Should You Become a Digital Minimalist?

Takeaway: I chatted with Cal Newport, the author of Digital Minimalism, on the latest episode of Becoming Better. A few things you’ll take away from the chat: why digital technologies can be so addictive; that we should question the “constant companion” mode of using our phone; that we need more time for solitude; that distraction will always creep back in; and that we should try out a “digital declutter.”
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 43s.

Cal Newport is the author of six books—including Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You—and as a full-time professor who publishes five or six papers a year, he’s remarkably prolific, both in the academic and publishing world. I recently sat down with him for my new podcast, Becoming Better, to chat about his latest book, Digital Minimalism. The book describes a simple philosophy: that we should be spending less time in the digital world, and more time in the physical one. Instead of just blasting out a new blog post with a link to each new episode, I plan on writing up a short article that contains a few practical, tactical takeaways from each episode, in case you don’t have the time to listen (or you’re just not that into podcasts). This should let you peek at what we cover on each episode of the show, and should (hopefully!) sell you on whether each episode of the show is worth your time and attention.

Here are a few practical, tactical things that I hope you take from this one.

1. There are two factors that make some apps and websites so addictive:

Whether an app provides you with social approval, and whether it provides you with intermittent positive reinforcement (every once in a while, at an unpredictable interval, the service provides you with a nugget of stimulation). Pay attention to what apps and websites provide you with these two things. Facebook, Twitter, and Email are a few good examples. These are often the same apps that cause the greatest attentional control issues.

2. Question the “constant companion” model of using your phone.

Over time, our phones have become attached at our hip. Cal argues that this doesn’t have to be the case. You should, too. While our phones add quite a few features to our lives, question whether your phone is a device that you want to distract you constantly as you go about your day.

3. Carve out more time for solitude.

Solitude is when your mind is free from inputs from other minds. This is when our best ideas come to us, because our mind has a chance to think about problems we’ve hit an impasse with, and process the information we’ve been consuming. The more time we spend connected, the less time we have for solitude.

4. Distractions will always creep back in, no matter how good you get at taming them.

When I asked Cal what distractions seep into his life, he very quickly brought up baseball trade rumors. Most productivity experts I know face this same dilemma: despite our best efforts and intentions, distraction creeps back in. Even if you’re able to mostly keep distraction at bay, bring awareness to what distractions creep back in over time.

5. Try a digital declutter.

We chat about this idea in more depth in the episode. A digital declutter is where, for a period of 30 days, you go without all inessential apps and digital distractions. The trick, over this time, is to choose a few activities you’ll replace those distractions with—such as reading more, taking an improv class, or learning an instrument. Doing this can change your relationship with technology for the better.

Enjoy the episode, and have a wonderful week!

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