Last month I participated in a Digital Declutter. I committed to cutting back on email checking, staying off social media, giving up audiobooks, skipping blogs, avoiding book stats, and getting my news from the TV and paper only.
It was a good, good month. In a lot of ways, I feel like I was waiting for this and just didn’t know it. My overall visceral response to the experiment was relief.
That alone is telling.
The guidelines “protected” me from wasting time and letting my mind feel scattered. My online sessions were quite brief without blogs, social media, or tracking book information. I deleted many more emails than I read (leading me to unsubscribe from a handful of industry reads and blogs I realized I didn’t miss). I had large pockets of time for thinking and for not thinking at all, for just being. I’m the sort of person who craves silence in my daily life, but I discovered last month I’m often quick to drown it out. As much as I missed my audiobooks, the stillness felt like a reintroduction to an old friend.
Did I hold to everything perfectly? Here are some specifics:
social media: Having the apps off my phone was hugely helpful. I’ve gone back to the Instagram app, but have only visited once. I have no need to reinstate Twitter and Facebook. Looking at them occasionally on my computer will be more than enough.
It was tricky when I got an email saying someone tagged me in a photo. I wanted to see! But I stayed away, logging into Facebook once to download something and another time just to see how many notifications I had. (It was a lot. Further confession: I checked my Twitter numbers once, too). Still, I received several FB group discussion emails, where I could read the discussion starter. I probably deleted 2/3s of these emails and read the rest.
Social media sites are very sly (read manipulative) when your visits slow down. I got numerous emails inviting me to see the notifications I’d missed or asking if I needed help logging back on.
online news: More than once I started reading a story only to realize what I was doing. That’s precisely the point of an experiment like this! I saw how quickly mindlessness can take over. I want to be able to consciously make my own choices online and not feel lured in. Being aware of the autopilot tendency is a good thing. I did allow myself to read a few articles that were industry / work related (like this exciting story!)
email: This was by far the hardest. I had committed to checking three times a day but rarely held to it. More typical was four or five times. Admittedly, this was far less often than usual. I really would like to continue aiming for the three-a-day check, even if I don’t hit the mark. Those messages can wait, and so can I.
audiobooks: I was shocked how little I missed these, as they make up a huge part of my day. Maybe it was knowing I could go back to them this month, but I’m pretty convinced it was the quiet that I needed and appreciated. It was brain rest and brain food. I’d like to keep one walk a day audiobook-free.
book stats: I checked my Amazon and Penguin Random House Author Portal numbers twice. It did nothing positive for me. I know (and have known for a long time) how this information is the opposite of helpful most of the time. My goal is to check in once a month, just to get a sense of where things are. These numbers are never the full picture, anyway. They should have no place in my life other than as an occasional tidbit of information.
blogs: I let myself read 3-4 posts that were book / writing related. I really didn’t miss blogs I regularly read, apart from this one, which, I confess, I overindulged on in my first few days out of the declutter.
My biggest takeaway from this experiment is how much influence my digital activities have on my mental state. I have no desire to return to feeling scattered and harried, if I can help it — and I can help it, at least when it comes to my technological choices.
I also want to stay present while I’m online. Too many times I’ve found myself unsure how I’ve gotten to a particular site or why I’m even there.
Finally I want to be sure to allow myself time for quiet, even if I don’t feel I want or need it. This month has shown me I definitely do.
Here’s to more purposeful digital choices — ones that enhance life, not hinder it.