My 30 day digital declutter experience
Ever had the feeling that you are relying on your smartphone a little too much?
Do you get anxious if you don't have your smartphone with you for an extended period?
How many times have you thought to yourself, "I need more time in my day!"
Have you ever considered that that you might be a slave to your device and that your digital devices might be stealing away not only your time, but your creativity, learning capacity and even your health?
There's a simple way to work this out as you will recall from my earlier post on "What I learned from my digital declutter".
My process was to broadly follow the guidelines set out by Cal Newport in his book "Digital Minimalism" (thank-you Cal for showing the way). I chose a date and set myself a task of reducing time spent on digital devices and invested time into doing things I wanted to do, but had been neglecting.
Before doing this though, I created a log of all the activity on my digital devices, by percentage of time on app, number of notification and number of pickups. This simple process of recording and reviewing what I did created a list and made me acutely aware of what I was doing and how I was spending my time.
The digital habits that had silently consumed my time and led me down a path of unwanted habits became clearer. I reflected on Charles Duhigg's "The Power of Habit" as I worked towards finding ways to change my habits with the knowledge that I could change these habits.
I set myself the month of February plus a day, so 30 days.
Here's how my month evolved:
First of all I went through and deleted any games and a stack of apps that I no longer needed. It was quite weird what I had retained on my iPhone. I had things like:
Maps of Zadar in Croatia which I'd downloaded for a holiday some years back
Fitness apps that I never used but had considered using (I kept the two I did use)
Translation apps for when we were travelling in Japan ... over 2 years ago.
Multiple weather apps and kept only the one or two I really used.
Event and conference centre apps for functions attended many moons ago.
On the games side of things I knew very well that they added no value and soak up loads of time. I used to justify they were useful as a break from a job or task, or for filling in time while waiting for an appointment or commuting. But when I saw how much time they had taken, it wasn't too hard a decision to delete them. Even if it meant losing all the progress I had made through the labyrinth of levels - which was well over 1,000 on two games.
The social channels were next on the list t remove from my iPhone. But given it was my birthday and I had a swag of birthday messages to respond to, I pushed deleting it for a day so I could respond, and act like an ungrateful asshole.
My rules were, iPhone was not in the bedroom when I went to bed. I was not to look at any digital device before 7am (which I eventually upped to 8am) unless it was being used for exercise (listening to a podcast, radio or using a fitness app). My iPad was only for catching up on social media at the end of the day checking in on emails, shopping and reading.
A travelling day so that meant some time away from digital devices. Still some birthday messages coming through so I spent some time responding and thanking those kind enough to take time out and pass on their best wishes. Sometimes social media is a good thing I guess.
For the first time in a long time I read a newspaper and accompanying lifestyle magazine - The Weekend Australian. Despite the many biased articles it was an enjoyable experience. No substantive withdrawal symptoms as yet.
Had a dramatic reduction in time spent on my iPhone and removed even more apps and turned off notifications from quite a few apps. Committed time to sitting down and reading a book.
I started to notice that I needed to focus on not picking up my iPhone and randomly looking at crap and checking to see if I had received any emails or messages. It would seem that picking up the iPhone was a habit in itself and one that I would have to work on. It was a bit like having an itch and not scratching it. Ended the day feeling good that I had not wasted any time playing games - even if I did miss them ... just a little.
While my stats showed I had spent a fair amount of time on my iPhone, the bulk of that was GoogleMaps for navigation and on the real estate apps. Buying and selling houses is Hell.... actually, probably worse than Hell.
That said, my time was pretty good and I'm still getting time to read. When the urge came to pick up the iPhone in stead of mindlessly flipping through apps, I spent time deleting apps I didn't really use or didn't think would be essential. This satisfied my habit loop but delivered a better outcome.
My recorded time on the iPhone was a 50% reduction on last week. Pretty happy about that :-) What I am noticing is that I am still getting a lot of notifications which needs to stop as every time the iPhone buzzes, beeps, vibrates or displays an alert it captures my attention. I'm a little bemused as to why these notifications weren't a pain before, and now they are a serious annoyance. Maybe it's what I was conditioned to accept. The "no digital device before 7am" is no problem at all now. Enjoying my reading time immensely - I just finished Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching".
No digital devices before 7am is too easy. From Day 7 will push it out to 8am. My main reading time is first thing in the morning and it is now becoming a habit. Unfortunately, I'm struggling to convert my writing into a habit :-( I'm sure if I was a student at school my report card would read "Graham has potential but must try harder."
Well I didn't look at my iPhone, or any digital device before 8am. I headed off for a 5km run with Bella (the golden labrador) and listened to a podcast - The Minimalists which seemed appropriate. Made it home just in time for a conference call, then had a super busy day with lots of time on the laptop and making calls on the iPhone.
Still got my 30 minutes reading completed in the morning and a little more in the evening before sleep ran over the top of me.
My iPhone had a couple of important functions to perform today. Finding and navigating to OFI's as our search for a new home continues. I have to confess to a few cheeky email check-ins as I was waiting on responses to a number of emails I sent regarding a job I am helping a client with. When it's directly work related, I don't get the guilts.
I had drafted a note to send to my Facebook contacts explaining that I was decluttering and not ignoring them or becoming a hermit. Then I figured, I'm sure they haven't noticed nor do they probably care. Maybe I won't worry about it. Still got my 30 minutes reading in first thing in the morning - wondering how I have lived without that time - feeling a lot smarter!
Sunday, so a bit of a sleep-in which doubly made sure there would be no digital device interaction before 8am. Had my iPhone with me on a run with JD and Shelly recording the run with a fitness app. Listened to podcasts on the way to the run and on the way home and then only used it to check a few emails. Even left my iPhone inside while doing things outside - haven't done that in a while.
Curiously, as I'm getting around and going to different places, I am much more aware of how often other people are using their smartphones and are oblivious to what is happening around them .... it's annoying.
Most of my time was on the laptop working (a necessary evil) and I rarely used the iPhone except for calls and the occasional email. I've managed to quieten all the notifications and alerts and don't feel the need to check it anywhere near as often. Of course, there is the obligatory real estate monitoring and searching as we scurry to find a new home before we have to leave ours. I am checking at each place we inspect just how good the phone signal is, which means I'm probably having more pick ups of the device.
Work has been a little quiet and our search for a new home is not going well. The black dog is lurking in the shadows and I am feeling like I could derail. I found myself drifting back to old habits and picking up the iPhone when I had spare time. But with the games removed and other apps too, it isn't really satisfying.
I'm in the middle of reading "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked" by Adam Alter. It's fascinating and reinforcing my resolve to detox out of this digital slavery I have succumbed to. Alter has highlighted the dangers with digital addiction and it's made me reflect on many things.
Had my first game of tennis with the boys for a long time. It was a really good distraction, despite a lack of fitness and shoulder injury. A couple of beers after playing and a team win made life feel much better and pushed the black dog back in its place.
I am still keeping to my no digital device before 8am. I haven't quite mastered the tuning out of all digital and electronic devices at least 30 minutes before sleep - but trying. I had a doctor's appointment and decided to take my book with me to read in the waiting room. There is no doubt there will be waiting time at a doctor's surgery. Normally I would have probably played a game in my iPhone to fill in the wait time and check emails - but not today. Interestingly, I took a lot more notice of what other people were doing and in particular how many were occupying their wait time with their smartphone - it was more than 80% of the room. Sad cases ;-) It's interesting what you notice when you stop to see what is happening around you.
A normal day of work. Still not allowing myself to be consumed by digital devices. Maintaining my habit of reading every morning and not engaging a digital device before 8am. I have been making a conscious effort to be mindful of what I do and how I feel and setting myself lists of things I want to do. I'm not sure I'm totally used to not having my digital distractions as I still get the itch sometimes.
Again I was able to not seek out a digital device until after 8am. I feel this is a habit which is now a new normal. I am thoroughly enjoying my reading in the morning and making great progress with the amount of books I am reading. I've set a target of reading at least 25 books this year and based on my progress in the past two weeks, I'm feeling pretty cocky about achieving that goal.
Sometimes I still find myself reaching out to my iPhone when I have some quiet time or I am waiting for something - even though I don't need it. It's a tough habit.
I took Bella for a little run and as my iPhone had a flat battery I went sans music, podcast or fitness app - just the way life was intended. It was nice :-)
Half way! A day of house inspections, packing and dog introductions as my son and his wife have a new dog (Harrison). The iPhone was used mainly for navigating with little to no other activities. Spent some time on the laptop with some important functions to perform. An 8am conference call kept me busy for the first half of the day. Starting to feel like I've got this digital declutter nailed at the half-way point.
Today I had a long run, after all, at this stage I was planning to run a marathon in four months time (that got cancelled obviously). Listened to 50 minutes or so of podcasts and then my running playlist. Was easy to not touch the iPhone before 8am and have continued to reduce time on my iPad and goofing off time on the laptop. By this I mean working on real work stuff and avoiding social media and frivolous crap.
Spent a little time on the iPhone, but it is not used a lot more as a phone than an app platform. Turned on the TV at night to watch an incredible concert to raise funds for those impacted by the horrific fires. And, I was totally gobsmacked by the amount of people at the concert who were watching the concert through their tiny smartphone screen as they recorded the event instead of living in the moment and enjoying the experience. Why is it that people feel that recording a special event to prove they were there is more important than simply enjoying it? Weird... and just a little bid sad.
My digital declutter progresses and I find myself evaluating the place that my digital devices should command in my life.... particularly the iPhone. I see my laptop more as a work device and my recoding device rather than a time waster (although it has the potential!). The objectives of defining the purpose of a device makes sense.
Looking at my usage I realised that the bulk of my iPhone time was using navigation tools such as Google Maps and I didn't really use any other apps except as tools. All my digital devices seem more like tools now, whereas before I think they were a habit or even a crutch. Occasionally I might think about playing a game, but not that much. My social media activity has dropped considerably.
A business colleague in another country who it looks like I'll be working with more, uses WhatsApp has his preferred mode of communication. He was amazed when I told him I didn't really use it. Consequently, I have been dragged back to another app, but I am being very considerate about how I use it. I understand it's an app that is hugely popular and widely used - I just don't understand why.
My digital time is still declining and my reading time is increasing. I spend more time just thinking and have found that decluttering has enabled me to be more productive in my writing and work.
Travelling interstate and being on the move has meant that I have had to rely on my iPhone more than I have lately. Navigating, texting, talking and responding to emails. But that's what it's supposed to be for, so I'm not feeling too guilty.
My reading time has been a revelation. I've always enjoyed reading but I'm finding now that I'm enjoying it more and that I'm less distracted. The constant interruptions I used to receive from my iPhone telling me about someone's social post, a new alert, weather update, great deal, a plea to come back and play a game and email/text alerts was terrible for my concentration. I am retaining more information and my concentration levels are improving every day. I don't feel the need to fill in gaps in my schedule with mindless games and social media surfing, opting instead to read more and listen to podcasts more.
My awareness of how much other people are on games, social media and other apps has intensified. It even pisses me off sometimes - which is ridiculous. Why should what other people do have anything to do with the way I feel when it has no impact on me. Need to focus on minding my own business.
Caught up with an old mate for a beer and he sent me some info via WhatsApp >.<
I find myself still leaning on my digital devices to access things like real estate, travel and navigation apps, but not a lot else. My iPhone is definitely now more of a phone than an app platform.
Fair bit of use for the old iPhone. A third on navigation. A third on messenger with lots of family communications. The remainder of my time could definitely be classified as work based activities. I still miss the games occasionally, but the fact that they're gone helps me move on pretty quickly. Funnily enough, I don't miss the social updates much - but I get them later in the day when I check in. With our offer in on the new house accepted, there is no need to be constantly on real estate apps - thank God!
My usage is significantly down again on all device, but most specifically the iPhone which has been the true glutton for my time. On average I am some 65% down on my time pre-declutter. And the time I am spending is mainly on useful stuff like navigation.
I have kept LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter on my iPhone, but have removed all updates, notifications and minimise my time. LinkedIn remains important for looking up people for work (especially when I'm due to meet them and don't know/remember what they look like). My rules are that if I need it for work or it is a mobile phone specific device that I use, then it can remain. Otherwise, adios amigo! Deleted another ten apps. My reading commitment continues and I'm loving it!
My iPhone usage no longer seems like it is habitual. But then again, I'm not sure you can tell when something is a habit, because you do it without thinking... Hmm. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm more aware of any moves to use a digital device and it's not an urge I find difficult to combat. The random picking up of my iPhone has all but gone and I am totally comfortable when I have to wait to simply soak up my surrounds and not pick up my iPhone as a distraction, or as an escape tool to prevent me from feeling socially awkward when I have to wait and don't know what to do with myself.
My time on digital devices is being sustained at a considerable level lower than before I commenced my digital declutter.
It's a leap year! And I'm on the verge of celebrating the end of my 30 day digital declutter process. Although, it no longer feels like a project, but my new normal.
The digital declutter process I set myself has come to an end. No longer will I be recording and measuring every moment on a digital device and evaluating every interaction. I was by no means a star at the process, but I learned a lot about me and a lot about how digital devices unchecked can command so much of my time.
I've gained back an average of well over an hour a day and created time for my passion of reading and learning. I'm pretty happy with that.
The 30 days was really not that big a deal and although there is no denying that I often felt the urge to pick up my iPhone and longed for some digital distraction, I got over it reasonably quickly.
As indicated in my earlier post, I'm not sure I have completely slayed the digital demons stealing my time, but I think I've gained some control, and awareness. I believe consuming content is a good purpose for my digital devices, along with its primary purpose of being a phone and a work tool.
My digital declutter is not just point in time project, it is now simply a work in progress and a daily habit. Yes, I sometimes miss the things I used to spend my time on, but not enough that I want them back and want to give up the time I have reclaimed.
So tell me, are you ready to try a digital declutter?
I hope my journey has provided some food for thought and a little bit of inspiration to claim back some time for yourself. If you need some tips let me know and I'll also keep you posted of my progress.