Recently I read a few books surrounding habit forming in the digital age. The list includes Atomic Habits by James Clear, Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, and Indistractable by Nir Eyal. From this, my largest takeaway has been the importance of habits to create the life that I want to live. All of these books contain relevant, highly valuable material to learn in the digital age. Lessons from these books are even more important than ever during the pandemic — a time when I and many others have found themselves trapped at home, constantly surrounded by their digital devices, and are again and again in the same physical spaces and trains of thought.
As individuals are working from home and therefore are spending more time there than ever, success from a productivity standpoint during the pandemic will rely upon the relationships we build with the space we live in and the items we surround ourselves with. I decided to write down a few tips I have learned throughout the past six months while working from home, living in my 550 square foot apartment. These tips focus on habit formation. They will also summarize points from each book mentioned above.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear: It is the system that you operate in that will determine whether you accomplish your goals, not the goals themselves.
Sure, goals are helpful. But, keep this in mind; everyone in a game has the same goal — yet only one team or individual ends up winning. Instead of goal setting, focus on the system you operate in while you are trying to accomplish your goals and win the game. This is what actually differentiates individuals and teams from one another. As a personal example during the pandemic, I realized that I wanted to obtain the TensorFlow Developer Certificate from Google. Combining this goal with this lesson learned from Atomic Habits, I decided to make a change to my system and create a habit of reading through Hands-On Machine Learning Learning with Scikit-Learn, Keras, and TensorFlow, and the main change I made to the system was that I made this book easy to access: I left it out in front of my couch, I unplugged by television, and put it in my closet. Essentially, the book and the television swapped places. The result? Reading through the book was always at the forefront of my mind, and while this was a bit stressful at times, it also became much easier to do. I passed the exam and am now officially certified.
2. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport: Social media does more harm than good. Delete it, or at least figure out a way to manage your time on it.
Other than Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport touches on this concept in his book Deep Work and his Ted Talk titled “Why You Should Quit Social Media”. While some may argue that Newport is just trying to get people on his side since he has never had social media, he is able to cite numerous examples in Digital Minimalism of why avoiding social media leads to a more focused, less distracted, and more meaningful life. As someone who has followed Newport’s advice since finding it in Deep Work back in late 2017, I can undoubtedly say that I have had more focus in my life than what I otherwise would have. My main exceptions to social media are YouTube and LinkedIn (which I just created recently for professional purposes), and even with these I have felt an unfortunate and unrelenting sense of draw toward these applications. Their addiction is uncanny, and their omnipresence is shaking. I have frequently found myself reaching toward the applications at untimely moments, and determined that I want ways to counter this. I have decided to follow a technique similar to what Newport mentions in his book; setting your password to a difficult or random set of characters so you are forced to reset it each time you want to login to the application of choice. This acts as a helpful deterrent to not spend too much time on these applications.
3. Indistractable by Nir Eyal — Simplify your interactions with technology by scheduling time with it.
Nir Eyal writes an excellent book with numerous examples of living a simpler life with technology. As the aforementioned authors also mention, Eyal states that scheduling time for things such as email will help you not be constantly bombarded with messages. Organizations that are less distracted with technology are shown to have higher productivity, and one of the main distractions is email. Workers get email throughout the day while working hard on various tasks. Instead of being able to focus on finishing their tasks, individuals are seemingly asked to multi-task due to messaging notifications flying in from various applications that keep them constantly busy with things besides the work that they actually want to do and is most beneficial for the company. Finding ways to prevent this distraction, like pausing notifications except for certain times of the day, can be beneficial. Personally, I have found that leaving non-urgent email to wait until it needs a reply is often beneficial to my own productivity. I believe this advice may apply well for many individuals.
Take care, and think of the habits you have in your life. Consider the system in which you are operating these habits, and the potential changes to the system you can make by isolating unproductive technology habits such as those mentioned above. They have been helpful for me, and I strongly advocate for reading any of the books listed in this article.