A millennial’s approach to Digital Minimalism

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It was back in March that I read Dr.Cal Newport’s book, “Digital Minimalism”, and my first blog entry, chronicling my digital minimalism journey, was dated back in April. Ironically, it is the hashtag #digitalminimalism that has linked me to alot of people who adopted the lifestyle, and graciously share their experiences in the digital world. It is definitely a catch-22 phenom, because without the internet, I wouldn’t be able to discover Digital Minimalism.

I have drawn alot of values not only from the book, but from people who manage to integrate digital minimalism into their lives, yet maintain their social presence and stay connected. I want to focus solely on using social media with this post, because as a millennial, who have alot of friends who are also millennials who are glued to their phones (I say this lovingly as a former addict), I want to share some practical tips on how you can adopt the Digital Minimalism philosophy to better your life (without feeling deprived)

Limit your time on social media

Set aside a designated time for social media, whether it’s posting, or browsing. While it’s completely up to your preference, I personally advice against logging in too early in the morning. Your phone shouldn’t be the first thing you grab when you wake up in the morning. I find that it is simply too distracting and if you come across a negative post, it has the potential to disintegrate the rest of your day.

Be selective with who, and what information you keep up with

I want to focus on instagram here, because it’s the primary social media platform I now use. (My personal facebook account has been deactivated since March) I believe to truly extrapolate values from social media, we have to be intentional with who and what information we follow. One tip I have is to think of your brain as a garden you are trying to nurture : you only want the best information to enter it, so you can nourish it.

Be picky with your following list, and use the mute function generously. That way, you don’t feel overwhelmed with the constant information overload, with topics you have no interest in. Still, if you want to keep up with your friends and their babies, you can still go to their profile. Or even better, like Dr. Cal Newport has mentioned in his book, make a conscious effort of meeting them for a coffee and interact with them in real life.

Schedule a designated time for emails/watsapp etc

I have to be honest, while I am fine with not using social media, I am less frugal with my time spent on emails/watsapp. I still have a tendency to repeatedly log into my emails and reply my watsapp messages on the go. But I am definitely more aware of my behaviour. Chances are, if people need to reach you urgently, they will call you. I find that if I batch reply my emails and messages, I am much more patient with my replies and I string better sentences. (Great way to practice writing)

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Limit distraction on your phone

Nathaniel Drew has a great video on Digital Minimalism, on minimizing distracting apps on your phone. For instagram, I uninstall and reinstall it only when I want to use it. (The inconvenience alone is enough to withhold my impulses of constantly checking it) And I’ve removed all social media apps (emails/watsapp etc) from the first page on my phone.

A 6 months follow up since integrating Digital Minimalism into my life 

Even thou the lists above may seem short, but even just incorporating them into my life, I have feel significant improvement in my pursuit of bettering myself. My prep was better because I wasn’t constantly comparing myself to others on social media, (nutrition and bodybuilding has always been my interest, and I have been fortunate to feed my “garden” with the best evidence based information only) I never have a deadline and my productivity with work has increased significantly. I no longer feel overwhelmed that I have to “keep up” with postings on my photography social media, I put in more thoughts and I curated a feed that I actually like. I became more conscious with my postings on social media, because like how I’ve drawn values from other’s sharing, I want my posts to bring values to others too. I have since enrolled in Mac Nutrition Uni, and I am working towards my goal of being a Mac Uni certified nutrition coach.

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Privately, I am much more present with my family. I no longer have the impulsive thoughts of constantly reaching for my phone, documenting every fucking thing. One of my favourite moment that I look forward to everyday, is to visit this neighbourhood park near my house, and my husband and I would sit side by side and talk to teach other, without the distraction of our phones, while watching Anya plays.

I hope I have convinced you to start your path on Digital Minimalism, start with the book, and check out how other people have integrate it seamlessly into their lives. (I personally highly recommend both Nathaniel Drew and Matt D’avella’s videos on digital minimalism) There’s also an app called Forest (you plant a tree and whenever you touch your phone, the tree will wilt, it’s an great app when you try to focus on a task, the reward mechanism helps cement the habit)

A digital minimalist wanabe

Some life updates before I dive into the topic of digital minimalism and social media (from the perspective of a former social media addict) I think it’s time for me to stick to a more rigid posting schedule here because if I wait for my “mood” to strike..I’ll never sit down and write.

But on a more positive note, I have been very consistent with working on my book project. I use all the strategy from the book “Deep Work”, I stick to the same writing schedule, the same writing location, I walk without distraction so I can “write in my head” . When I went back to KL for a short vacation last week, I brought my laptop with me so I can still fit in the hour long “Deep work”. The perks of being an early riser is that I have atleast a couple of hours to myself each morning, I wake up, make my bed,  I meditate, then I practice my posing. After that, I clean myself up, make myself a meal, eat, and proceed to write for about an hour long. I am not sure how it’s gonna go or when I’ll finish it, but I put in the work each day, everyday, without fail.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King”

So I thought alot about digital minimalism and being a former social media addict. When I visited my family in KL last week, the first thing my sister asked was, “Mimi, (a nickname given by my family), did anybody “interview” you?” I was dumbfounded, I did not get her joke. She then proceeded to tell me how most of my relatives are concerned with my well being (my cousins, my aunts, they’re all very active on Facebook and since I am all the way over here on the east coast, facebook is the only place where they can sort of keep up with me) . My cousin, who is a Generation-Z (people who are born after 1990s), was concerned that there is something wrong with me and my husband and that’s why I took my Facebook off. I hadn’t expected these sort of speculations because, well, I am obviously no celebrity.

“Where we want to be cautious . . . is when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.” 

I didn’t think I needed to give anyone any explanation on why I took my personal social media off, perhaps I hadn’t consider how ingrained social media is in most of our lives, and my act has caused some genuine concern from my family. However, it’s funny if you think about it, I am still here, I am just a phone call away. I am still rather responsive on watsapp (however, I am currently strategising on how I can remove it without jeopardising my work) I keep in close contact with everyone that I know and care about and vice versa, they can easily reach me. This certainly makes me think alot about how people are more prompt to follow/likes/occasional comment, and less inclined to initiate phone call (or even a direct text message)

Although I value my time in solitary (this is crucial especially when my work involves  socialising with people), But I am by no means a cave man and I can be rather sociable too. I am not anti social, I am simply semi anti social media. (the semi does give away the level of commitment I have with anti social media lol) Ever since I limit my use of social media, I have more energy to interact with people that I genuinely want to connect with,  I go out of my way to schedule meet ups, video calls, phone calls, etc.

This is not to say I don’t see values in social media. I keep up with my work instagram, and I eventually went back to creating another account just to keep up with certain people/information that interests me, especially within the bodybuilding realm. After the detox, I no longer feel the pull it had towards me, and I am rather careful with how I use it now, to extract values which adds into my life, not the other way around.

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Quite frankly, I feel rather secluded since I live in a small town and I don’t have any friends who are into lifting near me, and I do miss some kind folks I’ve met through the lifting community. I have to thank my dear friend Dorothy (whom I’ve also met through instagram) for scheduling this mini meet up for me. I remember feeling so comforted that I have these people whom I can discuss food/dieting/training with, towards the end of the night, I remember telling them how great it was to sit across them and talk to them face to face.

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And then there was also this meet up with my high school friends from over 17 years ago…let’s just say we all aged pretty gracefully.

“Being less available over text, in other words, has a way of paradoxically strengthening your relationship even while making you (slightly) less available to those you care about. This point is crucial because many people fear that their relationships will suffer if they downgrade this form of lightweight connection. I want to reassure you that it will instead strengthen the relationships you care most about. You can be the one person in their life who actually talks to them on a regular basis, forming a deeper, more nuanced relationship than any number of exclamation points and bitmapped emojis can provide.”

Week 2 : Coffee abstinence, Deep work, time blocking method

I still can’t believe years of coffee addiction is eradicated as easily as sweeping the dust off the floor. Another week flew by without coffee, and I have never felt better.

I still need abit more time to see how my sleep pattern progress, the noticeable difference for me currently, is my energy level, as mentioned previously, I no longer experience the highs and lows, my energy level feel more stable throughout the whole day.

As with all other habits I’m trying to build, the biggest takeaway for me is to just grind through the beginning, cup by cup, day by day, use substitute if you need (for me, it would be low caffeine tea/cocoa drink), eventually the habit will stick.

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Time Blocking Method

I’ve had a pretty hectic week, Anya’s holiday threw me off my routine, and I thrive on routines. I had to learn how to adapt to not let it stress me out too much. I am also experimenting with Dr. Cal Newport’s “Time Blocking” method, where you schedule your day hour by hour, and I must say, I am enlightened how it has helped me to feel more centred, especially with my “deep work” time.

Everybody have different obligations to full fill everyday, and we each have our own preferred schedule. We can apply the concept to tailor to our own needs.

I want to share the example of my typical day.

If I am not out on the field on an assignment (which takes either half or whole day depending on the nature of the job), most days, my schedule is flexible, depending on how I arrange it. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed when you are a freelance worker like I am, as I don’t really have a rigid “9-5” working hour.

First, I decided to simplify my life into few sections :

 

 

Daily Tasks (this includes Anya, food preparation, eating, daily rituals such as meditation or walks etc)

Digital Tasks (emails, watapps, social media management, so on and so forth)

Deep work (I reserve this time exclusively to work on my personal project, which I will share in future)

Work (photo processing, client’s follow up, etc)

Family time

Reading. I have also included reading into my daily routine, and I even separated them into two categories : Leisure reading vs non leisure reading)

From 5pm onwards my routines is more clustered, but atleast I’ve planned out the bulk of my day.

I usually draft out my day the night before, or the morning itself. I do not do this everyday, especially over the holidays, and like today, where we spent the entire day just doing family stuffs.

Digital Tasks

There are certain things that I am not rigid, esp with watsapp messages. Sometimes I do reply messages, even thou I schedule my “Digital tasks” in the afternoon, before I start my work.

It’s still a struggle for me currently, separating my life away from “digital tasks” instead of letting it grapple with my attention throughout the day intermittently. I will elaborate more on my experience with social media addiction soon. (yes watsapp is a social media tool, alot of Asians don’t realize that, esp Malaysians)

I realize I don’t need to be 100% all the time, things comes up and schedule does changes, but atleast this gives me a sense of how I can spend my day more efficiently.

PS : After Digital Minimalism I went on to read Deep Work by Dr.Cal Newport. I highly recommend you to read both books, I am particularly grateful for all the practical tips that I can immediately apply to my life, and they have already improved the quality of my life tremendously. 

 

Book Notes : Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

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Image by rowdykittens.com Who also wrote a fantastic review on the book.

Book notes from Digital Minimalism, written by Cal Newport.

I am forever grateful for this book, it has made me re-evaluate my relationship with digital tools (esp social media) , and many practical tips that I can implement into my daily life.

Book notes from Digital Minimalism

As Socrates explained to Phaedrus in Plato’s famous chariot metaphor, our soul can be understood as a chariot driver struggling to rein two horses, one representing our better nature and the other our baser impulses. When we increasingly cede autonomy to the digital, we energize the latter horse and make the chariot driver’s struggle to steer increasingly difficult – a diminishing of our soul’s authority

In the end, I just accepted the fact that I would miss some events in their lives, but that this was worthwhile for the mental energy it would save me to not be on social media

“I figured I didn’t need to know the answer to everything instantly, ” she told me. She then bought an old fashioned notebook to jot down ideas when she’s bored on the tube.”

Rebecca transformed her daily experience by buying a watch. This might sound trivial to older readers, but to a nineteen-yearold like Rebecca, this was an intentional act. “I estimate that around 75 percent of the time I got sucked down a rabbit hole of un-productivity was due to me checking my phone for the time.

Running is cheaper than therapy.

Solitude is about what’s happening in your brain, not the environment around you. Accordingly, they define it to be a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.

Conversations enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius

We’re wrong to consider intimate interaction as the sine qua non of human thriving. Solitude can be just as important for both happiness and productivity.

Calmly experiencing separation, he argues, builds your appreciation for interpersonal connections when they do occur.

I am here alone for the first time in week, to take up my “real” life again at last. This is what is strange, that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet, I taste it fully only when I’m alone.

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness.

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas ; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.

Only thoughts reached by walking have value. To underscore his esteem for walking, Nietzsche also notes: “The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit.”

The more you use social media to interact with your network, the less time you devote to offline communication.

Where we want to be cautious…is when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.”

Humans are naturally biased toward activities that require less energy in the short term, even if it’s more harmful in the long term-so we end up texting our sibling instead of calling them on the phone, or liking a picture of a friend’s new baby, instead of stopping by for a visit.

Because our primal instinct to connect is so strong, it’s difficult to resist checking a device in the middle of a conversation with a friend or bath time with a child-reducing the quality of the richer interaction right infront of us. Our analog brain cannot easily distinguish between the importance of the person in the room with us and the person who just sent us a new text.

when you spend multiple hours a day compulsively clicking and swiping, there’s much less free time left for slower interactions. And because this compulsive use emits a patina of socialness, it can delude you into thinking that you’re already serving your relationships well, making further action unnecessary.

Smarter use of digital communication tools, not blanket abstention.

Similarly, if you adopt conversation-centric communication, you’ll still likely rely on text-messaging service to simplify information gathering, or to coordinate social events, or to ask quick questions, but you’ll no longer participate in open-ended, ongoing text based conversations throughout your day.

I don’t think we’re meant to keep in touch with so many people.

It’s now easy to fill the gaps between work and caring your family and sleep by pulling out a smartphone or tablet, and numbing yourself with mindless swiping and tapping.

Spending an hour browsing funny Youtube clips might sap your vitality, while-and I am speaking from recent experiences here-using Youtube to teach yourself how to replace a motor in a bathroom ventilation fan can provide the foundation for a satisfying afternoon of tinkering.

You are not quitting anything or losing access to any information, you’re simply being more mindful of when you engage with this part of your leisure life.

To repeat a line from the New Yorker writer George Packer, “Twitter” scares me, not because I am superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it. I’m afraid I’d end up letting my son go hungry. ” If you must use these services, however, and you hope to do so without ceding autonomy over your time and attention, it’s crucial to understand this is not a casual decision.

Dropping in to extract value, and then slipping away before the attention traps set by these companies can spring shut.

As many have discovered, the rapid switching between different applications tends to make the human interaction with the computer less productive in terms of the quality and quantity of what is produced.

Dunbar number of 150-a theoretical limit for the number of people human can successfully keep track of in their social circles.

Adopting digital minimalism is not a one time process that completes the day after your digital declutter; it instead requires ongoing adjustments.

Cultivating a life worth living in our current age of alluring devices.

Digital minimalism definitely does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people engage with these tools.

 

 

Digital minimalism : Becoming the person I like

I’ve been enjoying going through all the blog posts about digital minimalism, I find it comforting knowing so many people are struggling like I do, and it’s inspiring that people are so self aware : Self awareness and self reflections are the antidote to the struggles we face.

Like most people, I have tried to take social media off in the past. My work is deeply intertwined with my personal life, people I meet from work often adds me on facebook or instagram, clients follow my personal account…and so on. For the longest time I didn’t know how to separate the both, I’d go on my personal instagram, then toggle to my work instagram, then I get on my facebook account, then manage my facebook page from there….I could list so many examples, but you get the idea.

Turning on the screen time was definitely a huge turning point for me, at the time, I was averaging at 3-4 hours a day…to say I was shocked is an understatement. From then on I started become more mindful of how much I use the phone..and still, it always comes up to about 2 hours daily. By this time I was researching on how I can be more efficient with social media for work, I started using planners, and only work from my browser. Once I developed a flow, I started working on my personal account…which was much harder than what I anticipated.

Most of the people I admire aren’t even on social media. I remember how agitated I feel whenever someone picks up their phone obsessively when I sit across them, sometimes I look around during red lights, and I swear, almost every driver I see are looking at their phones, if that is not an addiction, I don’t know what is. I self reflect alot, what am I doing? Do i want to become this person that I hate? Irritable, anxious, constantly looking for entertainment after entertainment, mindless scrolling and browsing, posting every food that I eat, I couldn’t concentrate on reading my book because I have this fucking urge to take a picture of the book and post it to instagram to show people that I am “well read”. I would take intermittent breaks, but I always go back. I’d justify my behavior by saying things like “I’m just going to use it for the information.” But who am I kidding? Out of all the posts that I see, perhaps 10-20% are actually useful to me…compared to the harm it causes me, it just makes no sense to keep using it.

In just a week, I’ve listened to more podcasts/audiobooks than I’ve had in the past few months combined. I read, I write, I invested time in my swim practice, I am much more focused and relaxed and I am actually pretty happy being bored. I only have to charge my phone every 2-3 days, and my screen time is reduced to under 30 mins a day…slowly, I am becoming the person I like, the person who is confident, productive, and not constantly comparing herself to others. I used to look at older folks and admire how they’re able to just sit and do nothing at parks (which is a rare sight these days), and slowly, I am becoming one of them. (Well…not as old, yet)

This is a learning process for me, and I am just getting started, I strive to do a little better everyday.