Digital Minimalism: Cut the Clutter

More than half of the global population uses the internet and owns smartphones. That’s a good thing, right?

Not entirely.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, warns against the negative effects of living overconnected lives on his blog.

In the knowledge economy, the ability to do deep work is a superpower, and digital clutter makes that kind of focused, uninterrupted work next to impossible. Just look at the some of the superheroes of the Information Age. J.K Rowling, Steve Jobs, Adam Grant, and even Mark Zuckerberg practice some form of deep work.

If you’ve been following us, you probably know by now that we love deep work and follow Cal’s blog. Recently, he’s been writing about a practice he uses to eliminate distraction: digital minimalism.

What is digital minimalism?

Simply put, digital minimalism is the intentional use of digital tools. Less simply, it asks you to consider every app, tool, and website you use. Does the tool have the potential to improve your life in a meaningful way? If so, by all means, keep using it. Otherwise, it’s probably just stealing your time and attention.

Answering that question isn’t always easy, so Newport provides a framework you can use to do a digital audit by thinking about different levels of value. He distinguishes between core value, minor value, and invented value:

Core Value. A technology offers you core value if it significantly impacts a part of your life that you couldn’t do without — a strand of activity twined around your definition of a life well-lived. For example, a soldier deployed overseas using FaceTime to chat with her family is deriving core value from this tool.
Minor Value. A technology offers you minor value if it provides some moderate positive benefits in the moment. For example, browsing a comedian’s Twitter feed for a laugh, or playing a round of Candy Crush for the distraction.
Invented Value. A technology offers you invented value if it solves a problem that you didn’t know existed before the tool came along.

Even if you’ve figured which apps to delete and which websites to un-bookmark, the de-cluttering process (and breaking digital habits) can still be hard.

According to Newport, there are a couple ways to feel less devastated about hitting that delete button.

1. Get over FOMO

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is one of the side effects of overconnectedness. Many apps and tools, particularly social media, are designed to hook you into using them. Your time and attention are valuable — don’t let social media (or any other online distraction) hijack them.

2. Look for online tools that support living better offline

Seek out digital tools that help you connect with communities or activities that you care about. Creativity is always more fulfilling than consumption.

Is digital minimalism possible at work?

What about digital minimalism at work? Isn’t it difficult to disconnect when your job involves working online all day? For remote workers and teams in particular, digital technology is often a constant and necessary presence. We definitely wouldn’t get much done if we didn’t use technology to collaborate.

So does digital minimalism have any role in the workplace?

Minimalism is all about intentionality. So while tools like email, Slack, and smartphones are important for workplace communication, you can still be intentional about how they impact your workflow and productivity.

“When it comes to the world of work, more connectivity and more communication is not necessarily better. In fact, it often makes things worse.”
Cal Newport

How? Here’s a first step:

Mute the noise

You’ll never get any deep, focused work done if you’re constantly checking email or the alerts on your phone. So turn them off. Schedule specific times during the day to check in rather than letting them be a constant interruption. Tim Ferriss recommends checking email in batches two times a day.

If social media or certain blogs or websites are your digital siren call, try a tool that temporarily blocks access to them, like StayFocusd or Nanny. If you can’t keep your hands off your phone, apps like Forest or ClearLock encourage you to get back to work.

Need more help staying focused? Check out some of our other resources, and make sure to subscribe for our latest productivity tips.