7 Practical Takeaways From Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism”

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Digital Minimalism Defined:


  • A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else. 


Over the past few months I have been blown away by the impact the seemingly simple read Digital Minimalism has had on my day-to-day life. As a good book always does, Digital Minimalism articulates ideas that were already floating around in my mind. For example, when posting a picture on Instagram I had been in the habit of deleting the app off my phone for a few days so I was not constantly checking the “likes”. Cal goes deep into why the “like” plays on our primitive behavior patterns and can be addictive. He takes a very strong stance on the use of social media, as you can see here:

“The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they are friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they are just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.

Beyond making the case for embracing this philosophy Cal also recommends a series of practices in the back half of this book. Here are the behaviors that I have embraced since reading this book:

  1. A 30-day digital declutter where you remove all non-essential technologies (this is like the whole-30 diet for technology). After the 30-days is up he recommends adding technologies back in only if they serve a deep value, are the best way to use technology to serve said value, and you have set constraints on how you will use this technology.
  2. Leaving your phone at home on short trips out of the house. This simple approach helps to rid yourself of the knee-jerk reaction of pulling your phone out in a moment of boredom to check it while simultaneously allowing you to be more present in your day-to-day life.
  3. Take long walks – my favorite time to take the shoe-lace express is right after a meal, usually lunch or dinner. Walking with my partner or by myself is energizing, allows for good conversation, or is simply a great time to think. Steve Jobs was famous for his long work-day walkabouts.
  4. Schedule in solitude – Cal argues that our society is deprived of solitude by spending close to zero time alone with our own thoughts and free from inputs of other minds. My solitude typically manifests itself on stoic retreats or long walks.
  5. Batch your texting – instead of answering every text immediately when it comes in and interrupting whatever you are doing, consider picking up your phone a handful of times per day to respond to all texts that have come in all at once. 
  6. Choose conversation – our tribal brains have evolved to pick up on facial expressions and tones as a critical tool for working with others in the tribe. By not having face-to-face, or, at least, phone conversations we are depriving ourselves of using this brain power. Of course, you cannot have conversations with everyone who “liked” your recent photo, but you can have deeper connections by making time for real conversations.
  7. High quality leisure – Cal asks the reader to make time for high quality leisure, which is time spent that meets these three criteria:  1) Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption. 2) Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world. 3) Seek activities that requires real-world, structured social interactions. 

fish bowl by John Caserta from the Noun Project


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