Digital Minimalism: How to Simplify Your Online Life

Dan Silvestre
Sep 18, 2018 · 9 min read
digital minimalism
digital minimalism

A little over a decade has passed but it seems like a century ago that our phones had a physical keyboard and we texted using SMS.

Ten years later we are addicted to technology. We crave for it. Here are alarming numbers from research:

  • Smartphone usage has doubled in the last 3 years
  • 1 of every 2 minutes spent online is on “leisure activities”, such as social media, video viewing, entertainment/music, and games
  • 1 of every 5 minutes spent online is on social media
  • The average person spends almost 3 hours per day on mobile

What Is Minimalism?

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, a book about cleaning, simplifying and organizing your belongings, brought minimalism into the mainstream.

It’s about living with intention. You make room — space and time — for the things you love and eliminate everything that distracts us from them.

You become intentional with what you choose to do and own and how it impacts your way of living, thinking, and perspective on life.

What Is Digital Minimalism?

As a part of Minimalism, Digital Minimalism embraces the same philosophy: to be intentional with our use of technology.

Digital Minimalism: Using the Computer Intentionally

digital minimalism
digital minimalism
  1. Choose a Clean Wallpaper: it might seem trivial, but your wallpaper can have an impact on your productivity. Pick a photo that won’t distract you but rather help you focus. I like Simple Desktops
  2. Auto-Hide the Dock: you can set it up in the Dock preferences
  3. Uninstall Programs: go through your apps and delete everything that you don’t use
  4. Install Updates: after clearing your unused apps, check for updates on the ones left and actually install them
  5. Work in Full-Screen Mode: most programs offer full-screen mode, a perfect way to block out distractions

Digital Minimalism: Simplifying Files

Time to graduate to something a little more tricky: files.

  1. Upload to the Cloud: now split your files into two categories: the ones you use regularly and the ones you don’t. For the later, upload them to the cloud. The major contenders are photos and old files you don’t need
  2. Make Content Searchable: choose easy to remember names for your folders and files so you can always find anything quickly using search
  3. Fewer Folders: search is so powerful now that filling becomes a thing of the past. Use fewer but bigger folders. I have “Work”, “Personal”, and “Fun” and then just search inside each one of them for what I need
  4. Clear to Neutral: at the end of the day, close all your tabs and programs, delete or move all the files from Downloads, empty the trash, and shut off your computer. By clearing to neutral you’re helping “future you” get started
  5. Access, Don’t Own: ownership can be stressful. Instead, take advantage of the access economy by streaming video and music

Digital Minimalism: A Better Phone Experience

digital minimalism
digital minimalism
  1. Remove Social Media: trust me, you’ll survive. Social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely a bad habit
  2. A Mindful Home Screen: place the 4 most used apps on your dock at the bottom. Put everything else into a single folder
  3. Clean Up Contacts: browse through your contact list and delete numbers you won’t need ever again
  4. Delete: the prime candidates are podcasts and music you don’t listen to anymore. Stream instead of downloading
  5. Now Use Search: you can use spotlight not only to find apps but also content within them, like finding someone’s phone number by typing their name. Search is your new best friend
  6. Remove Notifications: leave phone calls and text messages but remove all the other notifications. Trust me, the world won’t come to an end. When you want to check something, open the app and do so. Don’t let the app control you to open it
  7. Do Not Disturb: schedule Do Not Disturb after working hours so you can relax, such as from 8 PM to 8 AM

Digital Minimalism: Escaping Email Hell

The average adult checks their email 45 times.

digital minimalism
digital minimalism
  1. No Email Before 11 AM: spend the early morning performing Deep Workon critical work that moves the needle on your goals
  2. Have an End Time: one Pomodoro cycle (25 minutes) per session is more than enough to process email
  3. Close It: if you’re done, close it. Out of sight, out of mind
  4. Unsubscribe: from anything you don’t need, such as newsletters, groups, mailing lists, and notifications
  5. Send Fewer Emails: not every email needs a response, especially if it’s going to be “Thanks!”
  6. Delay Answers: many “urgent” emails tend to solve themselves
  7. Be Succinct: don’t write ten sentences when two suffice. Try replying to every email with three sentences or less
  8. Reply with Statements: don’t answer questions with another question. When asked “What time should we have the meeting at?”, be assertive: “10 AM”
  9. Get Up: if it’s going to take more than 10 minutes to write a reply, get up and go talk to your co-worker or wait until they take a break. Personal interactions beat email any day of the week

Digital Minimalism: Internet

digital minimalism
digital minimalism
  1. Unfollow & Unfriend: if it doesn’t interest, entertain, or inform you anymore it’s time to go. Our feeds are full of distracting posts from people we’re not particularly close to. Unfriend anyone that doesn’t add value to your life
  2. Delete Social Media: no sense using all the platforms available. Keep only the ones that you love. If you want to go hardcore, delete your profiles (here’s how to remove Facebook). To be less extreme simply de-activate your account
  3. No Bookmark Bar: next time you want to browse Reddit you’ll have to manually type it
  4. Review Your Reading: stop browsing websites that do not contribute to your life. Removing an option by default is the quickest way to change behavior
  5. Block Websites: blacklist websites that aren’t essential for work. In Mac use SelfControl; in Windows Cold Turkey; in Chrome StayFocusd; in Firefox use LeechBlock

Digital Minimalism Is a Process

The last thought I want to leave you with is that digital minimalism is not something that you do once and you’re done with it.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +469K people. Follow to join our community.

Dan Silvestre

Written by

I write about productivity and personal growth. Join my popular productivity hacking community:

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +469K people. Follow to join our community.