in my previous blog (thats right... i blog now), i outlined my intentions for participating in cal newport's 30 day digital declutter as outlined in his 2019 book digital minimalism, including my reasoning and the guidelines i were to follow. the declutter started on the 30th of august, and ended on the 1st of october. the format of this blog shall be as follows: i will take you through the 5 weeks, referencing my journals, and talking about the problems i found and the solutions ive created.
the first day of the declutter was a bank holiday monday so i had that day off work. i had planned to spend the morning giving the knit-your-own-mittens kit a go, but upon reading the jargon-heavy instructions and having zero experience on knitting i spent the morning watching the same three tutorials by sheep and stitch and desperately trying to figure out why i couldnt manage a simple rib stitch. i got there eventually, and as of today i have 1 and 1/3 mittens knit.
something i observed not just while knitting, but at any other possible time during the day, is just how often my mind has the knee-jerk urge to search up something online, and how difficult it actually is to resist doing so. i think after years of social media use, this is another way for my mind to try and get a quick hit of dopamine in a similar way it does when i get likes on a post. its satisfying to immediately get an answer but it runs the risk of tripping myself down SHITTY RABBIT HOLES online. in the beginning of the declutter, this happened numerous times - especially on youtube.
in newport's publication deep work, which came out before digital minimalism, in the chapter embrace boredom, he suggests while doing focussed tasks to block internet usage into 10-15 minute blocks. for example - lets say i have a couple hours to sit down and do some artwork. these two hours will be void of internet use, apart from pre-scheduled 10 minute blocks in which i am allowed to use the internet for whatever reason. if during my no-internet time i realise i need to look up a reference online, or if my brain hands me some random shit it would like googled, i write it down to be searched later in the internet block. the reason for doing this is that your attention in that hour does not become fragmented everytime you decide to search something up online, and as i mentioned, risk falling down SHITTY RABBIT HOLES. you are able to focus more clearly on the task at hand. newport shares research by clifford nass which delves into how switching constantly between sources of distraction has a lasting negative effect on the brain, and how difficult the addiction to this is to shake. i do wish newport had included a lot of this information in digital minimalism, as i think it does apply to someone who is attempting his declutter. internet blocking is not a practice i have tried yet (though i have done similar things as a student, using the app forest to force myself off the net to study), this may be a good technique for those of us who do have to work digitally to implement. however for this to work, you either need an extremely powerful sense of discipline (something i also think newport had neglected to mention in his book), the willpower to turn the internet off and keep it off, or blockers which ill speak about in the next couple of paragraphs.
skipping ahead to wednesday of that first week, i was back to the routine i experience for the majority of the year - i have several hours free in the morning, before i need to prepare and commute to work, which i am at through to the evening before returning home with a few hours left in the day to spare. ive always seen the value in the hours i have free, and its important to me not to waste them on SHITTY RABBIT HOLES. at this time, i was fulfilling client work, which i do at my computer. i have found since leaving social media that my computer is now my biggest source of tech distraction, finally dethroning my smartphone after almost 10 years. during the declutter, i found most of my pitfalls happened while using my computer, which is frustrating as i use it to work, and focus on what i am doing.
newport mentions freedom as a potential website blocker in his text, but seeing as you have to pay for that, id like to reccommend something different. for my day to day internet use, ive been using leechblock. this is the best FREE site blocker ive used, and is extremely flexible. i explained in my previous blog post how it allows me to still access twitter messages, where i get most of my client work, but if i click anywhere else on twitter it will shut the entire tab. over the declutter i have fine tuned this to let me use twitter only to access messages and the specific URL to schedule a tweet, but nothing else ï¿½ allowing me to solely use twitter professionally. above i also mentioned forest, which ive used on my iphone since 2015 and on chromium based browsers since 2018. as an a level student, i used this on my phone to stop myself opening up social media apps. the premise is simple ï¿½ you choose a time, say 40 minutes, and in this time you must keep the app open to grow the tree. if you leave the app (or on desktop, click a forbidden site) your tree will die, and you will have a dead tree in your forest forever. below is my 2015 forest....with one sad, sad dead tree where i failed. nothing like a good guilt trip to force you to work.
the day previous i worked 9am - 6:30pm, with a commute either side of these hours as well as getting ready routines and my (unpaid....) breaks. for me, i use these commute hours to read books. commuting is a good 50 minutes of my day for me which as a teen, i used to spend listening to angsty music or messing about with friends. as a university student, i found the only time of day i could really concentrate on reading was my long journeys to and from campus. this is a habit ive continued into my current stage of life. sometimes i do allow myself the treat of listening to music if i dont have a book, or i will simply sit in silence and mull things over in my head. this keeps me from going down SHITTY SAFARI RABBIT HOLES on my phone and adding to unnecessary screentime, and on the days were i choose music or silence, its nice to observe the scenery in my local area and listen in to what people are chatting about. id reccommend finding unconsidered hours in ones day such as commuting and repurposing those to have some kind of benefit.
by the end of the first week, i had begun to reintroduce a couple habits which im happy to say im still consistently doing. in my journal, i wrote 'the first 5 days have allowed technology habits i was not perhaps so aware of to come to the surface, and i do think this is something newport maybe fails to mention to anticipate throughout the declutter'. my declutter feels like ive been peeling back layers of habits, as i remove one thing my brain finds a way to manifest what it is craving through something else i wouldnt have expected on day one. the declutter puts you in a hyperaware state of mind about how you use technology. i do feel if perhaps youve never attempted any kind of digital cleanse this might be an overwhelming or unexpected thing to encounter.
around the 16th of september, so over the halfway point of the declutter, i found it began to derail. i was having difficulty having a good grasp on my own discipline. after enjoying a splendid tech-free weekend with friends, i contracted the SUPER COLD which if you know...you know the struggle. as of today, the 4th of october, i am still fighting the infection off. i tend to become a potato when ill and let all my habits fly out the window, which is what happened that weekend. on the 19th, i contemplated restarting the declutter as i felt i had failed. i felt frustrated that i couldnt feel the sense of relief or calmness i had read other people experiencing. i spent much of the next two weeks trying to recover from this horrendous cold, all while going to my job and spending my mornings pissing around and avoiding my projects. towards the end of the month, feeling a little better, i forced myself to get back in the saddle, and focus on things i had coming up.
on the 26th of september, i wrote a journal entry about how i felt i was committing images to memory better, and becoming more observant of what around me - i recalled in detail seye' outfit from the damon albarn concert i attended that week and looking over the thames that same night, and how vivid my memory of the bonfire i had with friends was, particularly watching the burnt greenery spit up, then fall upon us and extinguish.
this past week, i created the first two finished pieces of work ive made (posthumous cancellation and clems room) outside of client work and sketches since the end of june, which is a good fucking sign in my book, and ive planned to draw more things this week. both of these i returned to neocities early to post i must admit, but i missed neocities god damnit! i thought a lot about my site and the things i want to add to it and change.
a core goal of newport's digital minimalism is that during the declutter you need to fill your newly found time that you have created by decluttering your technology with hobbies, projects, relationships, solitude, and even boredom. out of the eleven goals i had written down for this period, i completed seven, among achieving many other things i didnt write down. i finished three books in this month, which is something i havent come close to doing since i was a child. though my newly knitted mitten looks horrendous, i can say that ive picked up a new skill, and that grandma needs to watch the fuck out. i reinstated a couple habits ive wanted to. though i didnt make as much progress as i wouldve liked on my big project, ive managed to push that little progress bar along a bit. i spent a good amount of time with friends and attended a concert, which i wouldve done anyway, but its nice to not have these things fragmented by unnecessary iphone checking - and now i need to figure out how to stop my friends getting distracted by their phones.... and as i mentioned, i managed to complete some artwork just for myself :o)
at the end of the declutter newport invites the reader to reintroduce optional technology back into their lives, but only if it directly supports something of value. for me, i havent changed much of what i originally wrote down in my guidelines, in fact, i want to reinforce and fine-tune these guidelines to serve me better.
as previously mentioned, ive arranged leechblock so i can post to twitter and tumblr. i do wish to make a career out of my work, and i realise i need some sort of social media presence to make that happen. however as explained in this blog post, i refuse to let it taint my work and mindset, hence the heavy restrictions on how i use it. my phone continues to be more like a travel and communication tool and follow the guidelines i had written down, but i still find myself randomly looking things up in safari and spending more time than i probably ever have looking a bbc news as that feels like the closest thing to a social media feed i can get. i have a lot of trouble trying to bend iphone's downtime feature to do what i want and work effectivly, so im still trying to figure that one out.
in a journal, i wrote down what things i had banned that i had actually missed. the only things i missed were spotify and neocities. my issue with neocities is that i can spend too much time browsing random sites.....which i like doing because i find lots of cool sites this way, but i also need to restrict the time i spend doing this because i can waste a spectacular amount of time doing it. neocities is a crucial site for me to use to manage my website. my current solution is blocking the main site (with the search options, and the dashboard which shows me people i follow updates) during the day but keep the URLs avaliable i might need to update my site during the day, and in the evening, have the rest of neocities open.
i also wrote down youtube channels that i actually missed, and ended up clearing my subscriptions down so i only get about 7 or so videos a week in my subscription box, and it felt good to give my 11 year old youtube account a good clearout. this is something i did often when i used instagram and twitter, but i found it hard to do because of weird parasocial mutual follows happening and how these sites have figured out how to keep you on the app even if you follow only a few people. youtube also has this problem, which ive solved for many years by having my bookmark link go to my subscriptions page only, i rarely see the trending or home page which is littered with reccomendations - on a tangent, i remember when youtube first introducted the option to turn history/recs off and it worked for a few years but now youtube shamelessy breaks this promise by giving you reccomendations even when you have it turned off!! WTF.....but anyway.....
going forward, i am not really going to be changing much on my little list. it is something i am going to continue to fine tune, in the hopes of reducing my issues with distraction and increasing my ability to focus deeply. i hope the improvements i found with how i see life continue to develop also.
ive set myself another 28 days to improve the usage of my computer as a tool, and work my way through a small list of goals which require me not to get distracted by technology. an action ive taken right now, for example, is writing this blogpost on my 2003 ibm which runs office 2000 and cant connect to the net. its working splendidly, and ive managed to pretty much write all of this in a morning. clippy is starting to piss me off though. taking fucking naps while im typing up a storm
i do recommend trying this declutter if you need to seriously evaluate how you use your technology and you feel that it is hindering aspects of your life. i think its important to check in with yourself and any guidelines you have set for yourself daily, and keep yourself busy with things you want to and need to do - really plan whats going to happen in that 30 days, else you will find yourself sliding back into unwanted digital habits. i do wish there was a way (in my life, anyway) to literally remove computer/phone/internet access without any reprucussions on my day-to-day life, but alas.....