allow optimal tech back in at the end of the digital detox – if and only if:
- 1. Serves something that you deeply value (offering only some small benefit isn’t enough)
- 2. Be the best way to use technology to serve this value (if not, replace it with something better)
- 3. Have a role constrained with standard operating procedures that define when and how to use it.
Tech – it was developed as this compulsive and constant communicating and connecting with each other – and it accidentally degraded our humanity.
Digital Minimalists – each new technology is seen as a tool to be used to support what they deeply value – not as a source of that value.
This process requires ongoing adjustments as new tech arrives and seasons shift and change.
In order to cultivate sustained success with this digital minimalism approach and your own 30-day digital detox – it’s not about the digital minimalism philosophy or even about the rules around tech – it’s about your quality of life. Seeing the value – feeling the improvement in your quality of life and leaning into those benefits. It’s more than rules. It’s about cultivating a life worth living in our current day and technology-laden age.
Ultimately Digital Minimalism is a book that empowers you AND gives you the tools to decide what tech you want to use, for what reason and how and under what specific circumstances. I’ve both slashed my screen time (what I thought the goal was) and reconnected with my love of reading, decorating, organizing and making our home a happier less cluttered place and invested in my relationships. Highly recommend for the busy momma who wants to leverage technology to enhance her life and stop being quite so addicted to her devices and be more invested in those around her!