Scrolling down an infinite page of updates passes time but it feels shit. You kill time rather than enjoying your time. This deflates you.
Doing something that takes effort feels better.
It’s easy to just scroll Facebook or Twitter for a bit, but it doesn’t feel good. Despite this, you can end up wasting hours a day doing it.
Big Tech companies spend millions of dollars researching how to make their apps as addictive as possible. Something you barely think about has been fine-tuned to be as manipulative as possible, that’s not a fair fight.
Take Facebook for example, it’s free, yet they make billions of dollars every year. They do this through advertising. Advertisers pay for you to look at their stuff and buy it. To Facebook, more time looking at the screen equals more money. If they can stop you ever looking away from their screens, they make more money. So their goals of making money, don’t align with your goal catching up with friends.
They don’t care if you enjoy the app, they care that you look at it.
Willpower alone will fail. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport has the tools you need.
The 30 Day Digital Declutter
- Take a 30 day break from the optional technologies in your life (social media, streaming, gaming etc)
- Explore and rediscover activities and behaviours you find satisfying and meaningful (reading, sports, travel)
- After the break, reintroduce tech you find valuable and meaningful, slowly.
1. What’s Your Optional Technology
To have a successful declutter, you need a plan. Having a plan will give you a written record to refer to, when things get tough.
Critical Vs Convenient
Write out a list of the technologies you use, defining them as “convenient” or “critical”.
Convenient technology you use to entertain yourself, or for fun and nothing more.
Critical technology includes apps you actually need to live. This could be maps to get around or emails to answer clients.
Exceptions to the Rule
Some convenient tech could be used in specific situations only. You don’t want to be with a group of friends and have to leave the room, because they put a movie on. Socialising could be an exception to a “no Netflix” rule.
Decide which technologies need a total ban. This can and should (in my opinion) include Facebook, Instagram and any other social media that harvests your personal data for profit.
Note: I am on Twitter, more on that later.
Remind Yourself Daily
Write down your rules on a small note and put the note somewhere you will see it everyday. This helpful reminder, could prevent you giving in when the declutter gets tough.
2. The 30-Day Break
The time has come. This is the difficult part, but the most rewarding as well.
30 days, isn’t a hard rule, but 1 month is a clear time and long enough to create a new routine.
Every Journey Starts with a Single Step
The first few weeks are the most difficult, this is when your natural rhythms will urge you to reach for your phone when you’re in a queue or put on Netflix when you have an hour to kill. After these first few weeks, it gets easier and eventually the urges die off.
Rediscover and Explore
The easiest way to fall back into the habit of mindless scrolling and watching is to have nothing to do instead. The beauty of Cal’s ideas, are that you aren’t expected to just power through the process. Instead, you replace the old unsatisfying activities with new, fulfilling ones.
Now is the time to try hobbies you used to enjoy, dust off the that bike and go for a ride, try another model kit you built as a kid or draw something just for fun.
It is also a time to explore new hobbies. You may not know what you would rather do than mindless binge-watches of Netflix shows. Try something new and see if you like it. The key is to look for activities that actively engage you.
Effort is rewarding.
Scrolling and binge-watching are easy, but that’s why they’re so unsatisfying. To actually build something, achieve something or get somewhere, takes more effort and that’s why it feels so much better. You’re going from passively to floating through life, to living life the way you want to.
3. Reintroduce Technology
30 days have passed. You no longer feel the urge to scroll through Instagram, like photos, or catch up on the latest memes.
Now you choose what tech gets to come back, based on if :
- It serves a deep value, not just some value.
- It is the best way to serve that value.
- You can decide how and when to use it.
Deep Value vs Some Value
You decide what matters to you. A deep value, could be YouTube, because you use it to learn new skills. Maybe the YouTube rabbit-holes were your issue, so you could get a plug-in that turns off the recommendation algorithm. Then use YouTube by searching for the lesson you want and leaving. No Browsing. You get the value you want and leave before you get sucked in.
Is the Technology the Best Tool for the Job?
If your goal is to keep in touch with your friends, maybe liking the occasional photo isn’t the best way. You build a much deeper connection by calling someone or having a video call or if you’re able, meeting in person. You will have a much more satisfying experience than just scrolling past their latest pics.
Have Rules for How and When to Use the Tech
You may come back from your 30 day break and realise you did actually get something from the information you get on Twitter. You may follow thought-leaders who post interesting content but don’t have a newsletter.
One way round this is to have a set time to go on Twitter, then you don’t go on anymore than that set time.
Adding friction to the processes can help too. Such as a rule to only use your PC for Twitter. The app is the most addictive version, because Big Tech know people always have their phones on them, so they pour the most additive functions into the app version. The added friction of having to turn on your computer just to go on Twitter may be enough to stop the addictive cue and you can go and do something better. This is strengthened if you log out of Twitter on your browser and delete the app on your phone.
30 days to reset your digital habits.