Part I: The Foundation
I had not heard of Cal Newport until earlier this year when, during my morning commute, I listened to Lewis Howes interview him on the School of Greatness podcast. It was a thought-provoking exchange about the ‘intrusion’ of smartphones and social media into our lives that prompted me to read two of Newport’s books: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. It is the latter that inspires this post.
What is digital minimalism? In his book, and this is an appropriate place to begin, Newport defines it as:
A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else. 1
That “philosophy of technology use” demands, as Newport argues, that we define our technology rules. I recently spent time thinking about the rules I would need to successfully become a digital minimalist. Here are my [current] rules:
- Do not pick up my phone during the first hour of the day
- Remove social media apps from my phone
- Only access social media platforms on my laptop
- Limit use of streaming services to one movie or three episodes of a show on Saturday/Sunday
- Check WhatsApp/iMessages once a day (Monday to Friday), between 7:00 and 7:30 pm
- Embrace solitude
The goal of these ‘rules’ is twofold. First, removing distracting tools and breaking compulsive habits will help improve focus to perform what Newport calls deep work: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”2 Second, the execution of these rules, if done consistently, will allow me to live my best life by spending time on things I value.
In this four-part blog series, I will explore the above rules in more detail, and what works and what does not on my journey to becoming a digital minimalist.
1 Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (New York: Penguin, 2019), 28.
2 Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 3.