What is Digital Minimalism & How to become a Digital Minimalist?
There were many reasons for me to dig deep about the topic of what digital minimalism is. I always loved to work online, and I have been digitally inspired since starting my internet entrepreneurship journey back in 2014 full time. Since then, I kept working online while living as a digital nomad.
I wasn’t’ a minimalist back then and I wanted to do more to keep me busy and I took up anything I can do online to learn the vital skills. However, there were some consequences.
In 2020 I was challenged with various consequences of overusing digital devices for long hours to manage and run my online businesses.
Having worked on computers and smartphones for at least 10 hours every day for over 5 years has started to take its toll.
I started to experience sleep disturbances, including upsetting dreams and interruptions in my sleep patterns and even sore eyes. This continued and last December (2020) as I write this in 2021 it became a serious health concern.
As I was looking for a solution to work out why I was experiencing such issues and what I can do to reset myself and get back to full speed, I felt there were many leaking hours in my life following from this kind of lifestyle and I wanted to understand how to become a digital minimalist.
This is a self-discovery story and my blueprint for an efficient life with reduced distractions to achieve the best output from myself for my digital work and enterprises.
I decided to write this mini-guide for people to share my experience and what I learned from it with the aim to help everyone suffering from similar problems.
I want to explain what I discovered and learned and how everyone can do digital work in a balanced and healthy manner while achieving digital discipline for success and well-being.
What is Digital Minimalism?
There are many different definitions of digital minimalism and in my case, the definition is slightly different. When you search for this term on search engines you will come across various definitions, but the author Cal Newport has been cited as describing it in his book “Digital Minimalism” as follows: “Digital minimalism is a philosophy of technology use based on the understanding that our relationship with our apps, tools, and phones is nuanced and deserves more intention than we give it”.
Taking control of your digital consumption in a mindful manner with the discipline of usage is what digital minimalism is to me.
You must identify what needs your attention and how to cut the unnecessary clutter and distractions.
Filtering out what adds value to you and scheduling it so that you allocate your spare time carefully to anything that is not directly linked to your tasks or projects, has become vital for my own digital use management.
That way you have control of your time spent digitally and how to prioritize what is important to you.
Regain Control of Your Life with Digital Minimalism
A battalion of Napoleons will not capture the most powerful forces of them all – TIME. The government could take your money, the neighbour could infiltrate your parking space, the first child could take away your sleep; nobody will, however, take away your time from you, without your consent.
This could have been true 20 years ago, not today. Your smartphone is a candy shop, and you’re like a toddler craving a sugar-rush and you’re not even aware of it. Each day, your life is leaking hours, minute by minute. You are hopelessly reliant and deviated. I should know, I was too.
I am no Master, Just a Recent Convert
One late Monday in August 2020, I woke up at midday, bleary-eyed and tired, having spent several hours the night before spending time on Facebook browsing through and looking at things I cannot remember anymore.
I had missed an important Skype meeting with a client, on that same day and this wasn’t the only time it happened. I decided that I would take stock of my digital life before the next sunrise to move from digital maximalism to digital minimalism.
I did that and haven’t gone back to a life of app-temptation. Today, I am a saner and more productive person. And so can you. Call it what you please, the world calls it Digital Minimalism.
On Minimalism and Focus, of the Digital Variety
Minimalism, as a lifestyle philosophy, has become well known. At its core, it means living with less, as in fewer possessions. Proponents of the lifestyle, such as Leo Babauta, have claimed they own less than a hundred things.
The same applies to digital minimalism. Apps are tools to invade your free time. According to a recent poll of 2000 Britons, people spend more than 30 years of their lives looking at screens. Can you believe that? I was quite shocked, but when I reflected on how I used my time, I had to be honest with myself and admit: continuing with the maximal digital usage I was averaging, this could add up to this incredible number of years.
It has become normal to watch TV for two hours and spend another two on mobile phones browsing YouTube, Facebook, and IG in addition to the hours spent at the office looking at work-related information on a screen.
The time saved due to digital minimalism could be used for productive and valuable work, writing books, learning new skills, exercising, and above all, resting. And if you follow or research the daily routines of the most successful (digital) entrepreneurs out there, you will find a similar theme:
- They usually work towards concrete and reachable goals (longer- and shorter-term goals for every day/week/month/year).
- They have a strict morning routine and most start early in the morning with exercise, meditation or gratitude affirmations for a positive and mindful start to their day.
- They formulate a priorities list for each day according to their goals and tasks before they start with their work with the aim to complete them all.
Many digital entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg apply routines and repetitiveness to many aspects of their lives to avoid using their brain power for nonsense like choosing the perfect outfit every day, even when you’re just in your home office.
Your health is your wealth and for that, you must work out or do some sort of bodily activity each day, which is recommended by any GP you will speak to. I do yoga daily in the morning and after my daily digital work.
I try to run or cycle and lift weights at home each day. It gives me a sense of outdoor activity and provides my eyes and mind a rest as it’s a routine I have developed for myself and always follow unless there are emergencies that stop me from following it through.
You can check my YouTube channel to see how to get started with basic Yoga and home workouts that are especially suitable for knowledge workers sitting and standing long hours in front of their PC. Exercising the core and back is key to avoiding back pain for example. I tend to get so many creative or business ideas while doing Yoga and meditating and these two techniques will also greatly help with controlling and discipline your mind.
When should you Minimize your Digital Consumption?
Is there a criterion that you should use to lower your digital consumption?
If you ask me that question, I will say when your random use of apps begins to interfere with your work, sleep, exercise, and relationships with family and friends or your health as in my case – it is high time you should consider digital minimalism, detox, or declutter.
What to Choose Digitally for your Advantage?
Of course, I do not advocate that you give up your devices! Hello, I am a digital entrepreneur. I am not even suggesting that you quit social media.
My two online businesses and my personal brand as a digital entrepreneur and digital nomad rely on social media exposure and channels like Facebook have tremendously helped me create great friendships and business networks.
Both my SEO consultancy agency ClickDo Ltd. and my web hosting services company SeekaHost Ltd. took off with the help of Facebook traffic and I was spending hours to get the first 1000 clients until we ranked on Google and started to get organic customers as well as new customers from paid Google ads.
It took time and I was heavy into digital mediums to get clients from all over the world, creating videos on YouTube, streaming live answering questions or webinars on Facebook and constantly chatting to people on Messengers.
What is needed is moderation and a clear strategy.
Lack of will is something that is quite well known when it comes to how we use apps. You come across a humorous meme on Facebook and want to share it with friends. After sharing, you check back once every hour to find how many likes your share has received or every time you receive a notification you go back and then get distracted by other items in your feed. This can eat up important minutes of your day which add up and you must know how to control your reflexes, temptations, and habits.
There is no reason to check how many likes and shares you got. Use social media automation tools that will give you all the data you need on all your social media activity in one chart, saving you a lot of time and providing a lot more efficiency for planning your next marketing strategy.
That’s how I do it now and to be honest, I have developed a blocking mechanism in my mind to not to see what others post or share unless I consciously check on someone I know or want to connect with. I do respond to comments on my posts, but I usually wait for a day or two to ensure I don’t go back and forth.
Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram aimlessly is a meaningless habit and doing it first thing in the morning is one of the worst habits you can have. It will direct your mind towards things that are not important for your day as these posts aren’t filtered, but mostly random.
I, therefore, recommend starting the day right with a clear mind to get things on your to-do-list done will certainly help you achieve more in life with a laser-sharp focus.
Ideally, try to avoid social media until late afternoon or evenings after work and set yourself a time limit.
Plan your business posts or even personal posts on social media carefully and strategically, e.g., schedule them one afternoon for the whole week for example at the most recommended times for best visibility and to get the highest ROI.
If you can afford it, hire a VA to do such tasks for you at some point and only use social media were really necessary.
Avoid the social rat race and focus on what’s important to you.
There is a tiny time-bomb that goes tick-tick-tick at the back of your mind – am I popular? I liked Jane’s picture at a fashion show the day before; why has she not liked me back? I saw that she liked Jacob’s selfie at 8 AM! And on and on and on, ad-infinitum, that voice keeps on talking.
No, I won’t suggest that you use willpower. That would fail for the same reason that diets fail all the time. I would not even suggest that you use self-discipline. All I would say is that you take stock and regulate your time spent looking at the screen.
No digital worker can avoid work-related tasks – emails, Skype calls, virtual meetings. But other than that, how many hours are you spending on streaming videos, gaming, and useless scrolling of IG feeds?
Do you pause your work frequently to answer WhatsApp or Signal chats? If your answer is yes, I would suggest you track your digital time-spend for a week. If it exceeds 7 hours, then you need to take steps. Even that’s one hour per day answering messages that can wait while they distract you from the tasks you were doing. You can use distraction blocker apps like Forest, which rewards you for the time you don’t use your phone and you can set yourself goals. Every time you achieve a goal the team behind the app plant a tree for you (in the real world, yes).
With time I learned my lessons and developed strategies to remove myself from social media more. However, I don’t force any of my staff at ClickDo and SeekaHost to follow suit, but I encourage them to evaluate their use of social media and chat apps.
I show them visible results they can’t ignore like creating my SEO courses at the SeekaHost University, publishing my eBooks on Amazon Kindle while working out daily and living a more balanced life where I focus on my priorities.
Success Strategies to Scale your Digital Engagement
One of the main reasons I decided to write this book is that I see many people close to me who are very smart waste so much time getting lost on their digital devices with various unproductive activities like random browsing.
In my experience, it’s not very helpful to look at what others are up to unless you network, learn something from it and take action.
Do you watch Netflix? Learning something valuable from it? If yes, that’s great and I see there are many informative documentaries to get inspired and also be exposed to what’s happening in the digital world.
If the answer is no, get the hell out of it and start creating your own documentary, tutorial or movie daily. That’s a better way to live your life happier and more fulfilled because you’re producing something of value even if it’s just for entertainment.
How to make the most of your Digital Time?
- Before I go online, into my apps or onto streaming and social media platforms, I usually set myself a goal or intention for the use.
- I stick with this goal and follow it through, e.g., “I want to find the best entrepreneur film/documentary/story tonight to be inspired”.
- I only use related search terms, hashtags, or filters to already eliminate all the distractions that could tempt me to end up watching something else – AVOID THE FEED! It’s designed to hook you.
- I mostly follow authority and trustworthy institutions and organizations on my social media and YouTube channels (in the UK the BBC, Forbes, Ariana Huffington etc.) to ensure I only find high-quality content relevant for my searches.
- In my app settings, I disable many notifications to reduce the temptation to regularly enter them.
- In my web browsers I bookmark websites I find useful and trust for any business-related content and news so that I don’t go through endless search results on search engines.
- As an SEO consultant, I often use SEO analytics tools for my searches to find content that ranks well due to its quality, reviews and reach. This helps me filter out time wasters too.
Now I have no intention to tell you what to watch, read or consume, but if you want to use your precious time sensibly and effectively then these strategies I have used and tested should at least help with cutting out the crap.
Of course, there are times in the day where you may just look for entertainment and you don’t want to strain your brain. Perfectly fine, but believe me, even entertainment related content can vary hugely in quality and you don’t want to stimulate your already overused brain after a long day at the office with pure BS.
A quality drama based on says historic events can deliver both: learning new historic facts while enjoying a beautiful love story. I suppose what I am trying to say here is: it’s in your hands to create your ideal routine and lifestyle for your own utmost benefit and potential.
If I were using diet lingo, this would be called a portion control strategy (which actually is one of the best dieting strategies). Don’t deprive yourself of entertainment using the digital medium. But don’t gorge either. The golden mean works best.
Timing your Digitally Dependent Tasks Right
Do not use always-on connectivity as an excuse. We don’t have to be available all the time, it’s a myth. People who truly care about you and appreciate you and your time, will wait and be patient until you get back to them.
Between overflowing inboxes and constant flashing reminders on smartphones, it seems as if we don’t own our time anymore.
Be in control of your time – don’t let your digital devices control you!
What do I suggest?
My own schedule for the past few months looked something similar to this:
- >> I wake up and then grab the book next to me and read for 10 minutes (I used to grab the iPhone and check WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and then emails and waste at least 30 to 40 minutes with aimless checking and browsing) and then meditate for 15 to 20 minutes. **I meditate every single morning and evening.
- >> Then I get into some Yoga poses and move outdoors with movements to stimulate my mind and body connection. I will take calls from my teams during this time and I have already started my work by 8 am and by 9 am I do morning calls first with Kasun.
- >> Check work-related emails every hour. I would check in between only if I felt that an important email awaits my scrutiny.
- >> I do not read or reply to non-emergency messages on WhatsApp or iMessage, or Messenger immediately. I leave them for later in the day when I have completed some tasks or else during my afternoon. I only allocate 10-20 minutes at the end of the day to answering the most urgent emails and that’s the best to do if you want to become a high achiever in the digital economy by getting more done.
- >> I switch off notifications, sounds and pop-ups when I am focusing on a project or task. If anyone needs me urgently, they could always call me. It helps to have two mobile numbers – one for the immediate family and the other for work. But it is your call. At work we use Skype, and everything is on Skype during work time as we have been working remotely since 2015.
- >> I schedule how long I would like to watch TV every day/week/month. I create a rough weekly plan for how much time I want to spend on watching news, sports/fitness, movies/TV shows, tutorials, interviews etc. – I plan it out in advance using a plain notebook.
- >> If you are an avid gamer, schedule specific time slots for your RPG heaven.
- >> Above all, I do not let my digital habits interfere with my sleep pattern. Sleep deprivation due to screen time can trigger anxiety and depression. And I’ve been there. I’ve experienced insomnia and sleep issues a lot after long working hours in front of the PC for years. Now I try to complete all my digital tasks and communications before 8 pm to have enough time for my evening exercise and meditation before heading to bed at around 10 pm.
- >>When you lose sleep or if you are not getting a good night’s sleep of 7 to 9 hours daily overtime your mind and brainpower fades and your productivity decrease. You will be affected by it and you can push your limits with will power which I did. But it’s much better to know how to manage your mind and body well in this digital age and improve your performance for a long time to come. I kept going to build my businesses, but I wish I knew back then how to manage my digital use better so that I could have saved a lot of unproductive days.
I have uploaded some videos on my YouTube channel where you can learn about how to balance your consumption and production more effectively in the digital economy.
Why should you embrace Digital Minimalism?
Our brain is getting rewired when we use digital devices in combination with apps, especially social media.
Don’t think that it is an accident that you click on a random link. It has been engineered to be addictive to the extreme. Studies have shown that apps can be as addictive as alcohol and drugs.
What is of more concern is that social media use, in particular, has been linked to depression, anxiety, and a plethora of other negative traits such as narcissism. Recently, the press has covered this issue more with famous people like singer Jesy Nelson of the British girl group Little Mix going public about how bullying on social media nearly drove her to suicide.
It appears that especially younger people find it harder to control their digital consumption despite them being digital natives. This may be surprising, but I am glad that when I was a teenager, I didn’t have access to such apps. I would have certainly gone down the same route as I loved attention then (and still do now, but I am tamer). In a time where personalities are still developing and friends and reputations mean the world, social platforms can become traps.
I advise every parent to introduce their child to digital devices with caution, highlighting the dangers and also how to use them safely. Digital literacy is being taught in schools, but parents are the best role models.
Abandon Digital Devices for a Selected Period
If you are going to give up this deadly addiction and use apps rationally, it is best to start with a digital detox. Not any digital detox but a dopamine detox.
What is dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in producing feelings of joy and happiness. In other words, it is a chemical that makes you feel good.
From getting a like on FB to winning points at WoW – it is dopamine all the way that is triggered. That is why most apps are gamified to some extent.
To start with, for at least a whole day – yes 24 hours, stay away from all apps on your smartphone. Use a computing device only for work. This will be tough and most of you may not be able to achieve this right away. Informing everyone about this will make it slightly easier, but only you are in control.
If you cannot stay away from digital devices for a day (ideally go on a vipassana meditation) have a habit to completely switch off your digital devices each Sunday. You can use them for calls with family, to talk to friends or even business partners. But what’s important is to avoid looking at the screen and checking your apps or go through your emails.
At the start of your digital entrepreneurship journey, you will need to do this and my advice, if you haven’t yet been in the digital space for at least half a decade, is to go hard and do it all but to still be smart about not burning out.
Don’t even use Spotify. Listen to good old-fashioned FM for a while.
In fact, if you feel unhappy because Spotify, Netflix, or YT has been taken away, you should reevaluate your life and your emotions. Go for a long cycle ride or hike in nature. I go on long cycle rides each week and I do not even wear a headset to listen to music or take calls.
These are quite recent discoveries. Hundreds of generations of humans have done without short videos available at the click of a button.
Use the time that you have for exercise, taking long walks, spending time at a bowling alley – in short, spend time with real human beings, not avatars and anonymous user names from halfway across the world.
Get real. Nothing beats reality.
A dopamine detox would be a painful experience. You will be gripped by anxiety about what you are missing out on social media aka FOMO. That does not matter. The twenty YT channels you follow would probably not post anything earth-shaking in 15 days.
Control the urgency. It’s in your imagination and created by a 24/7 news cycle fueled imagination.
You are also going to feel emotionally flat – unable to feel happy or sad.
Don’t worry. It is your brain resetting the baseline of serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins – the quartet of neurohormones that are responsible for regulating your feelings, their acuity, sleep-wake cycles, rest, creativity, and much more.
It’s absolutely not a cliché that plenty of exercises, sunlight, nutritious food, and if possible, altruistic pursuits change the brain from its app-driven zombie state to greater productivity and ebullient nature.
I have recently supported a project in my home country Sri Lanka where I have donated funds to provide digital devices to a school. Not for them to get addicted obviously! No, to take them apart and understand how they are built.
I encourage you to do the same. Understand yourself, take yourself apart and analyse how you work.
Your Mind is your Powerhouse for Success
Delve into mindfulness.
No, I am not trying to turn you into a spiritual being or Yogi (get into a daily Yoga practice and you will become a truly mindful string perron)
Mindfulness is literally the art of being mindful. Do you raise an eyebrow? Let me explain in as simple terms as possible.
Have you ever drunk a cup of coffee without at all being aware? Later you reached out to find an empty cup beside the keyboard but could not remember drinking the beverage in it? You lacked mindfulness and were so engrossed in doing something that you forgot you were also drinking coffee.
To be mindful means to be engaged in everything with the fullest extent of your conscious being.
Unfortunately, it also means you stop multitasking because when you do two things, you are giving each half your attention, and when you do four, you are giving a quarter. Hopefully, you get my point.
There are tons of free materials out there on the internet that teach the fundamentals of mindfulness without charging a dime. I’m not particularly eager to promote any app but would suggest one because it is made by a non-profit.
The Mindfulness Coach app published on Android and Apple by the US Department of Veterans Affairs is excellent. It seems to have helped many. It is completely free, stable, and provides an excellent irreligious introduction to basic mindfulness training. It’s the next best thing to good old discipline.
This could set you Free or Help you become a Digital Minimalist
You are not Doctor Strange, and your mind is not infinite. The brain has a fixed capacity for new information inflow and processing. That is why you must take prioritizing the use of digital devices, apps and other digital content seriously.
Cutting down on the time you spend online and focusing it on leading a wholesome life away from the screen will certainly benefit yourself and your life. You would find that you wake up refreshed and have much more energy throughout the day.
Be a unique digital minimalist like me who manages to work digitally, but detox digitally after work and enjoy more real-life experiences in this lifetime.
I hope this short guide gave you some ideas about digital minimalism and what you can do to achieve a focused life with more peace of mind.
I wish you good health and success on your digital minimalism journey, no matter what yours may look like.