Becoming the Digital Essentialist

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Written by:

Paul Keefe

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November 21, 2019

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Written by:

Paul Keefe

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

— Herbert A. Simon

After making my morning coffee, and settling in for the day I check my emails. Gmail has so graciously organized these emails according to my behaviours around the consumption of this content in the past. Cool.

There is an unrelenting stream of attention-grasping content being stored away for potential ingestion at a later time. I just have to look in my inbox, social, promotions – or quite possibly – spam folders to uncover it all.

One day after opening up a handful of email subscriptions to authors and experts, I noticed that I felt exhausted and somewhat anxious.

The digital onslaught to my inbox was becoming too much. I wanted an out.

My ego’s final excuse was, “Hey, you’ve followed these people for this long, better keep it going.”

I decided to stop listening to that voice. Instead I asked myself, “Am I getting value out of this?” I wasn’t. So I decided to axe a couple of them.

It felt good. 

I continued on for a few more minutes.

I felt better.

The next day, I proceeded to do the same thing. It finally reached a tipping point of insight in which I realized: the minimalist movement is not just for material possessions. I can, and should declutter my digital world as well.

The amount of anxiety and stress our inboxes cause can be tremendous. And that’s just our emails. Let alone our social media, various apps, and other forms of digital consumption. Added all together, it seems insurmountable. And maybe that’s the point — where the eyes go, economies go. Attention is money.

In order to free myself from this mental clutter, I looked to refine more.

Here are a few of the areas that I stripped down to their most essential parts, in order to live the most mindful life in my own respective digital world.

Apps and Notifications

The first method I implemented when I began the process of digital decluttering: create more friction between you and the abused app.

In fact, before I removed any apps, I created multiple folders on my iPhone and organized my apps accordingly. From here, I would deliberately put apps like social media in folders that I had to swipe, click into, then swipe again to get at.

Along with turning off most of my phones notifications (no more red dots!) I found my consumption drastically improved.

However, there came a time where I got so used to the swiping and clicking pattern that I found myself crawling back inside the depths of Instagram. Getting to the root cause is always going to have to be the answer. And so I eventually deleted the apps (continue reading).

Subscriptions

More recently I have begun to take an honest look at the various email subscriptions I have. A lot is to people from many differing backgrounds. Marketing, business, coaching, fitness, well-being, etc. For most of these individuals, I already had their book(s), follow them online in some other regard, or hear enough of my friends talking about them that I just let them fill me in.

These subscriptions were great for the odd info-dopamine hit I do enjoy. Or for when the person is promoting an upcoming event, podcast, or new book.

In all honesty, it wasn’t worth that daily anxiousness. With the amount of information I consume on a daily basis, and already being heavily attuned to my email for work, it just wasn’t worth it.

The digital onslaught to my inbox was becoming too much. I wanted an out.

My ego’s final excuse was, “Hey, you’ve followed these people for this long, better keep it going.”

I decided to stop listening to that voice. Instead I asked myself, “Am I getting value out of this?” I wasn’t. So I decided to axe a couple of them.

It felt good.

p.s. Sorry Seth Godin. I have followed you for 8 years. I will regularly Google what you are up to, but for now we must part ways. Also, The Daily Coach. George Ravelling — this is a great project and I found great insight in the beginning. But honestly, these types of emails just kept getting pressed into my subscription folder for a later read. This never happened.

Social Media

Deleting all social media off of my phone — other than LinkedIn which I used for business — was by far the most freeing experience I felt out of the three methods I have shared.

Simply remove any apps that fuel impulsive, short-term gratification behaviour, and are not absolutely essential in your life.

Ask yourself, “Have I used this app consistently over the course of the past month?”

In my case:

If I answered no, then I would delete the app.

If I answered yes, then I would look deeper and ask myself if it was fuelling some sort of negative perception, or outcome. In this case that was food delivery services, social media (specifically Instagram, and Snapchat), and shopping apps.

What to Do Next

Pick one of the following exercises to shift your intent towards over the next few days. Consider these substitution habits. Don’t think about removing the above all together as there is a time and place for them. Just think about how you can do a little it more of these high mental and emotional investment activities.

  1. Declutter one area of your own digital world today. You could start with one of the methods I shared above, or choose your own. Look to the areas where you find your attention being gravitated to. Tune into how you are feeling when you consume information. Ask yourself what’s one area that isn’t positively contributing to your life, and cut it out even if just by a bit.

  2. Create something you find meaningful. Do this as a substitute for the cutting down of your screen time. Time will start to free up and you will realize you can accomplish a lot more in a day. Writing, a hobby, drafting a plan for the side hustle you’ve always want to start, meditating, moving, etc. Create something free of distraction.

Resources


Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.

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Written by:

Paul Keefe

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November 21, 2019

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