Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

by Cal Newport

This is a guide for people looking to cut back on-screen time and devote this extra time to better use. The key to living well in a high-tech world is to spend less time using technology. By focusing on only a few carefully selected apps that strongly support the things you value, you can limit your technological exposure and gain valuable time previously wasted. 

Digital minimalism is not anti-technology. It is about minimizing the use of technology and optimizing this use to benefit you. It talks about human primordial instinct and desire and the ways that big corporate companies monopolize this to grab your attention and make a huge profit.

Summary Notes

A Minimal Solution

“Minimalists don’t mind missing out on small things; what worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make a good life good.”

If you want to maximize productivity and invest more time in your personal and professional life, you have to cut back on the amount of time you spend using your phone. However, you may find that some apps on your phone are beneficial to your goals and values. You may also be using some of them for entertainment or to blow off some steam.

The good news is that it is possible to use technology to support or even compliment your life. The key to doing this is to carefully select apps that hold to your values and goals and do not involve many distractions. This is what digital minimalism is all about. 

There are three core principles that digital minimalists adhere to: 

  • Clutter is costly: Having too many apps and devices you don't need takes time and attention away from your main goals and values.
  • Optimization is important: Choosing apps aligned with your values is not the only step to the minimalist lifestyle. You also need to learn how to use them best to reap their full benefits.
  • Intentionality is satisfying: Satisfaction comes from being intentional about how you engage with your chosen technology.

Following these principles will bring you more satisfaction in life—certainly more than if you were a maximalist. By focusing on less, you’ll be more productive and efficient as you learn to turn your attention to things that are more important than your gadgets. 

You’ll lead a happier and more gratifying life too, because you can spend more time nourishing your personal and social life—getting along with your family, friends, and even following your greatest passions.

Actions to take

Digital Declutter

“Getting started is the most important step.”

The digital declutter is highly recommended to get started on the right track. It works in the same way as factory resetting your computer or decluttering your house. 

When you have too much stuff on your computer, a factory reset will remove everything, leaving only the essential items needed for the computer to operate. Similarly, decluttering your house will remove any unwanted items that are taking up space or distracting.

A digital declutter takes 30 days. However, during this time, you are not taking a break from all technologies, just the optional technologies—those you can break away from for 30 days without harming your professional and personal life. 

After 30 days, you can reset and determine which technologies are essential for you. During these 30 days, you should also explore activities or behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.

Actions to take

Spend Time Alone

“Something as simple as silence might have shaped our country’s history.”

Everyone benefits from regular doses of solitude. Solitude is not only time alone from people but also, time alone with your thoughts. It is a state in which your mind is free from other people’s comments. It is when you focus on your thoughts instead of information given to you by others.

Solitude provides clarity, so you can understand yourself better. It is like a refreshment for a busy mind. However, due to technology, it is getting harder and harder to integrate solitude into your life.

The time you spend in solitude gives you the opportunity to clarify hard problems, regulate your emotions, build moral courage and strengthen relationships. If you'd rather avoid solitude, you may actually experience more problems. These include experiencing anxiety, anxiety-related disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

To flourish as a human being, you must think of solitude as a necessity. It will give you the insight and emotional balance that comes from unhurried self-reflection. It acts as a form of liberation from the cognitive oppression resulting in its absence.

Actions to take

Don’t Click “Like”

“Man is by nature a social animal.”

We can perform complicated social thinking tasks. However, most people do not realize that they are performing feats of social navigation and mind-reading throughout every day. Our brains are sophisticated social computers. But technology threatens to hinder the way we naturally operate. 

We crave social interaction, but as we evolve, we have replaced this interaction with technology. This can lead to serious issues such as experiencing loneliness, poor physical and mental health and lower satisfaction levels. If not handled properly, a lack of real-life social interactions can cause more harm in the future. 

Some ways to avoid experiencing these issues are to prioritize having more face-to-face conversations with people, not using social media to replace in-person interactions, and changing how you use social media to prevent having more digital conversations. This will lead you to attain better overall health.

Actions to take

Reclaim Leisure

“Worth depends on the existence of problems, difficulties, needs, which these activities aim to solve.”

It is no surprise that technology has been advancing rapidly in the last few years. Everyone has a piece of technology with them almost constantly and uses it for multiple purposes such as school or work. 

In recent years, work-life balance has been degrading as jobs have become more taxing. This has caused people to neglect community activities due to a lack of time. However, this will take a toll on your happiness.

Reclaiming leisure is about cultivating activities that are strenuous yet beneficial to you, like hiking, and those that you can do using your skills, such as playing an instrument, dominating a sports game, etc. 

Having rich and social interactions in the real world is another high-quality leisure activity we can participate in. There are two criteria for rich social interaction:

  • You must spend time with other people in person;
  • The activity must provide some structure such as rules, insider terminology, and shared goals. For example, playing board games, poker, or a sport.

Figure out how you want to reclaim your leisure, and you'll feel more balanced and happier in life.

Actions to take

Join the Attention Resistance

“Society often welcomes the benefit of a new innovation while struggling to harness its potential.”

We all know that technology has radically taken over the world in a short time. However, this is ultimately a ploy by big social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to divert our time and attention towards them. 

Both companies made a significant increase in revenue once the smartphone was released. They took that opportunity to market themselves to us. Before, we could only access these diversions on our computer. 

Now, we can access them anytime on our smartphones. We unknowingly fell into their trap. The more we use their services, the richer they get. Some things we can do to break out of their trap is deleting all social media apps on phones, controlling our use of distracting websites and apps, and downgrading our mobile devices to maximize productivity.

Actions to take

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