I Guess I’m A Digital Minimalist Now

My digital declutter ended about three weeks ago. After submitting a short article about it to the editor of the local magazine I freelance for, she had some logistical questions. I thought that the most beneficial way for me to answer these questions (and some others that I’ve gotten from friends and clients) would be to work them out in real time, on the blog. That way you can benefit from the broken-down, simplified answers. It’s important to be philosophical and introspective, but what about real-life application and practicality? This post is meant to wrap up my digital declutter series by breaking it down to it’s simple foundation – the “bones” of the experiment. That way you can move forward with practical tools and ideas to help implement digital minimalism principles into your own life.

Question 1: Was quitting all unnecessary technology hard?

The short answer is yes. Like any major lifestyle change, it was difficult for about the first week while I re-acclimated. That is exactly why I constructed a plan to implement less technology use over time, that way when I went “cold turkey” it was not such a shock to my system. I also defined what things I absolutely “needed” for my safety, and for my business to function properly, so I did not go 100% tech-free. Remember, it is a “digitally minimal” lifestyle, not a lifestyle completely devoid of all technology use.

The key to success is to have a plan. It’s as simple as that.

Question 2: What was your plan and how did you implement it?

The first thing I did was figure out how much technology I was using to begin with.

I would like to stress this point:

WITHOUT KNOWING HOW MUCH YOU ARE USING TECH, YOU WILL NOT HAVE AN OBJECTIVE STARTING POINT FROM WHICH TO REDUCE IT.

Numbers don’t lie.

For six months prior to my declutter experiment I tracked social media, texting, emails, and miscellaneous internet use, totaling out everything and writing the times down in my journal. I made it a point to reduce my consumption, if even by a small percentage, or a few minutes each week. After six months, I had reduced my consumption significantly (by about 80%) by just tracking it, and reducing it by nominal, almost unnoticeable (at the time) increments. This helped me to put into perspective how much time I was wasting, and how truly unnecessary most of the technology we spend our time with is.

The next part of my plan had to do with the actual 31-day period of time when I’d go without any technology that was not “necessary.” This means being extremely honest with yourself.

JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT DOES NOT MAKE IT NECESSARY FOR YOUR HEALTH, SAFETY, OR MAINTENANCE OF YOUR LIVELIHOOD.

Seriously.

I went through all the things I use and basically figured out what I could omit without it having serious real world implications for myself personally, or for my business.

I:

• Deleted email, social media, entertainment streaming, and shopping apps off of my phone. I decided that I could check email at work during business hours only, and taking a break from all the other things would be FINE.

For all of you small business owners who think the world will go up in flames if you do not participate in social media for one month, this is for you:

IT WILL NOT. AND YOU NEED THIS EXPERIMENT MORE THAN ANYONE TO SHOCK YOU BACK INTO HAVING SOME PERSPECTIVE.

I was you. The time away will HELP your business.

• Did not watch TV unless it was a movie that I specifically wanted to watch as part of a social activity with others. So no streaming, mindless watching, watching anything alone, commercials, or background noise. Yep, this means if you cohabitate with others who watch TV, you will spend a lot of time in the other room. This will be weird and isolating at first, but then you will realize it’s actually quiet and wonderful alone time.

• Only texted and checked emails during three fifteen minute, predetermined time frames. This included personal and business text/emails. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. If I was at work that day, I would schedule these in so I wouldn’t miss them, giving me an excuse to check my phone later. If someone wanted an immediate response, they would have to CALL me. All business was responded to during business hours, and NEVER outside of them. I set up an auto-text response so these hours were very clear for clients.

• Allowed myself to use technology that does not drain my energy, but enriches me. I know this is very subjective, but I encourage you to really dig deep when determining what these areas are for yourself. The whole point of this experiment is to differentiate between technology that promises value, and technology that actually delivers it for you specifically. I allowed myself unlimited podcast and audiobook listening. I still used my phone calendar, weather app, to do list app, my fitness apps, and Pinterest (for recipes only!).

• Did not use my phone for ANY internet surfing or searching at all. I set this hard and fast rule so that it couldn’t spiral out of control. If I needed to look anything up, pay bills, or do things for my business that required the internet, I waited to do it at work.

• Allowed myself room to fail. I had a situation come up where it was necessary that I use the internet to email and sign documents. I did this outside of my normal digitally minimal parameters. But in my opinion, it was necessary and I wasn’t going to let that ruin the rest of my experience. So I just made sure to take care of business, and then go back to my plan.

Question 3: Did your husband do it with you? How did that go?

No he did not. In the beginning it was difficult to see him constantly watching TV or being on his phone when I wanted to interact or not remove myself from the space he was in to go be by myself. But I got used to it after about a week. And I did notice as time went on that he was watching a bit less TV so we could eat dinner together, or relax before bed together which I really liked. He respected my boundaries but all in all, we did spend a lot more time apart.

I realized that just because we’re in the same room does not in any way mean that we are actually spending quality time together, and being around a noisy TV puts me in an instant bad mood if I don’t like what’s on. So after a while, I started to value my quiet, alone time, and noticed that when I get to spend my time reading or listening to a podcast instead of passively watching something I don’t like, I’m in a much better mood, and I’m much more relaxed after a long day. Noise just drains my energy.

Question 4: Have I gone back to how I was before?

No. Nor will I. I have made slight adjustments, but plan on living a digitally minimal life moving forward. I am much happier, and more mentally alert and productive this way.

I obviously have gone back to posting to social media and my blog once per week. I do not go on social media more than this. I download the apps to my phone to make my posts and then delete them right after. I plan to post using this same method for my business on occasion, but this stepping away from social media has actually had positive impacts on my business, allowing me to work on bigger ideas and projects which produce better, tangible results. If my books are full at work then it is irrelevant how much time I spend on social media.

I do not plan on putting email back on my phone ever. Checking it at work is just fine. I no longer respond to potential business through social media – everyone gets an auto response to call or email. This will not change. I did not reinstall any other streaming or shopping apps. I don’t need them, and they are a waste of time.

I have been more lax with my internet and texting use – straying away from the fifteen minute intervals, three times daily. But I can already notice that this is beginning to drain my energy, so I plan to figure out a happy medium where I can use the internet and check texts, but not do it all day. I like to be able to plug my phone in and just leave it alone.

And with TV, I have started watching some again, but I plan to make sure that the time spent there remains small.

Question 5: Would you recommend a digital declutter for others?

Yes. Just have a plan and stick to it. I wouldn’t waste time doing it for any period of time shorter than 2-3 weeks. Less than that, and it’s not long enough to reap real benefits, in my opinion. I felt like a month was perfect.

Question 6: What was your favorite part of your experience?

Aside from learning A LOT about myself, it was all the reading I did. My attention span dramatically increased and my real, true love for reading and learning was reignited. I read FOURTEEN books in January. Last year, I read 21 TOTAL.

My new life goal is to learn how to feel like my true self- how I felt in my favorite wedding picture of myself, as often as possible. Purely happy and free.

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Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Resources: https://www.calnewport.com

Signing Off

I’m signing off until February first.

My biggest non-work-related goal in 2019 was to blog once a week and I almost made it! This is my 49th post this year, and while I’m proud of what I created, I’m mostly proud that I allowed myself to follow my curiosities enough to reconnect with writing. It’s led me down so many interesting paths and opened so many new doors in just one year.

But mostly, it’s opened my eyes to one big truth about myself that Elizabeth Gilbert explains so eloquently in her book Big Magic:

If I’m not actively creating something, then chances are I am probably actively destroying something- myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind.

For those of you who have followed my blog continuously throughout 2019, you’re likely aware of my “digital declutter” and the inspiration for my sabbatical from technology. For those of you who may be new to The Real Life Vegan Wife, I’ve been researching, preparing, and writing about this plan for the last six months, and my “Digital Minimalism” entries are great references for additional context.

This post is going to outline my plan to live more presently, more free of anxiety and social pressures, and to ultimately implement a long-term plan to coexist with technologies in a much healthier, (for me) minimal way. This is not meant to be a short term “break from social media” or “vacation from technology” for work. My goal is to teach myself how to use technology to my advantage when applicable, and let the rest fall away to make room for what I truly value in my life – in-person engagement with my community, time with friends and family, writing, reading, meditating, fitness and food, and growing my business without all the unwelcome mental clutter that 24/7 engagement encourages.

I plan to spend the month of January reflecting on what technologies are truly useful to me and what I do not need in my life moving forward. This will also be a time for me to sit quietly with my thoughts in order to remember (although I do have a fairly clear idea) what activities truly bring me happiness, contentment, joy and prosperity and what activities promise these things, but ultimately do not deliver. Lastly, during my month away, I plan to reconnect with my creativity in order to bring you thoughtful writing moving forward in 2020. And in order to write about interesting things, I have to actually go do or learn some interesting things. Obviously I’ll start back with an assessment of how my month off went.

Over the last six months, in an attempt to make the sting of digital minimalism hurt just a bit less, I have significantly minimized my engagement with social media and have set clear boundaries in my work life regarding communications. But in order for this plan to succeed, and for me to learn anything useful from it, I realized early on that I would have to have an outline of specific and clear “rules” and regulations that I can follow. This way I won’t become so worn down with decision fatigue that I ultimately give up mid-way through, or as soon as something becomes too inconvenient.

Here is the outline I’ve come up with so far:

Social Media Use:

Currently I use Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube and have systematically reduced my usage by about 90% since I first began this experiment. I now rarely make personal posts and use my accounts strictly for business, blog, and book club purposes. I will be uninstalling these apps from my phone and will not use them at all during my digital declutter. I have determined that not posting anything for my blog (which I will not be publishing anyway for the month of January) and my business will not have any lasting negative effects on revenue or traffic. If anything, I think this will free up mental space for me to work on my business and writing in different and more efficient “big-picture” ways. After this experiment is over I hope to have a clear idea of how often I want to use social media in ways that only benefit me without wasting my time or mental energy.

Entertainment:

This includes television, radio, podcasts, news, music, video games, using the internet in any capacity and/or any apps on my phone. Since beginning this journey I have categorized all of the apps on my phone into different folders and have tracked my usage and their overall usefulness. The only apps that I will be using during the month of January are ones that I have determined to be “productive” to my overall well-being or my enjoyment of learning and that do not make me feel like they are presenting unwelcome demands on my time. This means that I will allow myself to listen to audiobooks, podcasts and music, will continue to use apps that track my workouts, my to-do lists, and my notes, but will not use my phone for internet use beyond those applications unless it is absolutely necessary for my business to function. Ie: Paying work bills online. I will not watch TV, play video games or games on my phone, and will not watch movies unless I’m going to an actual movie theater with friends or family as part of a social activity. I have curated a small media collection which includes physical subscriptions to Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Sunday New York Times, Veg News Magazine, and The New Yorker. These publications will be where I get my current stories and news from. My goal is to use this time to connect more closely with analog activities like reading, writing, crafting, exercise, etc. And possibly even try out some new activites.

Client & Personal Communication:

This category has been more difficult to navigate because of the work element. I use my phone to communicate with most of my clients and although I set up auto responses to all my social media accounts that instruct clients to call or email my business directly, I still struggle with constant texts, calls, and emails. I decided that the best way to handle this would be to set up specific hours during which I would respond to client communications – I have done this with an auto text response and this has been working well for the last several months. Essentially, I only respond to clients, check email and business voice mails during actual business hours, which has been a huge improvement over 24/7 checking and responding. The part that will change during my digital declutter will be how often I check these things. Currently I check my phone for messages between each client appointment during business hours, but moving forward I plan to have three designated times to check and respond to messages, therefore minimizing my overall time spent checking for communications, capacity for distraction, and therefore minimized productivity. I will set aside fifteen minutes in the morning, mid way through my work day, and then in the evening before I leave work.

As far as personal communications go, I will only read texts, emails, and listen to voicemails people send during the predetermined times I set aside for business, and will not respond unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. If someone would like to have a phone conversation we can do so during a predetermined time, but aside from that I will not be texting or emailing unless the consequences of not doing so will be negative and seriously high. I will answer phone calls from my favorites list which essentially includes close family, friends, and necessary vendors for my business before 6:30pm and then will put my phone on do not disturb so that anything received after that time will have to be from my favorites list and will be assumed to be an emergency so I will answer it.

I’m sure that I will encounter scenarios that I did not plan for, and will journal everything so that I can report back with the solutions and potential blind spots where my plans failed. Maybe this can help any of you looking to do your own digital declutter in the future.

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I’ve already experienced significant improvement with my anxiety and stress levels over the last several months working toward this goal. And I’ve successfully reallocated hundreds of hours of time to other interests or tasks. I’m excited to put enough perspective between myself and the technologies that I use to be able to make clear decisions regarding what I will keep in my life moving forward and what I plan to leave behind. And to be honest, I look forward to the solitude. I’ve learned that my productivity levels increase and my mood drastically improves when I allow myself time away – quiet time alone with my own thoughts, work, projects and hobbies. And while some people are content with little bits of solitude here and there, or an hour alone after work, I am learning that I require much more. Time to settle into myself and really think. Space where I can just be and exist without the constant pressures and demands of others on my time.

Recently I’ve been meditating on my young self – remembering to be more like her. Somehow when I was younger (we’re taking elementary school age) I intuitively knew solitude was the key to my creativity, incite, and peace. And I wasn’t afraid to go sit alone while everyone else was sitting together. Certainly, this means I miss out on some information, events, and even some tasks that others consider important. But I’ve made some peace with that part already because I’ve honed in on what is truly important to me, and I’m willing to let the rest go to be a happier person. After a month of reflection I’m excited to learn what my intentions and goals for 2020 will be.

I’ll see y’all in a month.

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Photo: The Studio by Kimberly Ann

2019 Book List

Every January first I sit down with my journal and I write down five personal and five business-related goals, then consciously forget about them until the following January when I finally quantify the progress I’ve made. Then I make new goals. Sometimes I’ve not met the previous ones to my standard, so I repeat them, acknowledging it’s a process and not a failure. Some goals I’ve repeated several years in a row.

As I get older I realize that for inspiration to find me, I must always be learning. The perfect Liz cocktail therefore includes: A specific amount of solitude (mental stillness or quietness alone with my own thoughts), time set aside for writing and writing alone, and a steady flow of books. Reading great stories helps me to learn style and flow, story construction, new words, and most importantly, new and different ideas. Reading brings me back to my real and true self, writing aids me in showing it.

At times, reviving my creative self has felt like waking up from a sleepy but satisfying hibernation, hungry to come out of my den for new ideas. Other times it feels like a violent reviving of my soul, shocking myself back from unconsciousness and a kind of temporary creative death.

As a strategy to read and create more, which ultimately makes me connect with my true and happy self on a regular basis, I implemented some strategies in 2019.

1) Read 30 minutes every morning before work when you’re having your coffee.

2) Try to also read on your days off instead of watching TV, or being on your phone.

3) Aim for completing one book per week.

4) Write one blog post per week for one year to see how it goes. It can be any length.

5) Set aside about five hours per week to write. Divvy it up however you want. Write about whatever you choose.

6) Try to freelance at least one article.

7) Start a book club.

Reviewing this list overwhelms me with gratitude for the progress I’ve made getting to (re)know my creative self this year. I mostly stick with goals one, two, and five on a regular basis, with some room for improvement of course. I only missed a couple of blog posts this year, but published one almost every single week. I freelanced several articles, and did in fact start that book club, and we’ve met twice so far. As far as the books go- I read 21. I plan on reading a couple more before the year is through, but I wanted to share my list with you for two reasons. One: So you can get new book ideas! And two: So you know that I didn’t even make it half way to my goal. But I don’t at all consider it a failure- I still read about fifteen more books this year than last, and I have no doubt that I’ll read even more in 2020.

Liz’s 2019 Book List

These are simply listed in the order I read them, with asterisks next to the five I most highly recommend at this time, based on how interesting they were, how much I learned from them this year, and their ability to influence my research and work. I read very little fiction, therefore I feel that the couple novels on the list deserve an imaginary and automatic asterisk for being amazing.

1) Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

2) American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Monica Hesse

3) The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

4) Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Laura Jane Grace

5) Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, Pam Houston

6) Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins

*7) Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

8) Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

*9) Deep Work, Cal Newport

10) Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport

11) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara

*12) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

13) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg

14) The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

*15) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh

16) Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with the Greatest Chef in the World, Jeff Gordinier

17) The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, Stacy Schiff

18) The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Shawn Achor

*19) Into The Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro, Rachel Slade

20) Shit the Moon Said: A Story of Sex, Drugs, and Ayahuasca, Gerard Powell

21) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next on the List / Will Read Before 2020:

22) The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker