This year I decided to approach “resolutions” in an entirely different way. Of course, I wrote lots of goals (I haven’t become an entirely separate person); but, instead of them being all over the place, I decided to choose a word/theme for the year that would be my main focus. My North Star for 2019, if you will. That word was “minimalism” under which the sub-headings of “intentionality” and “simplicity” fall. I want to work towards being intentional in everything I do, everything I spend precious time and energy on, as well as everything I surround myself with – a big deal for someone who has spent the past 25 years just going-with-the-flow. Let’s be real, while there are many ways I would describe myself, “minimal,” “intentional,” and “simple” would not be any that jumped to mind. That is all going to change. MARK MY WORDS. After all, Leonardo da Vinci himself uttered the words “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” What I came to learn (thanks to reading a lot of books) is that intentionality is the sustainable approach to freedom.
One of the big focuses for January was to take a serious look at my habits related to technology and see where and how I could simplify in a significant way. In reality, I started this back in December, when I was so overwhelmed with news notifications that I deleted all my news apps and went on a full-blown news detox for the better part of three weeks. Slowly, I began to reintroduce news apps, news podcasts, and news-related emails to my life (I prefer to know what is going on) but I was considerate every time I allowed them to enter my world. Here is the thing – my life revolves around technology. I couldn’t do 90% of what I do without it. So creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with it became not only necessary in the short-term, but also for the long-term. Plus, technology is a tool, one that is supposed to make our lives *better* and *easier* — so why was it making me so stressed and overwhelmed that I wasn’t utilizing it in a way that improved my life? That seemed more than just a little silly.
Chances are, you are nodding your head reading along because you know exactly how I
feel felt. While I still have a way to go (I can continue to update you on my new tips and strategies if it is beneficial?!), I wanted to share the step-by-step list I compiled for myself when I realized that something had to change. Hopefully, this will be a valuable manual if you are looking to clean up your digital life so that you use just what you need in the most efficient way possible. Let’s get into it!
Let’s be real – your phone never leaves your side, it is crucial to your plan for world domination, and you really like your phone case. For these reasons alone, this is the best place to start your journey to digital minimalism.
1. Turn off as many notifications as possible. I have always hated those red badge apps, so the first thing I did was to turn off ALL my notifications. Yep, e-mail, texting, social media, news, the app store which seemingly every day screamed: “YOU HAVE 12324439482033 APPS TO UPDATE”. It instantly freed up a whole lot of mental clutter and gave me a clear base from which to evaluate what was essential and what wasn’t. Now I only have them on for my airline apps, the Apple news app, phone, Whatsapp, Slack (for work), and messages. Remember – not all notifications are of equal importance and an endless stream of dings and pings is only going to distract you from the stuff that really matters in your life. Trust me, the world won’t come to an end. When you want to check something, open the app and do so. Don’t let your apps dictate your actions.
2. Delete old contacts from your phone. Throughout a week, I browsed through my contact list and deleted numbers that I (probably) won’t need ever again. I had the digits of people I met at summer camp in 8th grade, individuals who came into my life for one night while traveling six years ago, and the like. I figured if we haven’t texted in the past five years, then we probably aren’t going to in the next five years…and, we are still connected on Facebook/Instagram, so it isn’t as though all communication barriers are cut off. This was wildly liberating and helped me reassess who is essential to me and with who I should be making more of an effort to regularly communicate.
3. Delete and organize apps. Long ago I organized my apps into clearly labeled folders that fit on only one page, and I find that routinely going through and deleting apps that I don’t use anymore helps to keep things in order. This time, I went a step further, and deleted apps that I do use but not that frequently. Now I use the browser version when the need arises — Facebook was a prime example. If you suffer from app deletion anxiety, remind yourself that you continue to own any apps you’ve already purchased, and can download them to your phone again whenever you want without paying a second time. Here is what my mindful home screen looks like…
4. Upload all photos to the cloud. This one I am still working on, as it is taking me a lot longer than I initially thought. I already have all my iPhone photos uploaded to iCloud and Google Photos; however, I want to continue going through and deleting unnecessary ones (old screenshots, duplicate images) that are stored on my actual phone. Eventually, this should mean that flicking through my photos is a way to see memories enjoyably and not just a clusterfuck of random images that serve no purpose.
5. Utilize search and screen time. Now that your phone is set-up to work for you, it is time to take advantage of the settings that are there to make your life better. Search is officially my new best friend. I use it not only to find apps but also to find content within them, such as someone’s phone number or a note in my Google Keep. You best believe my “Today View” (when you swipe left from the home screen) is personalized with the widgets I need to see a daily overview. Screen Time/Batteries/Reminders/Google Cal/Google Keep/Mindbody/Weather/Whatsapp are there so I can quickly and efficiently see anything important without having to go into my app folders and potentially (read: definitely) get distracted. The new iPhone update graced us with the “Screen Time” setting which keeps track of how much time you spend on each app and each category. Horrified by how much time I spent on social media (most people’s reaction to this update), I have set a daily limit of one hour for all social networking which is bloody difficult but a lot better than wasting my life scrolling Instagram.
6. Set up do not disturb. Finally, I have “Do Not Disturb” and “Bedtime” scheduled from 10 PM to 8 AM which means the lock screen dims, calls are silenced, and notifications don’t appear on my home screen until it ends.
1. Clean up your desktop. There is nothing worse than opening up your laptop to start your working day, only to be bombarded with a whole load of jumble on your desktop before you get started. Spend some time cleaning up your desktop by removing all the files and programs and putting them into appropriate folders in “documents”. Do yourself a favor and rename them so that you can use Spotlight to open them instead. Next, choose a clean wallpaper that won’t distract you but instead will help you focus. I like to rotate between motivational words and travel photos that remind me why I am about to spend a chunk of time on the computer in the first place. Then, auto-hide your dock (you can do this in Dock preferences), so it isn’t always popping out at you, luring you in.
2. Clean out your computer. Probably, the most time will be spent on this step, when you go through all your apps and documents and delete or uninstall everything that you don’t use. Either upload documents to the cloud (anything you don’t use regularly) or file them away in easy to locate folders so that you can locate them when necessary. The search tool is P-O-W-E-R-F-U-L so you don’t need lots of individual folders. I just have “Work”, “Personal”, and “Fun” and then search inside each one for what I need. If you are anything like me, then you don’t actually have much of anything saved on your actual computer because most things are stored in the cloud or on hard drives. This not only makes for a more streamlined experience, but it should also mean that it lasts way longer because you aren’t slowing it down with a lot of storage requirements. Once you have cleared everything out, check for updates on what you have left and actually install them.
3. Keep things clear. Now that you have cleared everything up, it is time to put into place a system that will keep it that way, so you don’t ever need to do a big sort-out again. At the end of each day, I try to close all my tabs and programs, delete or move all of my files from downloads, empty the trash, and turn off my computer. This doesn’t always happen (duh) so, as part of my Sunday weekly reset, I make sure to spend some time going through these steps.
4. Keep all your cords and computer accessories in one place. Cords, memory cards, hard drives, and the like all should go in one place, so you know where to find them. I carry around a large pouch with all the ones I regularly use and then store the rest in a specific drawer, so I always know where to find the cord to charge my Kindle, to connect my old hard drive… and so on.
Last but not least, the biggest monster of them all, the place that makes it extremely challenging to implement digital minimalism. But, YOU CAN DO IT! I BELIEVE IN YOU!
1. Monitor where you spend your time. Before you can take steps to improve your relationship with the Internet, you first need to know where the challenges emerge. For some, it may be blatantly obvious. For others, not so much. Using a browser plug-in (I use Time Tracker for Chrome) helps you see where you spend most of your time browsing and will highlight your time-wasters. Remember you want to stop (or at least decrease) the amount of time you spend browsing websites that do not contribute to your life. If you need more help, install a plugin that blocks websites or sets time limits such as StayFocusd for Chrome.
2. Unfollow and unsubscribe. Within the apps that I kept, it was also time to do a refresh. I went through Instagram, Twitter, Bloglovin, Youtube and unsubscribed from people and accounts that I no longer wanted to see. Not only has this helped cut down on the amount of time I spend on social media, but it also means that the apps are curated to help me stay up-to-date with the content that I genuinely enjoy. I also unsubscribed from podcasts I don’t listen to which gave me space to try out new ones and ordered my Spotify playlists so that I can find the ones that I regularly enjoy as well as those that frequently get updated with new music. It feels incredible and has made listening to podcasts and music a much more personalized experience.
3. Unsubscribe from emails. This is another step that I didn’t foresee still working on six weeks later; but, here I am, every morning unsubscribing from yet another newsletter or marketing email. Spending a couple of minutes each morning unsubscribing from newsletters, groups, mailing lists, and notifications will add up to a clearer inbox in the (hopefully), not too distant future.
4. Organize bookmarks. My bookmarks tabs felt like my podcast subscription box. I kept adding things, but it was such a mess that I wasn’t able to reap the benefits. I spent an evening (fun night!) taking charge. Delete old bookmarks that you no longer care about and then organize the ones you are keeping into clearly categorized folders. You may find that many of the links don’t need to be in your bookmarks at all and can instead be moved to documents in your Evernote or Google Keep.
5. Schedule times when you will check. If you find yourself suffering from e-mail fatigue, or are worried that you are going to miss out on a social life because you no longer have Facebook on your phone, schedule 25 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the evening to check the necessary apps or webpages. You shouldn’t be spending more time than that anyway!
One of the things that I have learned the most over the past few weeks of implementing digital minimalism is that it is a P-R-O-C-E-S-S. It doesn’t just happen once and then never again. I am still finding ways to declutter and streamline my phone/computer/and Internet usage and strategies for maintaining the calm I have created. At this point, I am just trying to focus on being a better gatekeeper of what I allow into my digital life and being intentional about what actually adds value.
Do you have any tips and tricks for simplifying your tech life?
Let me know in the comments below!