How to Declutter Your Digital Life

Takeaway: Doing a digital declutter helps you step back from your digital life, so you can see what parts of your digital world make your life better, and which parts you waste too much time on and have become addicted to. To conduct one, choose what apps/services/websites to not use for a month, what digital things you want to use less, and what analog things you plan on doing in place of these digital habits.

Article Reading Time: 3 minutes, 5s.

Podcast Length: 29 minutes, 58s.

On this week’s episode of Becoming Better, my cohost Ardyn and I dig into an experiment that we recently conducted: doing a one-month digital declutter. (I introduce Ardyn, my cohost, at the start of this week’s episode!)

A digital declutter—an idea that Cal Newport popularizes in his new book, Digital Minimalism—is an exercise where you step back from most parts of your digital life for one month, to see which things bring you the most value. (Here’s my interview with Cal from a couple weeks back, in case you’d like to hear a bit more about the idea.) 

The exercise is a simple one, but as we found, it can help you uncover things such as:

  • which parts of your life deliver the most value to you;
  • what digital distractions you waste the most time on;
  • which apps and websites you’re addicted to (or have become dependent on);

and more.

Ardyn and I chat about how to conduct a digital detox in the episode, but if you’re pressed for time or, heaven forbid, just don’t have the inclination to listen, here are the steps you should take to conduct a digital declutter of your own:

  1. Choose what digital things to abstain from for a month. Cal recommends disconnecting from as many digital services, apps, and devices as you possibly can. For the month of your digital declutter, you should eliminate all nonessential digital things from your life (such as social media and email on your phone).
  2. Choose which digital things you want to modify for that same period of time. When you can’t abstain from something—say, responding to texts or slack messages—make a plan to modify how often you check these services. For example, make a plan to check for new text messages just four times a day, while letting your close friends know you’ll be less available.
  3. Introduce some fun analog activities to replace the digital activities with. We chose to double down on analog activities such as learning the piano and cello, reading books, spending time with friends, and taking an improv class.

Here are a few simple suggestions to make your digital declutter a tad easier:

  • Know that the first week will be the toughest. It takes our mind around eight days to get accustomed to less stimulation—including from our digital world. The first week might be tough, but stick with it. Disconnecting becomes significantly easier after the first week.
  • Mind your digital twitches. When you feel a tinge of boredom coming on, what apps do you crave checking first? This may be a sign that you’ve become overly dependent on these apps.
  • Take advantage of the newfound whitespace in your calendar. Use the blocks of time that you free up when you disconnect from your digital world to let your mind wander, turn over ideas, and become more creative.
  • Do the declutter with your wife/husband/partner. In doing a digital declutter, you carve out more time for the people in your life. When you do one with your partner, you carve out more time for each other. You also get to hold each other accountable, as we found.
  • Physically write out what you’re not using for a month. It’s helpful to have a written, physical reminder of what digital habits you’re changing that you see regularly—whether you keep that list in the notepad you use throughout the day, on the fridge, or on the whiteboard in your office.
  • Leave your phone at home more often. This helps tame the impulse you may have to check it for new messages. It’s helpful to do this for both smaller blocks of time (e.g. when you run to the store to get groceries), and larger blocks of time (for the workday).

Below is a link to play the episode. Enjoy, and have a wonderful week!

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