Values, Goals, and Digital Minimalism

Laura Hansen, PCC. In his book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport offers a philosophy for technology use.  Technology is neither good nor bad.  The key is using it to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you.  

Digital minimalists are all around us.  They’re the calm, happy people who can hold long conversations without furtive glances at their phones.  They can get lost in a good book, a woodworking project, or a leisurely morning run.  They can have fun with friends and family without the obsessive urge to document the experience.  They stay informed about the news of the day, but don’t feel overwhelmed by it.  They don’t experience “fear of missing out” because they already know what activities provide them with meaning and satisfaction.  

Newport offers a thoughtful, intentional method to be discerning about what tools to use for what purposes, and under what conditions. 

If you want to adopt this philosophy and make it a part of your life, Newport suggests you start with a thirty-day “digital declutter” process.  This process requires you to step away from optional on-line activities for thirty days.  During this period, you’ll wean yourself from the cycles of addiction that many digital tools can instill, and begin to rediscover the analog activities that provide you deeper satisfaction.  You’ll take walks, talk to friends in person, engage your community, read books, and stare at the clouds.  Most importantly, the declutter process gives you the space to refine your understanding of the things you value.  Going forward, you’ll do your best to make these intentional activities the core of your online life – leaving behind most of the other distracting behaviors that used to fragment your time and snare your attention.  The declutter process acts as a jarring reset; you come into the process a frazzled maximalist and leave an intentional minimalist. Also related, read about mindfulness, “The Benefits and How-To’s of Workplace Mindfulness.”

After your month of decluttering, try spending some time alone.  Newport suggests using this strategy of digital minimalism in a particular way.  

  • Solitude has been defined as “time spent alone with our own thoughts and free from inputs from other minds”.  
  • Practice:  Start a journaling practice, or write letters to yourself when faced with demanding or uncertain circumstances.  You don’t need to write in these journals on a regular schedule.  These notebooks play a different role; they provide you with a way to write a letter to yourself when encountering a complicated decision or a hard emotion, or a surge of inspiration.  By the time you are done composing your thoughts in the structured form demanded by written prose, you have often gained clarity. You can keep a special notebook for this purpose, or like Abraham Lincoln, you can grab a scrap of paper when the need arises.  The key is the act of writing itself.  This behavior necessarily shifts you into a state of productive solitude – wrenching you away from the appealing digital baubles and addictive content waiting to distract you, and providing you with a structured way to make sense of whatever important things are happening in your life at the moment.  

If you want to learn more about Digital Minimalism, read Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism. Learn more about how digital minimalism can work best for you. Contact Laura for a consultation.