Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Planning for my Digital Declutter Experiment

Early in December, Cal Newport sent an email asking if anyone wanted to participate in his Digital Declutter Experiment. He is the author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” a book that changed my working habits last year. I reference that book every chance I get. I responded to his email within seven minutes of the sent time, which was a clear indication to me that I needed this experiment in 2018.

I consider myself fairly disciplined when it comes to digital media. I gave up my smartphone for 18 months. I refuse to install Facebook on my phone. I use the StayFocusd browser extension when I need to work. I use a regular alarm clock at home instead of my phone. When I’m out to dinner, I try to be present and keep my phone in my purse. I felt more in touch after reading Adam Alter’s book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked.”

But when I really think about it, digital technology consumes my daily life.

My email is almost always open and ready to distract me. I pride myself on responding to students as soon as I can. I scroll through my Instagram feed when I’m bored. I’ve probably already watched the latest MarieTV episode by noon on Tuesdays, the same morning she posts them. If you text me, I’ll probably see it immediately. My weekly print issues of Time already feel outdated when they arrive because I’ve been following the news too closely. I know too much about Meghan Markle’s life, not to mention the classmates from high school and their children that I’ve never met.

So the Digital Declutter Experiment coinciding with the new year made perfect sense for me. I’m writing this the day before we begin — January 1st. The experiment lasts for a month.

Cal Newport decided to give us vague guidelines on purpose. I threw a mini-tantrum in my head. “What?! No strict rules to follow? Doesn’t he know I’m an upholder?!” And then the social scientist side kicked in, “Wait, experiments have rules! We should be taking a pre-test and a post-test! We need operational definitions!”

Deep breath — I get to make this my own.

So here are my rules (many of these line up with the original guidelines):

  • Only check and respond to email 3 times a day (thanks to Inbox Pause for making this easy to implement).
  • I will not read the news online (this includes removing NPR from my Amazon Echo daily briefings).
  • I will not browse the internet for entertainment.
  • I will not mindlessly search on Facebook (thanks to News Feed Eradicator, this is already a lot easier).
  • I will check Instagram and Twitter only once per day.
  • I will not engage with my smartphone until after my first cup of coffee.

Working on these habits will change my January and workflow. My digital declutter experiment will give me the chance to engage in more deep work, especially writing. I’ll be writing about my progress each week this month.

I hope you’ll join us with your own digital decluttering experiment. What rules would you add or change for yourself?