Digital Minimalism: Summary and Review

Digital Minimalism

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

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Digital Minimalism

Review

I already cut back on most of my device usage even before reading this book, but there were lots of helpful tips on how to reduce digital distractions and increase focus that I’ve since implemented.

Summary

Part 1 talks about why you should digitally declutter. Essentially, the business models of social media companies incentivize them to engineer their apps for maximum addictiveness to keep you viewing as many advertisements as possible. Deep Work explains the benefits of decluttering.

Part 2 gives many good strategies for how to reduce distractions and increase focus. Here are the ones I found to be most helpful:

  • Deactivate all your accounts for 30 days. Then at the end of the 30 days, add back only the accounts where you can justify a concrete, quantifiable benefit.
  • Delete all social media apps from your phone
  • Uninstall the web browser from your phone (easier to do this on Android)
  • Permanently set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” except for calls from family and close friends
  • Put your phone in the mudroom, and only use it there and nowhere else in the house.
  • Find an alternate activity you can do alone, which Cal defines as “without input from other minds”. Listening to podcasts does not count as “alone”.
  • Talk walks when you need a break from work
  • Never “like” anything on social media. Instead, call or visit the person to say how much you like their thing.
  • Office hours and “5:30 rule”, make yourself available every day at a set time. “I’d love to get into that. Call me at 5:30 any day you want.”
  • It’s very important to plan a leisure activity to substitute for decreased screentime. Otherwise without a plan, you will default back to the slot machine of infinite scroll.

I also highly enjoyed Cal’s Analog Month Challenge, which I found incredibly satisfying and fulfilling to pull off:

Read

Commit to reading 3 – 4 new books during the month. It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction, sophisticated or fun. The goal is to rediscover what it feels like to make engagement with the written word an important part of your daily experience.

Move

Commit to going for a walk every single day of the month. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Leave your phone at home: just observe the world around you and think.

Connect

Hold a real conversation with 20 different people during the monthlong challenge. These conversations can be in person or over the phone/Facetime/Skype, but text-based communication doesn’t count (you must be able to hear the other person’s voice). To hit the 20 person mark will require some advance planning: you might consider calling old friends or taking various colleagues along for lunch and coffee breaks.

Make

Participate in a skilled hobby that requires you to interact with the physical world. This could be craft-based, like knitting, drawing, wood working, or, as I’ve taken to doing with my boys, building custom circuits. This could also be athletic, like biking, bow hunting, or, as is increasingly popular these days, Brazilian Ju Jitsu. Screen-based activities don’t count. To get the full analog benefit here, you need to encounter and overcome the resistances of the physical landscape that surrounds you, as this is what our minds have evolved to understand as productive action.

Join

Join something local that meets weekly. For many people, this might be the hardest commitment, but it’s arguably one of the most important, especially as we enter a political season where the pseudo-anonymity and limbic-triggers of the online world attempt to bring out the worse in us. There’s nothing more fundamentally human than gathering with a group of real people in real life to work on something real together. This has a way of lessening — even if just briefly — the sense of anxious despair that emanates from the online upside down.