When smartphones first came out I refused to get one for the first few years because I was pretty happy with my $1 Nokia phone.
Pretty much the ultimate way to do digital minimalism. Don’t get a smartphone.
It made calls. It did texts. Done.
I didn’t feel I needed my phone to do more than that. It was so basic it didn’t even have a camera.
Man I miss that phone.
I knew if I got one I’d get sucked into the smartphone addiction where the phone’s never out of your hand and your head’s constantly in the screen.
And as someone you didn’t have a smartphone for the first few years after they came out, it was interesting to observe the way it was changing people’s behaviour.
I remember one time in the early smartphone days when me and some colleagues were walking to lunch and in the middle of our conversation they both got out their phones and started using them.
Must have been my sparkling conversation.
But it wasn’t long before I joined the gang…
GETTING ADDICTED TO MY SMARTPHONE
After a few years I eventually cracked and got one. I could no longer function at work without having access to a smartphone.
And as soon as I got one I got addicted too, falling into some bad habits. Checking every notification as soon as it came in.
Scrolling through social media just for the sake of scrolling through social media.
Checking the internet, not for anything in particular. Again just wondering aimlessly through the digital landscape.
And very quickly I became glued to my phone just like everyone else.
BATTLING THE SMARTPHONE ADDICTION
And in the years since I got my first smartphone I’ve had this love/hate relationship with it.
On the one hand loving what it’s capable of.
It’s my Sat Nav.
My way to connect with family on the other side of the world.
My mini computer that allows me to work anywhere without a laptop.
But on the other hand it’s a massive distraction device with beautifully coloured apps calling for my attention.
Pings and badges saying ‘hey look at me’.
It’s the boredom pacifier because standing in an elevator for 30 seconds is far too painful to endure without having something to do.
It’s the toy you constantly play with rather than interact with the people around you.
BECOMING MORE MINDFUL: THE DIGITAL MINIMALISM APPROACH
So eventually I decided to take some action and began experimenting with different ways to use my phone.
To become more mindful in the way I used it.
To create ways that I would be less distracted by it.
So I started implementing the digital minimalism approach.
One the best ideas I got from The Minimalists was to delete all the apps from my phone and then reintroduce them as needed.
This was a great idea because it got me to think about what I really needed on my phone.
Because the big irony I found with having all these apps, was that they weren’t actually making my life any easier or simpler.
Having 60+ of them on my phone was making my life more complicated and not so easy.
So removing every app and then slowly reintroducing them drastically reduced the number of them on my phone.
And as I started reintroducing them, I really questioned every app I put back on.
Some questions I asked were:
Does this app actually make my life easier and simpler? Or can I cope without it?
How often do I actually use this app?
What affect does this app have on me and my daily life?
One of the best moves I made was removing Facebook off my phone.
When questioned it’s place on my phone, I realized that I didn’t need to know what was going on with my friends and family in one click on my phone.
So bye bye Facebook.
Instead I moved to checking it on my laptop and now I check it very occasionally. This was a great move.
Placement of Apps On Your Smartphone
I also took some time to play around with where I positioned certain apps on my phone.
And again I asked some questions:
Which apps do I use all the time?
Do I want to put that app on my home screen and be tempted into using it?
The apps I used daily went on my home screen.
The rest I moved to the second and third screen.
And this approach works really well for the apps you know will distract you because by having to scroll past my home screen to find them it makes them less tempting to go and look at.
It also makes you more conscious of using it, because it takes a few steps to get to it.
Instagram is the perfect example. I kept the app, but it’s on my second screen as I don’t need to check in on it all the time.
So by placing it on the second page of my screen it makes it less tempting to use and me more conscious of when I use it.
Curating your Instagram Feed
I love Instagram and get a lot of value out of it. But I use it differently to most people.
My feed is higly curated.
I don’t follow any friends or family.
For me Instagram is a tool for me to learn from, so I’m highly specific with who I follow.
And who I follow changes regularly. I generally keep my list to about 30 – 50 people because sometimes I’ll be interested in someone’s content for a while and then I lose interest in the subject they talk about.
Or I’m just not connecting with their content any more so I stop following them.
And by limiting my feed, it means when I do go and scroll through Instagram I don’t have thousands of posts to scroll through because my feed is so small.
The biggest game changer with taking the digital minimalism approach is getting rid of all notifications – badges, sounds etc.
Which I did for everything apart from texts and calls, because every time I’d hear my phone beep, my attention would be drawn away from whatever I was doing at work or a conversation I was having.
So again, I asked some questions:
Do I need to be notified of every email as soon as it comes in?
Or a Facebook message, an Instagram like or any other notification from my other apps?
I didn’t, so bye bye notifications.
Badges also got the flick because every time I’d look at my phone I didn’t need to see badges tempting me to click on the app.
So badges. Gone.
The only notifications that remained were the ones I needed to be aware of instantly.
In case there was an emergency with my parents or partner or for people at work to contact me.
For the same reasons.
Everything else. NO.
Even my work emails got the chop. I would just check them as and when I felt appropriate.
Because when you have to choose to go into an app you become more conscious of your activity, and you’re more likely to catch yourself using your apps mindlessly.
DITCHING THE SMARTPHONE
It drives my wife nuts, but sometimes I just ditch my smartphone and leave it at home because I like to detach from it at times. And the best way to do that is to leave it at home when I go out.
This sometimes backfires, like when she’s trying to find me in a shopping centre but can’t because I left my phone at home. Oops.
But I find it healthy to break that need to be connected to my device 24/7.
RECONNECTING WITH YOUR PHONE IN THE MORNING
When I wake up in the morning I generally wont look at my phone for at least an hour after I wake up. Sometimes 2-3 hours.
Because staying disconnected from the world as I start my day protects my personal space which I devote to my morning mind and movement practices.
Plus it protects my mental health because your mind is highly susceptible to influence first thing in the morning. So checking your phone in that first hour or so can be quite damaging.
If you read an email or message that causes a negative reaction, that reaction can be incredibly hard to shake off.
I know because I’ve made that mistake numerous times and it’s really fucked up my mental state for the day.
HAS THE DIGITAL MINIMALISM APPROACH IMPACTED ME?
I’m still pretty connected to the phone because it’s a pretty useful device, but because I’ve taken the digital minimalism approach I’m more mindful with how I use my phone and do so with more intention.
There are times when I miss that $1 phone. They were much simpler times and I know my mind was the better for it.
But by approaching my phone with this mindset has helped me disconnect from it a little more.
So I’m less attached and less distracted.