Is digital minimalism the answer to our distracted lives?


On this episode of Secrets of the Most Productive People, we talk to Cal Newport about his approach to living a more focused life without social media, and how everyone can change their relationship with their phones.

I have never owned a smartphone, and I have no desire to. To most people, this feels like an impossibility for their lives. And yet I’ve managed to progress in my professional life and survive in my personal relationships. While the knee-jerk reaction to the idea of life without a smartphone is usually some version of, “I could never do that because of my job/family/etc.,” people often say to me–in the same breath–that they feel stressed and distracted by their dependency on their phones.

Associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University Cal Newport may have figured out a solution to let people keep their smartphones and their sanity. In his new book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Newport outlines his approach to living a life where he spends his online time “on a small number of carefully selected activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

In this episode of the Secrets of the Most Productive People podcast, Newport breaks down exactly how to do that, even if you feel like you can’t live a completely social media-free life like he does. He also shines a light on the fact that smartphones have morphed into something Steve Jobs wouldn’t recognize. Newport calls his approach “digital minimalism,” which basically means using technology with more intention and purpose. His approach seems much more sustainable than the popular digital detoxes in which participants completely unplug. Listen to the episode for more, and in the meantime,  here are some quick tips on how you can cut back on your digital diet without giving up all your devices.


1. Schedule your internet and email use. You could technically eat all day long, but most people don’t. They eat only a few set times a day. So treat your intake of digital information in all its forms the same way. Rather than answering every buzz or beep the second you hear it, set certain times to check email, social media, etc. To train yourself to overcome this Pavlovian response, try waiting five minutes after a buzz, beep, or ding before reaching for your device. Then increase this to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so on.

2. Develop a ranking system for your email. Sort your emails into categories like important and urgent, important but not urgent, and neither urgent nor important. This ranking system ensures that your brain is not overburdened with unnecessary or irrelevant information.

3. Give yourself clear “online hours.” The root of the problem with information overload is that some kind of device is likely always within reach. But that doesn’t mean you have to use them every waking hour. Set an alarm for when you’ll shut down every night (ideally at least an hour before you go to bed so you can decompress).

You can find the episode on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotifyRadioPublic, or wherever you get your podcasts. Have you tried a digital detox? Or do you practice a version of digital minimalism? Tell us about your approach using the hashtag #FCMostProductive and be sure to subscribe to Secrets of the Most Productive People so you don’t miss an episode.

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