The task of enforcing digital minimalism
Digital ink is cheap. The physicality of its size is hidden away in the cloud or nested inside a folder on your drive. If not, it’s spread between productivity apps, emails, and online workspaces.
I don’t know when it started but I had a digital clutter issue.
To-do lists would pile up. Tickets and tasks would find its way to attach my name onto them. In addition to being overcommitted in work, drafts, brain dumps, thoughts, feelings, social media, alerts, notifications, sales emails, and photographs with slight variations filled my digital spaces.
I’m sure I’m not the only one.
The rate of information transmission has increased beyond exponentially over the past decade. For a lot of us, our brains can only process so much without being overwhelmed.
The growth of anxiety, workplace stresses, and burnout is endemic across all industries as we are expected to do more and be more. Productivity output are factors that determine a team’s ability to coordinate and deliver.
Being up to date with the latest releases determines an individual’s ability to compete with knowledge. But not everyone is able to keep up. Not every piece of information is equally important in your personal context.
The reason why minimalism is such a large movement among many individuals is that it strips back the noise of everything and reintroduces a sense of focus for what really matters. When it comes to digital minimalism, it’s not about the number of apps you have but a curated list of spaces, places, and documents that actually an impact.
The task of organizing your digital space
There’s a misconception that minimalism is defined by the number of things you have.
However, over time, I’ve come to discover that minimalism is actually a habit. Having less just makes the habit easier. When you are unable to keep your digital spaces in check, there’s a high chance that you’ll start to lose your grip on your professional digital spaces too.
Why? Because you can’t really apply a habit half-way. Our digital cleanliness runs on a habituated system of how often and how ruthless you are at clearing out the unnecessary. It also includes how well you are able to block out the potential noise.
When it comes to our digital stuff, it can be placed into two categories: the things we create and the things others generate. The things we create are things that we can control. The things others generate are what we can consume and we have the ability to filter out what is unnecessary. Before you start going on a mass deletion, you need to pause and observe your current patterns. There’s no point clearing out everything if your storage spaces are going to fill up again.
When you are unaware of your personal digital creation patterns, you run the risk of falling right back into the same issues once again. You can clear out everything, or even get a new device — but that’s just not a long term solution to the real issue.
So how do observe and identify these patterns?
Start by looking at the type of content you generate.
There will always be a category that is more bloated than the other. Now take a step back and look at why and how you generate this content.
The why will help you determine if it should be a necessary part of your routine. The how will help you determine the problematic apps. Once these two points are dealt with, you can then consciously decide if you want to keep doing what you’re doing or discard it. In order to break a habit, you need to first understand it from the ground up.
You don’t need to delete everything right away
The issue that many of us face is that we become unnecessary attached to the things we create. This is completely normal. We haven’t come to terms with disconnecting ourselves with the sunk costs of digital junk.
Just because it’s cheap to create and store, doesn’t mean you need to keep everything. This actually dilutes the value of the actual thing creating, resulting in the quantity over quality effect for your digital assets. Before you go on a mass deleting spree, learn how not to add more to your digital pile first. Figure out a system that works on adding only the necessary rather than trying to start from scratch.
Your habits and processes weren’t created in a single day, so clearing out your digital clutter and keeping it clean long term isn’t going to be at the same mythical speed either.
Curate what you consume
As digital natives, we can fall into the trap of creating as much as we consume.
When attention is now the biggest currency of our times and the most expensive asset you own, we often give it away too cheaply. Many of us tend to blame social media as one of the main culprits to our time sinks — however, as a user, you actually have more control and power to see what comes up in your feed than you think.
In order to make your feeds more relevant and useful to your personal purposes, decide what each platform is going to be used for and figure out what kind of content you want to see on there. Create defined definitions for each platform and enforce the rules.
It’s ok to remove people. It’s ok to remove pages and groups. It might take a while initially to unfollow and disconnect from everyone and everything that doesn’t add value in exchange for your time — but once you’ve done it, you should see a transformation in your feeds.
If you’re unsure about a particular person, group, page, or feed, there is often a hide or mute option for that particular type of content. If you find yourself happier without it after a time period, it’s safe to say that the thing you muted is good to disappear forever.
The walkthrough guide
So what exactly do you do to achieve the dreamed level of being digitally organized through minimalism?
Here’s the walkthrough guide.
Take stock of all your digital spaces
List them out — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, your phone’s images folder, email inboxes etc. Take note of the level of content you create and consume in each space.
Observe your patterns in all of them
For your most active spaces, take note of what annoys you, what you enjoy, what you need and don’t need. This includes people and the type of news and content you read. Take note of what makes you scroll past, what makes you pause, what makes you comment, and what makes you create.
Decide on what you want to keep and discard
This is the part where you figure out what your digital priorities are. Keeping clear and defined goals, in addition to boundaries for different types of content you create and consume can help keep your spaces tidy and defined. For your inactive spaces, make a decision to cut it out from your life.
Or alternatively, for things that requires consistent negative action, such as deleting the same email types (eg brand subscriptions and automated messages) or things that invoke a negative feeling (such as a particular type of news) — unsubscribe from the sources that keep giving you the material. You don’t owe them your attention.
Curate and cull
Getting rid of news that doesn’t enrich your mental growth and health isn’t a willful act of ignorance. Rather, it’s an act of making space for what’s important to you.
The world will keep going regardless of whether you consume the content or not. Being aware of your digital priorities and how each thing that comes up makes it easier to remove them from your digital spaces.
Maintain through new patterns
By this stage, you should be aware of your current habits and tendancies, enforced enough changes in your digital spaces through curation and culling in order to establish new patterns.
Curating what you consume is easy. The other half of this equation is curating what you create. When you are mindful of your digital production, it also gives you the ability to reduce the number of unnecessary bits and bytes you store away in various places. Do a review and take stock every other week to make sure that your digital spaces are still aligned with your goals.
Digital minimalism is more than just going on a mass deletion blitz. This is something we all do every now and then — but it doesn’t solve the problem. The problem is a mixture of your personal habits and your digital consumption of things that are no longer relevant. Some things like targetted advertising cannot be avoided but when you reduce your digital trails through minimalism, there are fewer markers and points for advertisers to put targets on.