Technology has become imperative to our daily work, activities and social life. It is an expectation that we are constantly “connected” to maintain our place in modern society. So, what do we do? What does using technology to enhance our lives, but not detract from it, really look like? I believe that, as in most things, balance is the key.
Keeping technology usage in balance is equal to keep consumption of anything in balance. We can overeat, over-shop, over party, oversleep and the list goes on. It’s even possible to drink too much water, which seems crazy but is true. Minimalism has found its way into our thoughts when we consider needs versus wants for our home decor, our closets, our food, even our finances.
In contrast, technology can feel like a need versus a want so it is harder to minimize this category of our lives. I have found multiple effective ways to balance my technology usage AND remain connected. The core always goes back to asking yourself that classic minimalism question, “Does this add value to my life?” Once you determine yes, this or that technology adds value to my life or is a need, then making sure using the tech doesn’t leave you feeling used in return is an absolute must!
5 Habits to Use Technology Like a Minimalist
If we find the balance that works for us we can utilize tech as a way to enhance our lives and prevent the negative effects of over-consumption. The below actions can take dedication to embrace but when you do your technology usage will enhance your life not detract from it.
Habit 1. Phone Minimalism
Let’s start here and take the phone for its primary purpose, not as a smartphone with its many uses. The “smart” things I will cover separately below. I consider the phone one of the most infiltrating forms of technology in the world, even without the added smart elements. This device is the first one that we decide is a need not a want, so it is the first to get abused and hardest to keep in balance.
Turn off your ringer majority of the time.
Most of my friends do this, I love them for it. When I hear a phone ringing it is almost shocking to me these days. It is disruptive to your company if you are with someone and its as annoying as a car alarm to strangers when you are out. It’s best to limit your use of this feature for you and everyone else.
How? An obvious answer is to turn off the ringer. I got so used to this that now I only turn my ringer on when I am waiting for an important call or I have flexible time and am open to a spontaneous call from someone. I know that’s not feasible for everyone though. A solution for this is iPhone's awesome feature called “Do Not Disturb.” Other phones have this feature but it’s called something different on each device. Essentially, this is like a call screener.
You program in specific numbers that you must pick up if they call, like your child’s school or your sick relative. When the numbers you programmed as VIP call you, your phone rings as normal. Every other call is silent or is sent directly to voicemail depending on your device settings. Think about which numbers you would pick up even if you were in the bathroom, or in an important meeting. Those are the ones you might add to this feature. All others can usually wait to get a call back shortly after you realize you missed the call.
Minimalist Phone Screen
This has been an amazing life changer for me. When you pick up your phone, what are you looking for? Usually, it’s something specific. You’re checking for missed calls or messages. As soon as the screen lights up more often then not you see a long list of notifications and when you enter the phone you see red bubbles with numbers that are growing by the second. These red bubbles are found on many apps that update regularly and capture your attention.
More often then not you are drawn to click on the app and see what notification you missed. That was not your primary purpose for picking up your phone. You didn’t miss any calls, yet all of a sudden 15 minutes have disappeared reviewing app notifications that were not time-sensitive at all. So, making the primary screen clear so it doesn’t distract you from your purpose is important.
How? Screen Minimalism will look very different for each person depending on what matters to you and comes in 2 primary parts.
Turn OFF Notifications
Turn OFF notifications for any apps that aren’t time sensitive. This is specific to each person. Keep only the ones that truly matter to you. As an example, I have turned off almost ALL of my notifications. Consider what information you find valuable and actionable and important to receive so instantaneously. Everything else, turn off the notifications for and proactively look around in your phone to address the rest when you have set aside the time.
Clear your Home Page
This may seem radical but can be the most effective minimal phone technique. If you light up your screen to minimal or no apps you atomically will take a pause and ask – “What was I looking for?” The magic happens at this moment. Sometimes you were looking for nothing! The amount of times we pick up our phone is habitual, not purposeful.
A person committed to minimizing their tech will approach it purposefully so they are doing something proactively not reactively. Clearing your home page can be the perfect catalyst to help with this.
Habit 2. Email Minimalism
This is another technology need that easily becomes overwhelming. When my email red bubble grew to the number 911 – yes, nine hundred and eleven unread emails – I decided that was a sign! HELP!
My email seemed to scream at me and I spent considerable time over the weeks after that researching and brainstorming the best way to handle my usage of my email so that it can be a tool for me, not a source of stress. The following we essential in getting me very close to inbox zero more often than not.
The biggest culprit of email stress for me is the flood of emails from signups that you didn’t sign up for, that you only needed once, or that you want at a lower frequency. Enter Unroll Me. I am sure there are better, similar services out there now but this one was the best I found a few years ago when I minimized my email.
It works like this: You get ONE email with a chosen subset of your emails listed inside, similar to an email news feed. Instead of opening each email separately you get one email with visual images of your emails in a thread. To me, it feels like Instagram within an email for all your “rolled up” emails in your inbox. This feature makes reviewing email very quick and easy. It also consolidates a large chunk of your “junk mail” into one email so your overall inbox receives fewer emails and is cleaner.
What is most amazing about this service and what got me out of the 911 email zone was its super quick unsubscribe feature. Within the Unroll Me account, you can scroll through all of your email subscriptions like a checklist. You can select whichever email you no longer want with a little check mark and “unsubscribe” to a mass of emails at the same time!
The first time I did this I had over 200 subscriptions, many I never signed up for! I unsubscribed from over 100 email subscriptions within 5 minutes and felt a weight lift off me. Now, I regularly set aside time to go into the software and unsubscribe to a set of email subscriptions all at once. It feels amazing. Bye inbox clutter.
Stop Checking Your Email
This doesn’t mean what you think it means. Instead of constantly checking your email, set aside a significant amount of time to check your email deliberately. It can be once a day, once an hour or once a week. Setting aside a block of time to look at your email ensures that when you open your email that you have the time to reply or give attention to whatever action you read.
I can’t count the number of times I used to open my email, scroll through it, see I have 5 different emails that need my attention and close my email because, after checking my email, I didn’t have the time right then to reply. The emails that needed my attention stayed unread and in the back of my mind were added to the “do later” list.
You probably know where this is going. Later didn’t happen for the majority of emails and I got up to 911 unread emails. Oops! Now, I open my email when I have time to answer, delete or archive whatever came through and I have been able to keep my inbox at 25 or fewer emails majority of the time. Feels. So. Good.
Habit 3. Social Media Minimalism
Social Media Date
Make Social Media enhance your life by setting a social media date with yourself. No one feels good emerging from a Facebook, Instagram or Youtube vortex. You look at the clock and are in disbelief of the time that went by, this is the vortex. Don’t let it take your time, choose to give it your time during “x”. Some examples of “x” are, only look at Social Media on your commute, on your lunch or after dinner. Setting this date will make it a proactive enjoyment, not a time drain.
The Computer is King
Look at your Social Media primarily on your computer instead of your phone or tablet. On a computer, you can set your social media pages to open to a specific subset page instead of your feed. If you open to your feed we are caught by curiosity right away. When you enter deliberately to your calendar of events, a favorite group or your personal page you will select more mindfully where you go from there to invest your time consciously while on the platforms.
Stop and think who you are curious about and type their name in, send them a message or better yet after viewing their profile get offline, send them a personal message via phone and make their day. To often we are consuming and scrolling but the real point of social media is connecting – use it that way or let it go.
Set an Alarm or Time Limit
This is very effective. If you know you only want to use social media 1 hour or less per day monitor your usage and get your life back. Living minimally involves valuing your time. It doesn’t come automatically. Most of us have to practice the discipline and there are many tracker apps to help with social media specifically based on your device. Use them. You will be shocked to see your usage.
At the end of the year, you can easily amass 2 full weeks on social media. Would you rather have done something else with those two weeks of your life or did the time spent online add to your life? For me, there is always a tipping point. I learned my perfect amount of time spent online by timing myself and adjusting accordingly.
Habit 4. The Internet Vortex
My absolutely most effective internet vortex prevention tool has been to create a “research later” list. You were just going to look up something, 3 hours later you have read and watched so many things you wouldn’t be able to recall any of the information even if you tried. You also didn’t get the information you went on the internet for in the first place anyway.
This is the struggle with the internet. There is SO much information. Instead of getting trapped in the vortex when you just needed to look something up, create a list of things to look up later that you check off one by one while you are online. This will make sure you are using your time and the internet effectively.
Habit 5. Selective Specialty Devices
There are so many smart devices now it is important to make sure these are enhancing your life not taking your life. Gaming Consoles, TV, Home Stereo, Smart Watches, Activity Trackers… Smart – Lightbulbs, Door Locks, Toothbrushes, Water Bottles (yes, these are real and will track your water consumption for you). When you choose which of these to bring into your life ask yourself, “Does this make my life better, easier, AND when I use it is it a good use of my time?”
Only you get to decide but make sure it enhances not detracts from your life. Gaming is the perfect example. For some, it is a community, a decompression activity, a sport or just a playful past time. It can turn into a stressful activity, an activity that leaves you without much-needed sleep and it can slowly replace meaningful face to face connecting with other people. Be honest with yourself and choose to use devices in a way that leaves you feeling your best. Your future self looking back on your life will thank you.
Hopefully, these have offered you some new, easy to incorporate habits and at the very least, I hope you try 1, dedicate to it and let me know if you notice any changes. I am counting on it that you will feel the difference!
Book: Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
What Is Minimalism?
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones