Digital Minimalism: How to Simplify Your Online Life

written by Dan Silvestre
Minimalism, Productivity
digital minimalism

Our lives have become tech-centric. It’s starting to “own” us. It’s time to seek ways to redesign our relationship with technology. Enter Digital Minimalism.

In 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the future: the iPhone 3 and, along with it, the App Store. It marked the beginning of the mobile revolution, the era of the apps and streaming.

Not much later, Amazon introduced the Kindle. One of the oldest technology known to man became digital.

And, a year later, Google launched Chrome.

A little over a decade has passed but it seems like a century ago that our phones had a physical keyboard and we texted using SMS.

Ten years later we are addicted to technology. We crave for it. Here are alarming numbers from research:

  • Total digital media usage is up 40% since 2013
  • Smartphone usage has doubled in the last 3 years
  • 1 of every 2 minutes spent online is on “leisure activities”, such as social media, video viewing, entertainment/music, and games
  • 1 of every 5 minutes spent online is on social media
  • The average person spends almost 3 hours per day on mobile

It’s time to put an end to this madness. Life happens when you look up and around you, not screens.

How can we be more mindful around our technology?

Digital minimalism is the answer…

What Is Minimalism?

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, a book about cleaning, simplifying and organizing your belongings, brought minimalism into the mainstream.

And so, upon hearing the word “minimalism”, many think of owning only a few pieces of clothing, a tiny house with nothing but a mattress and zero waste.

This couldn’t be further away from the truth.

Minimalism has little to do with stuff. Things are just a by-product of a mindset. Minimalism is about mindset.

It’s about living with intention. You make room — space and time — for the things you love and eliminate everything that distracts us from them.

You become intentional with what you choose to do and own and how it impacts your way of living, thinking, and perspective on life.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci

To add value to life, think subtraction. Think of what you can remove.

Less is more.

What Is Digital Minimalism?

As a part of Minimalism, Digital Minimalism embraces the same philosophy: to be intentional with our use of technology.

Here’s Cal Newport definition of digital minimalism:

“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.”

It’s cleaning up your digital life to use just what you need in the most efficient way possible.

You question whether a particular piece of technology — email, social media, internet browsing, the phone — is adding or removing value to your life.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” — Albert Einstein

Below you’ll find Digital Minimalism tips to simplify your online life and start building a better and healthier relationship with technology.

Digital Minimalism: Using the Computer Intentionally

digital minimalism

Let’s start with the easiest one: setting up your computer to use it with intention.

The goal is to remove anything that is not adding value and double down on what we use on a regular basis.

  1. Clean Up the Desktop: remove all the files and programs from your desktop. Use Spotlight to open them instead
  2. Choose a Clean Wallpaper: it might seem trivial, but your wallpaper can have an impact on your productivity. Pick a photo that won’t distract you but rather help you focus. I like Simple Desktops
  3. Auto-Hide the Dock: you can set it up in the Dock preferences
  4. Uninstall Programs: go through your apps and delete everything that you don’t use
  5. Install Updates: after clearing your unused apps, check for updates on the ones left and actually install them
  6. Work in Full-Screen Mode: most programs offer full-screen mode, a perfect way to block out distractions

Digital Minimalism: Simplifying Files

Time to graduate to something a little more tricky: files.

As hard drives get bigger we tend to accumulate a lot of digital junk on our computers. Over time, it’s harder to find what we need.

It’s time to stop that. Here’s how:

  1. Delete: first up is deleting all the files you don’t need
  2. Upload to the Cloud: now split your files into two categories: the ones you use regularly and the ones you don’t. For the later, upload them to the cloud. The major contenders are photos and old files you don’t need
  3. Make Content Searchable: choose easy to remember names for your folders and files so you can always find anything quickly using search
  4. Fewer Folders: search is so powerful now that filling becomes a thing of the past. Use fewer but bigger folders. I have “Work”, “Personal”, and “Fun” and then just search inside each one of them for what I need
  5. Clear to Neutral: at the end of the day, close all your tabs and programs, delete or move all the files from Downloads, empty the trash, and shut off your computer. By clearing to neutral you’re helping “future you” get started
  6. Access, Don’t Own: ownership can be stressful. Instead, take advantage of the access economy by streaming video and music

Digital Minimalism: A Better Phone Experience

digital minimalism

Next up, let’s tackle something a little bigger: our phone.

A little over a decade these devices didn’t exist. So how come they are such a big part of our lives now?

Here’s the step-by-step for digital minimalism on your phone and all-around a better experience:

  1. Remove Apps: as with the computer, start by deleting all the apps you don’t use anymore. For apps you use but not frequently consider using the browser version
  2. Remove Social Media: trust me, you’ll survive. Social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely a bad habit
  3. A Mindful Home Screen: place the 4 most used apps on your dock at the bottom. Put everything else into a single folder
  4. Clean Up Contacts: browse through your contact list and delete numbers you won’t need ever again
  5. Delete: the prime candidates are podcasts and music you don’t listen to anymore. Stream instead of downloading
  6. Now Use Search: you can use spotlight not only to find apps but also content within them, like finding someone’s phone number by typing their name. Search is your new best friend
  7. Remove Notifications: leave phone calls and text messages but remove all the other notifications. Trust me, the world won’t come to an end. When you want to check something, open the app and do so. Don’t let the app control you to open it
  8. Do Not Disturb: schedule Do Not Disturb after working hours so you can relax, such as from 8 PM to 8 AM

Digital Minimalism: Escaping Email Hell

The average adult checks their email 45 times.

Yet nobody has claimed to have changed the world by checking email.

Treat email as a to-do and schedule it in your calendar. Only check email twice per day: late morning and late evening.

digital minimalism

Here’s how to embrace digital minimalism when it comes to email:

  1. Turn Off Notifications: if you’re not going to check email, why do you need the dings?
  2. No Email Before 11 AM: spend the early morning performing Deep Work on critical work that moves the needle on your goals
  3. Have an End Time: one Pomodoro cycle (25 minutes) per session is more than enough to process email
  4. Close It: if you’re done, close it. Out of sight, out of mind
  5. Unsubscribe: from anything you don’t need, such as newsletters, groups, mailing lists, and notifications
  6. Send Fewer Emails: not every email needs a response, especially if it’s going to be “Thanks!”
  7. Delay Answers: many “urgent” emails tend to solve themselves
  8. Be Succinct: don’t write ten sentences when two suffice. Try replying to every email with three sentences or less
  9. Reply with Statements: don’t answer questions with another question. When asked “What time should we have the meeting at?”, be assertive: “10 AM”
  10. Get Up: if it’s going to take more than 10 minutes to write a reply, get up and go talk to your co-worker or wait until they take a break. Personal interactions beat email any day of the week

Looking for a great productivity system to deal with email systematically? Copy the Getting Things Done Gmail System.

Digital Minimalism: Internet

digital minimalism

It’s time to tame the biggest monster of them all.

The internet is one big wonderful yet messy place. If you don’t use wisely, you end up in rabbit holes.

Here’s how to achieve digital minimalism on the internet:

  1. Know Your Time Wasters: use Time Tracker to figure where you spend most of your web browsing. Knowing the time-wasters is the first step
  2. Unfollow & Unfriend: if it doesn’t interest, entertain, or inform you anymore it’s time to go. Our feeds are full of distracting posts from people we’re not particularly close to. Unfriend anyone that doesn’t add value to your life
  3. Delete Social Media: no sense using all the platforms available. Keep only the ones that you love. If you want to go hardcore, delete your profiles (here’s how to remove Facebook). To be less extreme simply de-activate your account
  4. No Bookmark Bar: next time you want to browse Reddit you’ll have to manually type it
  5. Review Your Reading: stop browsing websites that do not contribute to your life. Removing an option by default is the quickest way to change behavior
  6. Block Websites: blacklist websites that aren’t essential for work. In Mac use SelfControl; in Windows Cold Turkey; in Chrome StayFocusd; in Firefox use LeechBlock

Digital Minimalism Is a Process

The last thought I want to leave you with is that digital minimalism is not something that you do once and you’re done with it.

It’s easy to delete and declutter your digital life in one big swoop and then immediately start collecting digital junk again.

That’s why digital minimalism is a process: it’s not something that you do, it’s something that you are.

Therefore, you need to become a better gatekeeper of what you allow in your digital life. Constantly purge anything that doesn’t add value to your life.

Above all, remember: you are a person, not a product.

Act like one.

Tags:: Minimalist Productivity

Thanks for reading!

You can get more actionable ideas in my popular email newsletters.
Enter your email now and join us!