Digital Minimalism – 2 Weeks In

It’s been two weeks since I started the 30-day digital declutter recommended in Digital Minimalism. I’ve had some missteps, namely YouTube and not filling my time properly, but I’ve been enjoying myself. It was not hard to get rid of Instagram and Facebook, but it has been very difficult to not check my SMS messages very frequently. I turned off notifications for just about everything and that has been somewhat of a problem. Physically touching the SMS app button to check if I have any texts has been my biggest behavior that I’ve identified as addictive. I have since turned notifications back on for SMS, but turned off sound and vibrate. This will prevent me from checking the app compulsively.

I have been trying to be much more intentional in everything since starting this journey. What am I using this and that for, do I need this thing that I barely use? I don’t need all the things I have, and have been thinking about getting rid of things that provide only a small amount of value, but take up space physically, digitally, or in my mind. This has honed my thoughts into what my values truly are. I am converting slowly from being a maximalist to being a minimalist.

What this time has done for me is shown how much I was using Reddit and Instagram as a way to fill small amounts of time between other activities. I’ve been thinking about the value a smartphone has to me, and whether I need one at all. I don’t think I could do with a smartphone unless I had to, as it provides so much value to me. I wrote out all the apps on my phone below and what I use them for. Below that I wrote out my thoughts after going through this exercise (I did this before starting as well and things have cleared up for me a lot in two weeks).

What I use my smartphone for:

  • AccuWeather – Weather app that I check every morning and sometimes throughout the day. Keeps me up to date about what the weather will be and how I should prepare for it. This is especially important for outdoor photography and outdoor activities like hiking/backpacking.
  • Acuity Scheduling – My photography business scheduling and invoicing application. I don’t check this compulsively, actually I check it very rarely. It integrates well with google calendar and keeps my work schedule easy to see.
  • AllTrails – Easy to use outdoor trail app. I use it for finding and tracking hiking trails to try. The GPS in my phone doesn’t work, so this app is limited in use for me during my activities. I guess with that in mind I could just use the web application and delete it from my phone.
  • Amazon Kindle – I rarely use this because if I have time to read, I usually use my Kindle Paperwhite, which is a much better experience to use. I could delete this app and carry my kindle if I will be away from home for a while and will have significant downtime. Instead of trying to fill a few minutes with a book, I will instead observe my surroundings and think/meditate.
  • Audible – I use this either a lot or rarely, depending if I’m currently reading (listening) to a book at that moment. I plan on using this app more, instead of podcasts. I have an extensive backlog to get through.
  • Authenticator – Google’s 2-factor authenticator. I use this a lot, very good for security.
  • Calculator – I use it regularly.
  • Calendar (Google) – Organizing time and keeping appointments is very valuable to me. I could switch this to a competitor calendar application like Apple Calendar, or maybe even go to just paper (I do use a paper planner as well), but with features like address links, phone number links, easy organization and cross-platform support it’s hard to let it go.
  • Camera – I use the back camera very regularly for everything from art photography, sharing interesting things, and keeping records of receipts. This one application saves me from keeping lots of paper records. My front (selfie) camera has been broken for 1.5 years and I wish it worked, but I don’t strictly need it.
  • Canon Camera – Link to my Canon DSLR for wireless controls. Quite useful, but I rarely use it. I honestly forget that I have it on my phone. I will need to remember it.
  • Chrome (Google) – Web browser. Useful to checking out websites for information. It’s very easy to use this for filling in time like social media has done in the past. I will be careful using this.
  • Clock – Very useful, I use the alarms and timer daily, many times. I don’t use it to wake up with though. I use a sun alarm clock to wake up, and it is vastly better!
  • Contacts – Extremely useful for keeping track of all contacts. Phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, notes, etc.
  • DJI GO 4 – I use this to fly my drone, very useful and required unless I bought the new controller ($650 what a rip off).
  • Docs (Google) – Useful app, although I don’t use it on my phone very often. It’s a word processor and I’d prefer to use my computer or laptop for this type of thing. It is useful to check on things I wrote before though.
  • Drive (Google) – I use this extensively to share images and have access to files without filling up my phone’s internal storage. Great for cross-platform sharing.
  • Files (Google) – Never use this, can’t uninstall it. Used for accessing files on phone.
  • Gmail – I am using this less as I have put in place my rules for scheduled email. I have turned off all notifications, except for my business email, and have turned off all sounds associated with this app. Great app for sending an email on the go (which I am while working).
  • Google – I use search very often to find information. I have turned off Google Now, especially the news. I found myself drifting to this to replace Reddit and Instagram. I have turned off this feature and turned off all assistant features except holding button to start alarms and timers.
  • Home (Google) – I use this to connect my Chromecast. I use the Chromecast extensively for MotoGP and Plex while away from home, but with friends/family only.
  • Interval Timer – Useful for workouts, I wish the Clock app had this feature.
  • Keep Notes (Google) – I use this EVERYDAY. This is my notes app, my grocery shopping list app, my to-do app, my work projects app, I use this very extensively.
  • LastPass – Might be the best app I have. This app keeps track of all my passwords to every site and application. I only have to remember one complicated password and the rest are hidden behind that one. Combined with 2-factor authentication I feel quite secure, although not perfect.
  • Maps (Google) – I use this extensively, even though my GPS doesn’t work. Google tracks through the cell towers which usually is fairly accurate to where I am. I basically use this like a paper map that has everything in it. It would be hard to go without this app, but not impossible. I would have to do a lot of prior research before I left the house and carry a paper map to replace this. Not minimalist at all.
  • Messages (Google) – My SMS app. Required. I use this often, actually too often. I have been trying to limit it’s use.
  • Messenger (Facebook) – I only have this app because I’m trying to sell things online. It’s one of the best marketplace apps out there.
  • MotoGP – App for watching MotoGP races. I have turned off updates/notification and only use it in a “no spoiler” mode.
  • MyFitnessPal – I use this app periodically to check calories and try and keep my diet in check. So far it’s not going that well, I could probably delete this app and only use the web application. There’s never a time when I need to know something, I can guess.
  • Phone (Google) – Use this extensively, obviously. I need it for work and I’m trying to use it more with friends and family, instead of texting.
  • PhotoPills – I don’t use this that often, but it’s useful for sun angles, twilight and sunrise/sunset times, and generally useful for photography.
  • Photos (Google) – Use this extensively to look at my photos and share photos.
  • Play Movies – Don’t use this, but can’t delete it.
  • Play Music – This is spotify, but with google. I use this a lot when I’m driving and not listening to podcasts or books. I wish the bugs were fixed, but overall it’s a good value.
  • Play Store – Google app store.
  • Plex – I don’t use this very often. Only when I’m away from home and using my chromecast at someone else’s house.
  • Pocket Casts – This might be my most used application. I am a podcast addict, and have been doing my best to be intentional about it’s use. I have stopped using it to fill up every single moment of my day, and have scheduled it’s use to certain times/activities. I am leaving my phone at home while on my daily long walk.
  • Rewards (Google) – I am deleting this app. I basically got .10-.30 cents for answering a question or two.
  • Sheets – Very useful excel-type spreadsheet app. I use this for planning, organizing, and sharing/displaying data.
  • SmugMug – My main photography archive website. I use this to share photos. Could probably delete this app, I don’t use it that often.
  • Speedtest – Useful for checking internet speed in various locations when I’m out and about. I use it when the internet is “slow”.
  • Square – Main payment application for my business, but generally use the web version much more. Could probably delete.
  • Stripe – Deleted, can just use the web app.
  • SwiftKey – Way better keyboard than google. I use it all the time.
  • Venmo – Very useful for sending and receiving money to friends and family without fees.
  • Waking Up – My meditation app. It’s not cheap, but I have learned a lot from Sam Harris, and will continue to use this app daily. I have found a lot of perspective and calm from this.
  • WhatsApp – Don’t use it very often, just to communicate with people outside the US mostly.
  • YouTube – I can’t delete this. I really wish I could as it is very distracting for me. I mostly use YouTube on my computers, but it’s still a problem on the phone too.

After writing out this list, it becomes more clear how I use my smartphone and how I could use it better or eliminate my need of it. I absolutely need a mobile phone for calling and texting. I find a lot of value in organizational applications like Keep and Calendar, which I would be able to replace with a notebook, but that would increase the amount of things I have to carry and these apps are not addictive/compulsive. I see no negative value to these things so far.

I find a lot of value in using a smartphone for sharing photos, videos, and live events (motogp) with friends and family. Combined with actual interaction in person or by voice, these things create a lot of value for me. The camera itself I use more to document/show things than as a creative outlet. I will use my dedicated camera for this purpose more in the future.

The value that podcasts and audiobooks provide me is immense, but there is also a large cost to this if it’s not monitored. That cost is what Cal Newport calls “solitude depravation”. The time your mind needs without input from other minds. This time is very important for review, for clarity, for thinking and for creativity. Without this, anxiety can rule and the sense of being stressed can be overwhelming. I also use podcasts as entertainment, which is fine, but I will need to be limited in what I listen to. I currently have 40+ podcasts I’m subscribed to, and will start to pare that down. A lot of it isn’t as useful as I think it is. Need to keep a minimalist mindset here.

I believe my smartphone is nearly, but not completely, integral to my photography business with scheduling and routing. I can do most of what I need by laptop and a hotspot device, but a smartphone is immensely convenient and almost necessary for navigation. I travel to new places daily. Smartphone can be used as a hotspot as well.

I have found some value in social media for my business and wish that Instagram was also on the web, but it is not. I do not wish to use social media in a personal sense anymore and will instead use this blog, emails, and other “slower” methods of sharing the things going on in my life. A constant feed with notifications (the slot-machine effect) I think is extremely destructive. I hope to connect with people by phone or in-person to get updates on their lives, instead of finding it in a feed.

My goals for the rest of the 30 day declutter and beyond:

  • Fill up my time with high quality leisure instead of low quality leisure.
  • Put a lot more effort and work into Deep Work sessions.
  • Removing or getting away from distractions. This means going to the library or coffee shops so I can do my work that doesn’t require my powerful PC at home.
  • Being more intentional with my time and with the tools/things I use.

Digital Declutter

Most have heard the term declutter. It’s usually in context of getting rid of things in your home, car, and/or office. I had been slowly doing this for years, with only some success. Then I moved to California, which forced my hand. The decision had been made, no moving truck, one carful of things (a Mazda3 Hatchback), and a few boxes to be shipped in the mail.

This led to only keeping the essentials, the things I couldn’t buy again or would be prohibitively expensive. I absolutely loved this. Finally I got rid of the vast majority of my things, and the small amount of stuff I couldn’t part with and couldn’t bring with me was stored at a family member’s house until I could take care of it at another time.

Digital stuff isn’t quite so easy and it’s not necessarily about all the files on your computer, although that can be a mess for a lot of people. This digital declutter is about removing distractions and addictive websites and apps from my life. Places like Reddit, Instagram, and YouTube are my biggest culprits. All of them have value, but not all of them bring value commiserate to the time I spend on them.

For a while I’ve been seeing people leaving social media or taking breaks and I was intrigued, but never took the step. With the guidance of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism book I am doing so now. 1 Month or 30 days without the use of these technologies (February 20th – March 20th, 2019).

The first goal of this is to recalibrate how I use technology. To use them with intention and not get sucked down into a rabbit hole of top 10 videos, interesting (but not really useful) articles and discussions on Reddit, and keeping up with everything on Instagram.

The second goal is to interface with the real world a lot more, to become resistant to instant boredom if I’m not constantly entertained, to have better and more meaningful interactions with people and places around me. I will document this process through this blog and through my camera.

The third goal is to be as productive as I possible can. I have many projects, books, and things to accomplish. Keep checking back for updates!

Here is what I am doing (Starting February 20th, 2019):

  • Mobile phone will only make sound for phone calls. All distracting apps deleted. Text messages checked between intervals of Deep Work (1-3 hour blocks of concentrated work). I believe this will allow my business to continue, but stop the constant checking of my phone. Phone kept out of immediate reach. Watch to be worn to prevent time & date checking.
  • Email will be checked daily at 4:30am & 4:30pm as well as at noon for business emails. All non-necessary subscriptions will be taken off, and the rest will be added to a program called Pocket, to be read on Weekend mornings.
  • Reddit, Facebook, Instagram – all banned completely, with Reddit exception for researching specific topics that come up through google searches (last resort).
  • YouTube will be banned – with exception to specific channels that bring immense value and during research. This will be a very hard one for me as it’s my biggest time killer.
  • Netflix, Amazon Prime, Plex – Not banned, but with operating rules. One movie or TV show allowed on non-sequential days. I will be alternating between modern movies and ones on the Sight & Sound 250 with the intention to learn storytelling, filmmaking, cinematography, and to provide quality, thoughtful entertainment. Also to write about them and improve my writing and analysis skills. This rule will be off in the case of social reasons.