Embracing Digital Minimalism – Live and Work Better with Less Technology

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By Spike Team, July 26, 2020
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Are you feeling tired, irritable, burnt out? Do you long for a simpler life, free of the stresses and strains of the daily grind? Are you constantly glued to your screen? Do you feel compelled to check your phone every five minutes? Are you addicted to tech? Well, then why not try digital minimalism!*

 

* Results may vary. Please consult your head of IT before using digital minimalism. Side effects may include increased productivity, better working relationships, increased concentration, better work/life balance, unexpected joy, better time management, a greater sense of freedom and autonomy, effortless focus. 

 

Minimalism is a big word these days. Whether it’s Marie Kondo sneaking into your apartment to spark joy or the pared-down aesthetic of your favorite cafe—less is most definitely more. So, in our tech-obsessed world, it’s perhaps no surprise that the minimalist movement has slowly worked its way into how we manage our digital lives. In fact, with the Tsunami of digital devices, tools, and platforms flooding our every hour, it’s a wonder that it’s taken this long to make an impact!

 

But what exactly is minimalism, and how do you apply it to your digital life? What kind of benefits can it bring to your working day? Here, we take a look at minimalism, how to apply it to tech, and how minimalism can help you live and work better with less technology, giving you the chance to build stronger relationships and boost your collaborations through real human contact!

 

What Are the Core Beliefs of Minimalism?

Before looking at digital minimalism, it’s important to understand minimalism as a movement and a philosophy. Here are ten core principles that will help you understand the concept before applying it to your digital life. That said, it is important to remember that minimalism is a very individual and personal thing, so if you don’t fall in step with everything on this list, that’s OK!

  1. Find out what you value

    At the core of minimalism is discovering what your real ideals are and then cutting away the noise, the excess, and the distractions that keep you from living those values.

  2. Intention is everything 

    A central tenet of minimalism is doing things intentionally. Take the previous values – you are moving towards them intentionally. You are living that way intentionally. The decision and intention to live more simply is an important step on your way to minimalism.

  3. Need vs Want

    We want many things, but how many do we actually need? This is a shift in mentality and a significant one since it is generally “wants” that keep us tied to lifestyles we don’t necessarily enjoy. Being mindful of what is a want and what is needed and taking steps to abolish the former will help lay the foundation necessary for longer-term minimalism.

  4. Cut back your “stuff” 

    This is the aspect that most people are likely already familiar with – cutting back on the number of material things you own. More material objects do not mean greater happiness, and having your life cluttered by stuff can get in the way of intentionally following your values and focussing only on needs.

  5. Experience over objects

    Minimalism shifts focus away from objects, as mentioned, but you should refocus that energy on experience. Life is for living, not consuming – and that goes for both material objects and content. Minimalism is about enabling you to step away and embrace experiences wholeheartedly.

  6. Quality over quantity

    There are certain things and experiences you need, and minimalism is about making these as good as possible. It’s not about how much or many you have, but the substance of those things. The better the quality, the less you’ll need or crave the quantity.

  7. Stay on track 

    It can be easy to set out to be minimalist, but what will you do when you see an advertisement for the latest gaming console? We are bombarded by messages telling us we need things that we don’t, conflating wants with needs, and playing on the desire to accumulate more. A core part of minimalism is staying true to your values and your needs despite what may come.

  8. Cut out the noise

    We live in a chaotic world, and minimalism is about reducing clutter, whether physical or mental. Cutting out the background distractions that plague our daily lives – like notification bings and beeps – will help keep you focused on your core values and needs.

  9. Freedom

    At the heart of minimalism is freedom. Freedom from material objects. Freedom from clutter. Freedom from the confines of values that you don’t believe in. Cutting back gives you the space to live in a way that you decide.

What is Digital Minimalism?

Arguably, the father of digital minimalism is the acclaimed author and computer scientist, Cal Newport. In his book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, he defines the concept in simple terms:

 

“Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.”

 

So far, so simple.

 

Anyone looking to embrace digital minimalism only needs to separate the “noise” from the stuff of real value. However, in many cases, that’s much easier said than done.

 

You might love email’s asynchronous approach to communication, but your clients insist on staying in touch through a team chat app. You could share all your work through the cloud, but your boss wants everything stored on the company server. You might even think about ditching your social media presence, but there’s always that one friend who insists on communicating through Facebook. And only Facebook.

 

That’s not to say it’s impossible to reduce your reliance on tech, and simply taking yourself through the process of identifying your current usage, focusing on your intentions, and evaluating how to extract the maximum possible value from your devices and apps can be a liberating experience in itself.

 

 

What are the Benefits of Digital Minimalism?

digital minimalism on living better with less technology

 

Ask any hardcore digital minimalist, and the benefits of ditching an overreliance on tech are clear. On the surface, simply spending less time glued to your smartphone, tablet, or computer screen will ensure you have more time to really connect with people. Whether at work, at home, or while out and about, putting down your devices to speak face-to-face can boost collaboration, understanding, empathy, and comprehension.

 

Using your devices less also means your downtime is likely to be significantly more regenerative. For instance, the simple act of taking your smartphone to bed has been linked with poor sleep—whether you use it or not. Additionally, there’s already been plenty written about the damaging effects of blue light, the increased stress caused by the always-on mentality, and the breakdown of communications between families and partners.

 

Now is as good a time as any to point out that digital minimalism is not about ditching technology entirely. Rather, it should be about decluttering your approach to tech usage. When you must use your devices, it’s important to make the experience as straightforward and seamless as possible, with minimal distractions to ensure you remain focused on the task at hand.

  

Finally, ditching the silos of information and consolidating your everyday tasks into a single app can work wonders. App switching (and the accumulation of apps linked to this practice) is a real drain on productivity—and for anyone juggling multiple tools and platforms, it is extremely frustrating at times. Digital minimalism loves apps that fulfill multiple functions, so combining things such as your email, team, chat, calendar, shared to-do lists, and notes is an instant productivity and collaboration booster.

 

 

Digital Minimalism – The Process

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We’ve already touched upon the fact that digital minimalism is more of a process than an objective goal, and this process should be something you continually practice to ensure you maintain a healthy relationship with your tech. We began with some general minimalism rules for you to follow each day, and now we will look at how to move to digital minimalism on your computer, cell phone, and communication channels. 

  • Consolidation is king

    In an ideal world, there would be one app to rule them all, combining all of your most important tools and functions into a single UI. Wherever possible, you should try to move away from silos of information and single-function tools in favor of apps or software that allow you to perform multiple tasks. 

  • Identify Distractions

    If you’re regularly spending hours trawling Instagram or Twitter when you should be working then it’s time to put a stop to it. Identifying your main distractions, whether it’s web surfing or simply a compulsion to pick up your phone every five minutes, is the first step. Be mindful of your habits and make a list of those with the biggest impact on your daily life. 

  • Declutter Devices

    Remove apps and software that you don’t use or that are a distraction. Remove and archive photos, videos, messages, emails, and anything else that is unnecessary to you. Decluttering keeps you focused, helping you to rid distractions and optimize your workflow. 

  • Reset Each Day

    How many times have you flipped open your laptop in the morning to find that unfinished article still open in your browser? Of course, you’re going to finish it, ruining your schedule for the day before you’ve even begun. The key is to close down all apps, browsers, programs, and other portals at the end of each day and reset. That way, you’ll wake up to a fresh, clean user experience every morning. 

  • Put it Down

    Sometimes, all it takes to kickstart your digital minimalism process is to step away, put it down, or turn it off. Everyone needs a screen break from time to time and using your technology only when absolutely necessary is likely to reap huge rewards – and that includes no notifications pinging away to let you know that someone has liked your photo. 

Digital Minimalism While Using the Computer

digital minimalism computers

Computers are essential professional tools for many of us and are an object that falls squarely in the “need” rather than “want” category. That said, while it’s not a thing you should be cutting from your life, there are ways to make it less of a distraction while in use – or even nearby.

  • Remove anything you don’t need

    That means uninstalling all those apps that you downloaded to try once and never used again. 

  • Turn off non-mandatory notifications

    Some notifications can be useful for certain workflows, but getting a popup every time something happens on Instagram is probably not one of them. 

  • Do not disturb

    Turning off notifications doesn’t have to be permanent. If you want to get rid of the background noise for a set amount of time, use Do Not Disturb on Macs and certain Linux distros or Focus Assist on Windows. 

  • Use focus modes

    Many applications, such as word processors, now have a dedicated focus mode whether reading or writing. This is a great way to keep your mind on track. 

  • Clean up your desktop

    Many of us have the bad habit of saving files to the desktop when we’re not sure where to put them. This is a distraction, organize them now! 

  • Hide your taskbar

    You can choose to auto-hide the Dock on macs and auto-hide the Taskbar on Windows with a couple of clicks. It may not seem like much, but ditching that row of buttons can make a huge difference. 

  • Clean theme

    A distraction-free theme and wallpaper can help keep you focused and on track. 

Digital Minimalism and Cell Phones

digital minimalism smartphones

Another piece of a digital kit that is essential to most people is their cell phones. Modern smartphones are a far cry from the landlines of old and put a thousand distractions in the palm of your hand.

  • Delete apps

    Just like with your computer, go through your phone and delete any apps you don’t use or need. Leave only the most useful apps you have

  • Remove notifications

    You almost certainly don’t need to know right away whenever you get an update or an add from one of your apps. Go into your phone settings and turn off the notifications you don’t 100% need. 

  • Remove social media

    Scary? Potentially, but also an important step towards digital minimalism. 

  • Clean screen

    Just as a computer should have a clean desktop, your phone should show only a select few apps that you absolutely need. 

  • Do Not Disturb

    Automated and togglable do not disturb modes are standard on phones these days. This is especially important to do outside of work hours and always at night. 

Keeping it Simple – Files and Folders

digital minimalism files and folders

One of the most important parts of digital minimalism across any device is organization. The goal is to save you from endlessly trawling through folders and files. You should be able to search for everything using easily recognizable terms that can be entered quickly and efficiently. Of course, you’ll need an advanced search function to do this, but there are a number of other steps to achieve your minimalist file system.

  • Remove files you don’t need

    Take the time to go through your files and folders and delete the ones you no longer need. There are bound to be dozens of zip files from downloads or old folders that have long had their contents transferred. 

  • Move the ones you do need

    Once you’ve purged your system of unwanted files, separate those that remain into the “often used”, which stay on your computer, and the “rarely used” that should be sent to the cloud. 

  • Create a folder hierarchy

    Don’t just have all your files in a single, giant folder. Create broad folders (e.g. work and personal), then folders within these for specific projects or topics, for example. 

  • Give files and folders useful names

    It can be easy to just leave files with default names, but this will only hinder you in the future. “IMG0902384” is much harder to remember than “New York Vacation 2018, Brooklyn Bridge”.  

Digital Minimalism and Emails

digital minimalism emails

Emails are one of the most important communication channels in most people’s work lives, and part of digital minimalism is keeping them organized. This allows you to focus on what’s important without the background noise.

  • Create a file system

    Just like with your devices, a file system helps you keep things organized and under control. 

  • Turn off notifications

    You don’t need to be always on, and it’s ultimately not very useful. 

  • Unsubscribe

    Next time you get an email from a list you no longer read, instead of ignoring it or sending it to trash, take the time to unsubscribe. 

  • Reply appropriately

    Don’t write an elaborate formal email when a quick IM or voice message will do. 

Spike is Aligned with the Digital Minimalism Movement

spike leader of digital minimalism

Spike is designed to help you simplify your digital life, so is perfectly in line with digital minimalism. It takes the core of work communication and email and folds it into a full suite of productivity tools directly into your Inbox. This allows you to have one app that covers Notes, To-Do Lists, email, video and voice calls, and much more, rather than hopping from one program to another.

 

What’s more, Spike knows how important it is to have downtime, which is why there is the built-in ability to silence it. You can even snooze individual messages and set reminders to keep your mind on track and your digital desk uncluttered. Additionally, with email at its core, Spike has a focus on asynchronous communication, allowing you to read and respond on your time rather than being at the mercy of a notification beep.

 

Spike also enables you to seamlessly transition to email minimalism with tools like Priority Inbox, which shows you only the messages you need, leaving the clutter behind. Additionally, it offers Conversational Email, which cuts out the old formalities like signatures, leaving you with something more reminiscent of instant messaging – again cutting the background noise and delivering only what’s important – the message.

 

Stay tuned to the blog for all the latest updates on our 21st-century communication tools or tweet us @SpikeNowHQ and tell us how you’re living better with less technology.

 

Updated 06/01/2021

FAQs on Digital Minimalism

Digital minimalism applies the broader principles of minimalism to your digital life, including computers, cell phones, social media, internet usage, emails, and more. It is about clearing away the clutter to focus on what you need. 

Digital minimalism isn’t about buying sleek-looking devices, but rather taking steps to clear and organize what you already have. 

 

There are a number of ways to apply digital minimalism to your smartphone, but some key steps are:

  • Remove what you don’t need
  • Organize what remains
  • Turn off notifications 
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Spike Team The Spike team posts about productivity, time management, and the future of email, messaging and collaboration.