Is your head full of digital noise?
Decluttering as a philosophy
Decluttering has become a buzzword over the last few years. As our modern lives get busier and technology makes it harder to switch off from our 24 hour interconnected world, we have flocked to the idea of minimalising our physical spaces to achieve order and calm. Marie Kondo has become the global superstar of the physical decluttering scene, but a parallel minimalist movement has emerged in the digital sphere. In a recent book, Computer Science professor Cal Newport, advocates a similar approach in our use of technology. In his view, we need to pare down our internet usage to a few carefully chosen online activities which align with our values. He advocates for a more balanced and meaningful relationship with the digital tools we use – and suggests that they should support our goals rather than hijack our attention and headspace.
Innovation in technology is so fast that we often get swept along in a never-ending stream of new devices, apps, tools, and social media platforms. If it’s new, it must be better, right? We sign up for a CMS or file storage system, scheduling tool or messaging app – and then sign up for another when the next ones come along. In a way, we are simply displacing our physical clutter to the digital space. If you think about the vast quantities of content and information we are leaving in various places around the internet, we’re still hoarding, just online! Imagine if all your online photos, files, documents, emails and comments were printed out and how much room they would take up in your house. Although we are now hiding away all this toxic clutter in the digital space, it’s still there. And our brains know it!
Your brain as supercomputer
Think of your brain as a computer hard drive. There are a lot of plugins and software which are out of sight, but which slow down its performance. When you ‘hide’ your clutter online, you are still inadvertently impacting your state of mind. You know your ‘stuff’ is still all there, spread around these different apps and tools. In fact because digital storage is so easy – there’s probably even more clutter than you ever had physically. In the days pre digital photography, photos were precious possessions. Films were expensive and you had to wait a few weeks to get them processed. Now we are all snap happy – photographing anything and everything and uploading it all to the internet. But what’s up there? Where exactly is it all? And can we actually remember?
This mental burden of invisible digital clutter and the constant need to attend to online distractions has a very real impact. It affects your mood and your ability to concentrate, it makes you feel anxious, guilty and unproductive. Added to that, the more content we store and tools we use, the harder it is to organise. If your laptop and phone layouts are an untidy mess of random apps and files, this makes you feel even more distracted and chaotic. Digital platforms are specifically designed to maximise your attention – and to make you crave feedback. They take away the feeling that you have control over your own actions. In order to take back control of your time – and your mind, then, you need to tackle your approach to technology.
Do a digital declutter – here’s how:
Essential v optional
Much like physical decluttering, a digital declutter requires you to set aside a period of time (1 month, according to Newport) to review the technology you are using. You need to use this time to reassess which digital tools are essential to your life, and which are ‘optional’. The optional technologies are the ones you can go without for the duration of the month without it having a disruptive or adverse effect on your working or home life – for example, delete Social Media apps from your phone, but keep your work email.
Pare it down
Review the tools you are using for essential activities and pare them down. Do you need more than one CMS, or file storage tool? Do the same with content. Delete files you don’t need – be ruthless! Clear out your downloads and your bookmarks, delete accounts you don’t use, organise your files and images and delete photos you don’t need to keep. Delete unread emails and unsubscribe from email lists and newsletters.
Rediscover your why
In his book on digital minimalising, Cal Newport suggests using the month long declutter to reconnect with (non digital) “activities and behaviours that you find satisfying and meaningful”. In other words, work out your inner motivations, or your values. My recent blog ‘The importance of why’ gives tips on how to identify what really matters to you and gives you purpose.
Reintroduce technology ‘intentionally’
At the end of the digital decluttering period, gradually reintroduce technologies into your life with your ‘why’ in the forefront of your mind. Only let back those technologies that enhance your values, or that contribute to you achieving your goals. For example – is Twitter an important tool for you to share thought leadership ideas, or is it an addictive distraction from work? Is the fitness app actually helping you achieve your health goals or is it just an entertaining diversion?
Keep on top of your digital spaces
Once you have cleared out and organised your digital spaces, keep on top of them. Set a recurring reminder on your calendar to check your files and photos, remove unnecessary items and put them in the correct place.
And remember, less is more! Starting from scratch after a digital declutter should help you make smarter decisions about the way you use technology so that you can control it, rather than it control you. Free your mind from digital ‘noise’ and find some order and calm. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information about my Having it all coaching programme.