Towards the end of 2022, I ended up reading a few self-help books. Two that left a lasting impression on me were both by Cal Newport, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.
Ideas shared in Digital Minimalism are very aligned with my values and therefore highly resonated with me. The book quotes research and shares many practical ideas on how to minimise our tech usage that doesn’t serve us. Some of the things I had already been practicing so it was easier for me to build on that.
I’m sharing here some of the ways in which I have been able to minimise my phone and tech usage. While I understand it might help some people, It wasn’t helping me. I would go to bed frustrated on multiple evenings thinking about how let my day pass without getting anything done. It was not even restful, my time slipped through my hands via non-sensical videos more often than not.
Here are my tech hacks that has helped me tremendously:
Turned off all unnecessary notifications
This was something I did a while ago. The motivation was a combination of
- My irritability at my phone lighting up every few minutes
- Learning that once you have been distracted, it takes about 23 minutes to get back to focus
When I was traveling full time, ALL notifications on my phone were off. Now, I have turned on notifications for WhatsApp messages (not for group chats) and Instagram messages (it’s timed so I don’t see messages throughout the day).
Things like SMSs and phone calls cannot be ignored without blocking a number in my understanding.
Timed all the applications
Social Media is designed to keep us glued to our devices. From the infinite scroll to short form video content rampant on every platform, it sucks us in.
My solution to this is very simple. I had added a timer on all the applications that I still want to keep but use in moderation like Instagram.
This is how you can time your applications too on Android:
- Long Press on the App you would like to add a timer too
- Click on ‘App Info’
- Choose ‘Advanced’
- Press on ‘Screen Time’
- Click on ‘App Timer’ to set time.
Once this time is reached, the app gets disabled for the day. It greys out as well so it’s kind of less tempting to click.
I have not posted anything on my personal Facebook profile in months or even years and yet, I used to spend a long time scrolling through the app. I believed i had built a muscle memory to click the app whenever I unlocked my phone.
To do away with this, I just deleted the app. I promise it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. You can still access the application through Chrome. Deleting the app only create an additional hurdle that seems to be key to building habits (Read this in the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear).
Disabled applications that I couldn’t delete
Youtube was one more application, I struggled with. Turns out, I can’t delete it on my phone either. So, I decided to add a timer to this application with allowed minutes as ‘0’. This has greyed out the application on my phone as well. I have also deleted its name using Long Press – Edit option. This way, it shows at the bottom of my apps screen, greyed out.
Cleaned my phone for New Years
New years is usually an important part of the year for me. I take time off to reflect on my past year and plan for the next. I also usually like to start with a clean slate as much as possible.
In an effort to do that, I transferred all the previous images and videos to my laptop.
This saves me time that I spent looking at photos app but most importantly ever so often, I would get the message ‘not enough space on your phone’. I don’t have to deal with that anymore. On most days, I clean my phone of duplicate images at the end of the day.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I travel with two laptops at the moment. One is my personal laptop and another is work laptop (given by my client so I’ll travel with it as long as my contract lasts). Below is how I have defined my relationship with these laptops to get deep work done.
Work Laptop is only for Work
To be able to maximise my time, I ensure I use working hours to get as much work done as possible. So, I try to not use my work laptop for any distracting websites. The only time I use youtube is when I have to watch a work related video (which is extremely rare), and I use google to search for a precise question.
A clear To-do List
A sticky note on my work laptop works as my to-do list. Every little/big thing goes on it. I work through the list during the day and what I’m aiming for at the end of the day is an empty sticky note.
At times there are larger tasks on it, that I can’t get through during the day but there rarely is ever more than 3 items on the list before I shut down my laptop. This helps me limit my procrastination.
A minimal Email Inbox
Another year-end activity for me was clearing my flooded inbox. I redid the folder structure and pushed every email to the correct folder. Only emails that I was yet to reply to or take action were in my inbox. Now, everyday before I end, I make sure there is no scroll in my inbox which allows me a maximum of 6 emails. On an average day, I have about 3 emails at the end of the day.
This is again part of my ‘shutdown’ routine and helps me start the next day without any leftover anxiety.
There is a way to cheat the system though, at times, just to get rid of the scroll, I will move some emails without acting on it and instead add it to my to-do list.
No-scroll is a big part of my shutdown activities.
No notifications on Personal Laptop
My personal laptop is primarily for writing and entertainment. None of these I want to be interrupted in. So, all the notifications on my laptop are off as well.
Areas of Improvement
Here are a few things I would love to improve upon this year
It’s an idea that was shared in ‘Digital Minimalism’ book and I was very taken by it. I was amidst some conversation that was time sensitive but I’m past that now and ready to experiment with it.
The idea is to connect to internet on scheduled times instead of disconnecting it occasionally. The default here is disconnected and not the other way round.
I did consider work commitments into this and I realize if I connect every 30 minutes for 5-10 minutes, that is enough for my current work needs. Everything else I do is offline anyway.
Find activities to fill my days
While I do have many hobbies that fill up my days nicely. Some would say, I have too many hobbies even. But most of them I can’t use as a break like painting, writing. What I’m looking for is 5-15 min break activities, I can follow on the road easily. Either line up articles I want to read during the day, have a book handy, or have a set of exercises to complete during the day.
An Exercise for You
If you’re looking at minimising your time spent on devices or using them more intentionally, here’s something you can do today.
- List down all the gadgets you spend time on. Ex. Phone, Laptop, Kindle, iPad
- Against each device write down the purpose of that device for you
- List down how much time you want to spend on these devices
Remember, things stick when they are easier to follow so knowing how are you going to use the time you’ll gain, will be very useful in this exercise.