Reflections on my digital declutter 4/21/19

By Chris Johnson

My 30 day digital declutter is over and I wanted to share my thoughts on how it went and what I’ll be doing going forward.

The first few days without Twitter, Instagram, and my RSS reader were the toughest. It’s funny how much muscle memory I’ve built up with those services. I open my phone, and without thinking, I’d pick one of those apps (usually Twitter) to open. After the first week though, I rarely had the urge.

My phone usage didn’t plummet though. Instead of three hours a day, I was using it around two hours and fifteen minutes. I used my phone for looking up information on Duck Duck Go, texting, and occasionally replying to emails while I was traveling to client meetings. My phone became more of a utility than an entertainment device.

What I did with my downtime changed significantly. I was reading more books, I wrote more blog posts, I met friends more frequently, I started a podcast (stay tuned), and I spent more time talking and enjoying the company of my wife. My attempts to add a bunch of new hobbies didn’t really stick, but being more proactive about going out and meeting friends is something that I think will be with me long term.

My ability to focus is where I was hoping to see the biggest improvement. After week one, I can say I felt more calm and relaxed throughout the day. My desire to constantly switch tasks declined. It wasn’t as big as a change as I’d hoped for, but it wasn’t nothing. However, I did feel more lonely throughout the work day. I work from a home office, and on days where I don’t have client meetings, Twitter is often how I feel connected to my colleagues and the world. To combat those feelings of disconnect, I spent more time working at local coffee shops.

So, where do I go from here? I’ve been off the declutter for a few days, and when I returned to Twitter, Instagram, and RSS I pared back the accounts I follow significantly. As a result, I feel less inclined to spend more than a few minutes perusing my feeds, but I can already feel the muscle memory I mentioned earlier returning. Even with that compulsion slowly creeping back, I realized I care less about the outrage of the day on social media than I did a month ago. With distance, it all seems a bit tiresome and counterproductive.

I think the way forward is two-fold: 1) limit my time on those services using Screen Time, and 2) setup blocks where I can’t use them at all, like mornings, nights, and weekends. I’m also hoping to convince some of my better acquaintances to join a chat room or something else a little less public.

Overall, I’m glad I gave Cal Newport’s digital declutter a try, and I’d recommend it to anyone that feels like they have an unhealthy relationship with social media and other digital services. At the very least, it will make you more intentional about how you spend your time.