I’m becoming a digital minimalist. Simply put, I’m doing this experiment because as a business owner my goal is to maximize my return on time invested. I want to get the maximum possible value out of the media and tech I use, while using the minimum possible amount of intentionally-spent time to achieve that. In my personal life, which is tied to my blog and my Real Life Vegan Wife social media accounts, I want to do the same thing, but with the goal of becoming more effective. I believe that when we step away from the constant distractions, deep, introspective thinking occurs and original work can be created. Better quality, thoughtful work.
Up front it’s an experiment but overall, it’s a lifestyle change.
I’ve been struggling with media and technology use since I opened my business, and to be honest, I hate it. My business inbox always has thousands of emails; my personal email is a joke, filled with junk I have yet to delete. I have messages on Instagram and Facebook that need to be returned, and when I look at my phone I get anxiety looking at the steady stream of texts coming in from clients, family, and friends. I leave messages unread so that I will remember to return them, and the little red numbers just add stress to my already full schedule. I am extremely grateful to have steady clientele, but the feeling of looming dread is a cloud hovering over me. The stress and anxiety caused by this constant state of needing to get back to someone is counterproductive to living a positive and effective life. The time I spend attending to this open stream of communication and NOT being an esthetician, makeup artist, or writer is astonishing and clearly not an efficient use of my time. And because the distractions are constant, flowing, and always accessible, it is almost impossible to sit quietly with my own thoughts for a time period long enough to produce something meaningful. There is a reason why I write at 5am.
But we feel trapped, right? At least I do. I know that many of us who grew up without social media and smart phones long for simpler times – quieter times. Nostalgia for the days spent in the college library doing research because that was the only access to the internet I had. Going on a weekend away and only thinking of responsibility after checking your answering machine when you return. Emailing someone for fun. Working during business hours. Using technology for it’s intended purpose, without being tied to communication 24/7.
But the thought of stepping away is terrifying, especially if you’re running any type of small business. You’ll miss important emails, client texts, forget to pay something – your opportunities for social networking will be diminished. You’ll be less visible, and therefore less successful because clients can’t find you, or talk to you as easily (so they’ll go with a different option), and other professionals can’t collaborate with you. And this simple assessment doesn’t even take into account how potential clients perceive you based on your social media presence, or lack thereof. As a small business owner we are very aware of the real implications of not being available. Losing potential clients, and missing out on opportunities that could help grow our careers are very real possibilities with huge life-altering consequences for our reputations and bank accounts. Without clients we don’t stay open.
I’ve lived in this stressful limbo for about three years now. Wearing all the hats of small-business-owner while also maintaining all my communication streams, website updates, and social media accounts. It’s exhausting, and takes up way too much time. I constantly feel like I’m failing at it. Maintaining and growing my blog and corresponding social media is currently enjoyable, but I want to keep it that way and be efficient with time spent. And I’m guilty of scrolling during the “free” moments. But for me it’s not as simple as quitting cold turkey, and I can’t maintain this lifestyle much longer. So what’s the solution? If we acknowledge that technology is neither inherently good or bad, but how we choose to use it is what matters, then how do we learn to exercise autonomy over our own attention?
Recently I listened to “Cal Newport on Digital Minimalism: Why Focus is the New Superpower” on the Rich Roll Podcast. And then I did more research, and listened to him on other podcasts, and ordered his books Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, which I will read for part two of this series. I am completely hooked on his ideas – he’s a computer scientist explaining that we spend too much time with tech, and I can respect that. He posits that for the first time in history humans have completely eliminated solitude from our lives and that this state of constant communication and never-ending cognitive demands is impacting our work quality and creativity, but also our physical and mental health. I agree completely. We’re walking, talking balls of anxiety and stress who fill every moment we used to spend in our own heads coming up with our own ideas, with someone else’s thoughts instead. We’re constantly interrupted or distracted. We’ve banished solitude, and with it our peace, our time, and our potential to produce our best original work. We’re also using tech as an escape from reality, which doesn’t remedy any of our real problems, but instead distracts us from them.
Cal Newport’s solution is a “Digital Declutter,” which he likens to the idea of “Marie Kondo-ing your digital life.” A thirty-day time period in which you only use technology and media if absolutely necessary. Obviously this is a broad term with a lot of gray area for interpretation, so this is where his books come in, and I will report back with more information and my personal action plan. During those thirty days it is absolutely essential to the success of this project to do some real “soul searching” to determine your “why.” Without a set of guiding principles or a framework for self discovery or improvement, most people will either struggle to finish the thirty days at all, or will revert back to all their previous habits as soon as the declutter is over. Think of it as a lifestyle change instead of a crash diet. He argues that we should be spending this time getting back to those “analog activities” that make us happy. Do what our grandparents used to do for fun. Go on a hike. Build something. Read a book. Sit in the sun. Do a craft. Enjoy a dinner with friends. You get the idea. Find yourself in a world where your phone or computer is no longer a crutch – find solitude. Realize what truly makes you happy. Rediscover your own powerful and influential thoughts.
After the thirty days are up, decide what technology and media actually works for you, improves your life, and gives you value. Then add it back in if you want to. If you’re happier without it and have determined it’s value was perceived and not actually real, then don’t. Don’t keep anything that doesn’t “spark joy.”
My next step in this process is to read his books, and then report back to you about my own detailed thirty day digital declutter. And then in January, I’ll disappear.
Headshot Photo: The Studio by Kimberly Ann
320 2nd Street, Eureka CA