What I learned taking a Digital Declutter

As you might know, in January I decided to pull the plug on all non-essential internet and web hee-haws. I’d had an email from Cal Newport and decided to give it a go. I wanted to see what effects it would have and if it would make my life any better.

In order to test this, I removed Twitter and Instagram from my phone. I didn’t need to do this to Facebook because I have not had it on my phone for a long time now. But I did decide to only check Facebook for a couple of pages I needed to use in day to day life on my laptop, one a professional group and one group for my son’s school.

The very first feeling I had when I’d deleted the apps, committed to the one month experiment and written about it here, was one of relief. I immediately felt as if I could relax. A little like those feelings when you finally get to your holiday destination, turn off all the tech and go and sit on a beach.

After a day or so, I did start to be more aware of habits I’d picked up, by the slight feeling of uncomfortableness in the absence of distractions. I noticed, when feeling bored, the instinct to reach for my phone. When first waking up, I felt the need to just casually check Instagram. When there was a break in a TV programme I instantly wanted to look down. I noticed all of these feelings and it made me realise just how habitual my digital app use was. It also reinforced my understanding that designers in particular use a myriad of ways to entice us to click on their app - bright colours, red buttons to hit our sense of urgency, pulling down to refresh - just like the lever on a slot machine. As I noticed my behaviours, without acting upon them, I started to see just how many habits I’d either created or been encouraged to adopt by apps.

Stop reading this just for a minute and look up and around you. If you’re in a public place notice just how many people are walking around looking down at their smartphones. How many couples or groups are sat with each other but engaging with apps or strangers via their phones?

The more I stepped away from the digital sirens, the more I started feeling annoyed and angry at other people’s behaviour. Very few people seemed to be engaging in the real world, or at least not for long periods of time.

Days passed and I began to read more long form articles on deeper subjects. I bought a real, paper book and began to read that instead, just for fun.

As I became less addicted to distraction and had more time on my hands, I started to read a business book and work towards setting up a small side-hustle business.

Then I decided upon some new habits to set up. I made a decision to drink less wine and to have more booze-free evenings.

I did one whole press-up.

The next day I did two.

Then one more, every day until I could bust out 20 in a row. This habit thing was working for me now, I was on fire!

Then I went further. I installed a new launcher for my Android phone and installed a monochrome theme. Suddenly all of my apps were just white line drawn icons on a dark background. I turned off all notifications except voicemail and text. I removed all icons off my home screen except phone, web, camera, text and WhatsApp along the bottom.

This had an amazing result. My phone was no longer able to use all of the designers tricks to interrupt my attention. I checked it on my schedule.

A few weeks in and I was really feeling benefits.

  • I didn’t miss Facebook
  • I didn’t miss Twitter
  • I didn’t miss Instagram
  • I didn't surf websites without a reason for doing so. No more surfing for distraction
  • I didn’t keep glancing at my phone
  • I daydreamed
  • I read and thought
  • I played with my boy, and my dog

This all surprised me because I really did think I would miss some of the intelligent or useful posts from writers and bloggers that I selectively follow. I even found that when I went on Facebook to check a school message, I didn’t want to read anything else there.

So after the month was over I felt no need to re-install the apps I’d banished. I found that I had been calmer and more happy, which I think may have been due to having less of the tiny dopamine hits that apps work hard to give us.

I am now, for work reasons, going to need to use Instagram and Twitter for over the next week or so. After that, we’ll I’m not sure yet. I might take them off again , but then again having removed them from my life and then woken up to the effects they were having on me, I know that if they do remain, I’ll be using them to do what I want them to do, rather than allowing them to train me to do what they would like me to do.

I would really, really encourage you, dear reader, to do something similar if this experiment relates to you. At the least, take the apps off your phone and just log in on a real computer if you need.

If you have an iPhone, you can change it’s settings to monochrome. If you’re on Android there are a number of ways to set up monochrome themes.

If you feel “I couldn’t do that!” well maybe you should examine your fear and have a try…

And if you do have a go, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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