How To Use Digital Minimalism To Free Your Time

I love technology. I really do.

But sometimes, I can’t help feeling that we’ve reached a point where we have developed almost an over-dependence on it – particularly when it comes to social media and communications tools.

Instead of us managing our technology, our technology now seems to be managing us.

Apps and social media platforms are designed in a way that exploits human psychology in order to keep us hooked. They are services that require our attention in order to survive and the algorithms are conditioning our habits.

While this has apparently still gone unnoticed by many, there is a growing movement now questioning the role of digital communication tools, how we use the and how much value they actually bring to our lives.

And out of this has come the philosophy of digital minimalism.

What exactly is digital minimalism?

The term digital minimalism seems to be attributed to Cal Newport, author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World”, “Deep Work” and others. It’s really just the application of the philosophy of minimalism to the way in which we use the technology in our lives.

Digital minimalism is defined by Newport as:

“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Cal Newport, “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Digital minimalism is not just about having less devices and apps, but being more in control of how we spend our time and attention.

It’s about not having a Pavlovian response to your notifications and choosing the technology you use on the terms that you dictate in a way that supports your lifestyle.

It’s about being more intentional about the way you spend your time.

It’s about simplifying your relationship with your devices and harnessing the technology without suffering the drawbacks associate with it.

I don’t know about you, but for me that sounds like a philosophy that fits right in with our time management theme.

How much time do we currently spend on our devices?

The short answer is: a lot.

According to RescueTime, data from 11,000 users of their app showed that the average amount of time spent using the phone was 3 hours and 15 minutes and that 20% of the total number surveyed spent over 4 and half hours a day on their phones.

Remember that is just phone use and does not include time spent on laptops and tablets, so the figures are likely to be much higher in reality.

They also found that very few people go more than a couple of hours each day without touching their phone, which is really quite indicative of our increasing dependence on our devices.

Stats are great and all, but what really matters is how much time you spend on your devices, so it’s a good idea to audit this, which can be done with your phone’s screen time app or with an app such as RescueTime.

Go audit yourself for a week. I dare you.

How to be a digital minimalist
Image by Andrea Piacquadio

How to become more digitally minimalist

For me, two of the biggest time-sucks are email and social media and if you can get a grip on them, you’re likely to find that you’ll have a huge amount of time available to you that wasn’t there before.

Becoming (more) digitally minimalist does not require you to remove these things from your life completely, but it does require you to take control.

I’ll show you how next.

1. Use Inbox Zero

The Inbox Zero Method is a strategy to reduce the amount of time you spend in your inbox that I cannot recommend highly enough.

I have been using it for the last year or so and it was a real game-changer for me.

I was one of those people who used to work with my email application all day, checking emails as and when notifications came in and if I hadn’t seen any notifications recently, I would jump in and click on the “Get All New Mail” button.

It was a constant distraction and operating in this manner really prevents you from focusing properly on any other task. I was becoming a slave to my email and dedicating my time to responding to the demands of others, rather than prioritizing my high-value tasks that contribute to 80% of my results.

I have written a comprehensive article on how to use Inbox Zero, so rather than repeating myself here, do yourself a favour and check it out. It might just change your life.


Man lying on grass taking a digital sabbatical
Take a break from social media / Image by Pixabay

2. Take a digital sabbatical

When it comes to dealing with social media, it can be difficult for some people due to the addictive and habitual nature of it. So I think the best way to attack this is to let you demonstrate to yourself how little value it adds to your life.

So here’s my recommended course of action I’ve taken straight from Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”, which reviewed in a previous post.

Some people are probably going to have a nosebleed at just the thought of this proposition, so take a deep breath, put some cotton wool up your nose and stick with me for a couple of minutes . . .

First of all, log out of all disable all notifications and log out of all of your social media accounts, because you’re going to stop using them.

(Don’t start hyperventilating.)

You’re not going to deactivate them – you’re simply signing out for a little while.

For thirty days to be precise.

When you do this, don’t announce that you are taking a break from social media (this is an important part of the strategy and I will explain why below) but if anybody gets in touch at any point during this sabbatical to ask why they haven’t seen you online recently, you can, of course, tell them what you’re doing. But don’t broadcast your intentions to the world in advance.

At the end of your little 30-day social media sabbatical, you should then ask yourself the following two questions regarding each of the platforms you have been away from.

  1. Would the last 30 days have been notably better if I had been using this platform?
  2. Did anyone actually care (or notice) that I wasn’t using this platform?

A ‘no’ to both questions is a clear reason to quit because there appears to be no value or benefit to anyone.

A clear ‘yes’ indicates that you would be justified in maintaining the use of the platform, but I’d still question how much of your time each day it is sucking from you.

If the answers are mixed, qualified or ambiguous, it comes down to your personal preference, but my recommendation would be to quit anyway.

The hardest part of this for most people is fear of missing out (FOMO). But once you realize you’re not missing out on anything, you can then face the reality that this stuff has zero importance in your life. You’ve just been conditioned to believe it has.

Another difficulty (or rather, delusion) that people have to face when trying this is the idea that other people actually give a damn whether or not you’re on social media.

There maybe some exceptions, but the reality is, no-one really gives a crap about your tweets or latest Instagram post. This sounds harsh, but it is the reality.

Your audiences here are fickle and fleeting and shallow.

They’re looking for a quick fix from the glory they find in how many retweets and likes and whatever it is they get from other people’s posts and if they don’t get it from you, they’ll quickly find it from someone else.

Be prepared for the fact that as well as not missing out, there’s a strong likelihood that you won’t be missed.

And this is why I said it is important not to announce that you are taking a break because just slipping away will reveal the true impact of your presence on social media.

Don’t take it personally that no-one cares about you on social media.

Instead, congratulate yourself that you have now created an extra chunk of time each week to dedicate to something more productive and worthwhile.

What you’re doing is the digital equivalent of cleaning out your closet. You’re removing everything that’s in there before deciding what should go back and what to ditch.

This is an awesome opportunity.

Use these thirty days to discover or rediscover hobbies and pastimes you find meaningful.

Spend more time with other people.

Reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

And practise spending time alone without your phone or laptop to entertain you. This is an important part of the process.

There’s a real world beyond social media, remember. 😉

Staring at phones
There’s a world beyond your phone / Image by fauxels

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

From a time management perspective, it makes sense to limit the time you spend doing non-goal orientated stuff on your devices.

I have personally ditched most of my social media activity and although I still have a few active accounts, I am logged out of most them permanently. For me, less time on social media means I have more time to dedicate to the things are more important to me.

If you’ve decided that you’re going to continue to use social media, make sure you block out time for it and stick to that block only.

Don’t look at it at any other time of day.

To help you with this, you can try using a site blocker, which you can set to block your access to the sites and apps that you know are difficult for you to resist.

There are various site blocking apps and browser extensions you can use to do this, but my favourites are:

I have reviewed these and written more about internet distractions in this post: How To Deal With Internet Distractions

This type of app is really useful but once you develop a habit of not getting distracted by social media platforms (and websites), you might find that you don’t even need to block them anymore as you will not feel compelled to check them.

Give a bit of digital minimalism a go and see how it affects your time management and productivity.

While You’re Here . . .

Get your time management off to a flying start with my 5-Day Hack-A-Day Challenge!

Every day for five days, you’ll receive a challenge designed to improve your time management straight to your inbox.

Give it a go!

It’s free to register here.

5-day hack-a-day challenge

More reading

Does Inbox Zero Work?

Deep Work: Book Review

How To Beat The Snooze Button

Why Time Management Is Important

10 Time Management Tips For Entrepreneurs

[Featured image credit: William Iven]

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