Chapter 10: Building your Low Tech Life
5 Simple Steps towards Digital Minimalism
This is chapter 10 of my upcoming book Low Tech Lifestyle. This is a full sample chapter. Both free subscribers and paid ones have full access. Consider getting a free 7 day trial and checking out the other chapters :)
Creating a low tech lifestyle may seem like a daunting task in our increasingly connected and digital world. However, it can be a powerful way to reduce stress, increase focus, and improve overall well-being. By limiting screen time, prioritizing offline activities, and finding new ways to connect with the world around us, we can create a more intentional and fulfilling life. In this guide, we will explore practical tips and strategies for creating a low tech lifestyle, from purging excess digital clutter to embracing new hobbies and activities that keep us engaged and present in the moment.
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Step 1: Make an Inventory and Categorize
Just as we undertake the ritual of spring or fall cleaning, decluttering our physical spaces, it's equally important to cleanse our digital landscape. The first step in this journey involves taking stock of our digital possessions - the array of apps and services spread across our desktop and mobile devices. This process is not merely about listing what we have, but understanding how, when, and why we use these digital tools. Fortunately, modern smartphones are equipped with built-in utilities that can shed light on our digital behavior. Android phones offer 'Digital Wellbeing' under settings, and iOS devices provide 'Screen Time' as a resource. These applications not only identify what apps we frequent but also track their usage duration and the times at which we access them. For a comprehensive view of our digital interactions, we can rely on desktop tools like Clockify or Rescue Time for our PCs, regardless of whether we use a Mac or Windows. These tools, many of which are free, provide an insightful overview of the services, apps, and software we interact with on our computers.
Reflecting on a personal experience, I recall the transformative process of downsizing from a spacious four-bedroom home in Georgia to a compact two-bedroom condo in Littleton, CO. The move necessitated a careful assessment of our belongings, a journey of deciding what was essential and what could be relinquished. Initial reluctance gave way to an almost therapeutic process of letting go of unnecessary items. We donated, sold, and discarded various belongings that were either unused or had outlived their usefulness. It was a cathartic experience, unburdening us from the weight of the unnecessary and enabling us to embrace our new home with only those possessions that truly mattered. This poignant experience underscored the importance of regular evaluation of our possessions and conscious decision-making about what we retain.
In the digital realm, the process of assessment and categorization requires the same level of intentionality and thoughtfulness. Begin by identifying the digital tools that are indispensable to your daily life - those that facilitate vital communication and work-related tasks. These could include your phone, messaging apps, or encrypted communication platforms like Signal. Following that, ponder over the apps that enrich your day, adding value without monopolizing your time or attention. Podcasts, music players, and navigation apps could fall into this category. It's equally crucial to recognize the apps that serve as distractions, those that incessantly clamor for your attention and hamper productivity. Social media platforms, email apps, and news services, especially those that can be accessed via desktop, often fall into this category. Lastly, consider the apps that are essential for professional or academic activities, such as email, Slack, Notion, or calendar apps. By systematically categorizing your digital tools, you can streamline your digital interactions, relegating nonessential apps to the periphery and bringing the essential ones to the forefront. This will pave the way for a more conscious, intentional, and ultimately fulfilling low-tech lifestyle, mirroring the liberation and tranquility that come with decluttering physical spaces. To make it clearer, here is my list of apps and services:
Essential: These are the tools that I rely on daily, facilitating vital communication and work-related tasks. They form the backbone of my professional and personal interactions.
Light Phone 2: It's a tool for communication, entertainment, and nothing addictive.
Email: I use a standalone application (Thunderbird or Proton Mail) and restrict it to my laptop or desktop.
Colibri: This is a browser that can only open one tab at a time. I open my work management website with it and get my work done. Also, on my laptop/desktop.
Nice to Have Apps: These are the apps that enrich my day and add value without monopolizing my time or attention. They generally enhance my well-being or simplify my life.
Navigation Apps: A Garmin GPS in the car provides reliable directions when on the move.
Podcasts: I use the Light Phone 2's basic podcast tool to listen to insightful conversations and learn new things. On desktop, I use Grover.
Music Players: I own an mp3 player for loading my favorite playlists. To organize them, I use MusicBrainz.
Potential Distractions: These are the apps and platforms that can be a source of distraction, interrupting my focus, and eating into my productive time.
Social Media Platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be major distractions. I use these only for business purposes and do not have access to them except at the office for work. I further lock them down with browser containers that don’t allow me to escape the interface. For the containers, I use WebCatalog. Their free option is enough.
News Apps: While these are important, they can be distracting when accessed too frequently. I use Readwise to clip articles that I may find useful. Later in the day, I read 3 stories and eliminate stories that are not helpful or were clickbait.
Professional and Academic Necessities: These are tools that are necessary for my job and academic pursuits.
Teams: This is a key tool for team communication in my work environment. I use it on desktop and laptop.
Notion: I use Notion as a comprehensive workspace to write, plan, and get organized. Recently, I’ve been exploring Taskade since it is similar to notion but for teams.
Calendar Apps: Google Calendar helps me keep track of all my appointments and deadlines online. I only put it there after I have locked down my week on a paper calendar.
Step 2: Quit Services
Embarking on the journey towards a low-tech lifestyle requires careful evaluation of our digital dependencies. The process might be time-consuming and the longest step in this endeavor, but undoubtedly, it is the most pivotal one. Identifying the essential applications and services in our lives is the first milestone. What follows next is the challenging task of discerning the value and impact of the remaining apps, and deciding whether they need to be excised from our digital routine. It's important to remember that while some apps may appear to enrich our lives, they often serve as disguised distractions, detracting from our productivity and impinging on our overall well-being.
Consider popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, for instance. They can indeed create a sense of connectedness and offer a platform for self-expression. However, they can also be insidiously addictive, subtly demanding your attention through constant notifications, luring you into the vortex of infinite scrolling. If you notice that significant chunks of your day are consumed by these platforms, it might be an indication to delete these apps and regain control over your digital footprint. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu can also become inadvertent culprits of our digital fatigue. While they serve as a source of entertainment, the compulsive consumption of content, or binge-watching, can monopolize your time. If this pattern sounds familiar, it may be beneficial to reassess your subscriptions, possibly even canceling them. Redirecting this time towards screen-free hobbies like reading, painting, hiking, or any other activity that ignites your passion can be an excellent alternative.
Equally crucial is to contemplate the psychological implications of your digital consumption. Are there specific apps that consistently trigger stress, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy? It's essential to reassess their role in your life. The action could range from limiting their usage to certain periods or removing them from your devices entirely. The guiding principle of a low-tech lifestyle is to prioritize your mental well-being and happiness, so any app that undermines this should be critically evaluated. Furthermore, it's essential to establish clear boundaries if your work requires you to use social media or messaging apps. Deleting personal profiles and creating separate professional accounts can help preserve a healthy work-life balance. It can also assist in resisting the temptation to check work-related notifications outside of designated working hours.
The essence of the second step is about asserting control over our digital world. It's about choosing judiciously which services are worth retaining and which ones need to be discarded. The guiding principle is quite straightforward: if an application or service consumes more time than it contributes to productivity, it might be time to let it go. However, if a tool is indispensable for professional purposes, consider segregating it through a dedicated app or device, thus minimizing the potential for distraction. And as for those apps that do bring value but are potentially time-consuming, it's crucial to devise strategies to manage their use effectively. This leads us to our next step: the implementation of 'time zones'. Time zones are specific periods during your day dedicated to certain tasks or activities, including the use of particular apps or services. This approach ensures you're enjoying these value-added services without them encroaching on your productivity or relaxation time. The commitment to this process, to carefully evaluate and reduce unnecessary digital interactions, forms the bedrock of this transformative journey. It necessitates patience, resilience, and conscious effort, but the rewards it offers are substantial. The possibility of a more intentional and fulfilling life, where technology serves us rather than dictates us, is indeed a pursuit that's worth every bit of the effort.
Step 3: Time Zones
In the digital era, time is indeed our most valuable asset. Despite being a seasoned digital minimalist, I've experienced periods of exceptional productivity interspersed with times of excessive screen attraction. Regardless of your current stage, remember that change is possible with purpose and determination. That's precisely where step 3—implementing "time zones"—plays a pivotal role. "Time zones" in the context of digital minimalism are a structured approach to managing time, allowing us to be more purposeful with our digital and non-digital interactions. They come in two forms: Offline and Online Zones. Offline zones are dedicated periods where all online activities are put on hold. This means no devices, no digital disruptions—nothing that might reconnect you to the online world. Offline zones are reserved for activities that do not require a digital medium—think engaging conversations, hands-on hobbies like woodworking, meditative walks in the park, or simply the act of being present in your surroundings.
Online zones, conversely, are windows of time specifically set aside for online activities. This could include listening to podcasts, checking social media, responding to emails, or any task requiring your digital presence. However, the aim is to choose activities that belong to the 'essential', 'nice to have', and 'operations' categories, identified in Step 1. Time-wasting activities should ideally be minimized or eliminated altogether during these periods. For maximum efficiency, consider using a paper or digital calendar to map out your time zones. Allocate blocks of time for various activities, and color-code them for visual appeal and better organization. For instance, you might color offline zones in calming blue and online zones in invigorating red. This not only stimulates your brain aesthetically but also enhances organization and clarity.
By structuring your day around these time zones, you regain control over your digital interactions, enhancing productivity and reducing digital clutter. For instance, if you're a writer, you could schedule your offline zone in the morning for drafting and brainstorming, followed by an online zone in the afternoon for research and correspondence. This approach allows you to focus on one type of task at a time, reducing the cognitive load of constant digital shifting. Moreover, time zones can be tailored to your specific lifestyle and profession. A software developer might need longer online zones for coding and debugging, while a yoga instructor might require longer offline zones for classes and personal practice.
Ultimately, the implementation of time zones is not about adhering to a rigid schedule but about gaining a deeper awareness of our digital habits and making intentional changes that align with our values and goals. It is about reclaiming our time from the clutches of digital excess and channeling it towards more fulfilling, meaningful endeavors. Remember, it's not about perfection, but progression. Your initial attempt at defining time zones may not work perfectly, and that's okay. Adjust, learn, and refine as you go along. The journey to digital minimalism is a marathon, not a sprint, and every small step you take brings you closer to a more intentional and fulfilling digital life.
Step 4: Companions (another name for accountability and helpful tools)
Embarking on the journey toward digital minimalism can be an arduous endeavor, and one that is not advisable to pursue in isolation. This path is strewn with obstacles that necessitate not only an unwavering personal commitment but also the support of a community and the shared responsibility that comes with it. This introduces us to Step 4: Companions. This stage emphasizes the critical need to establish a network of individuals who share similar goals and to leverage tools and resources that can assist us in navigating this journey. Acknowledging our susceptibility to digital temptations and accepting the fact that we might need help are key elements of this transformative journey.
Our smartphones have evolved into a virtual multipurpose tool, offering a broad spectrum of capabilities. This, however, is a double-edged sword. While the convenience of having a single device that can execute a multitude of tasks is undeniable, this very adaptability can serve as a snare, drawing us into an abyss of perpetual distractions. The technology industry, with its persuasive narratives and polished marketing strategies, has coaxed us into subscribing to the belief that this amalgamation of functionalities into a solitary device is advantageous. It is high time we challenge this conception. Reclaiming our autonomy over our digital lives necessitates a reevaluation and diversification of our gadget portfolio. This does not imply an impulsive spree to acquire the latest devices; rather, it entails a conscious selection of tools that resonate with our needs and foster our progression toward digital minimalism. This could involve investing in distinct devices for various tasks such as listening to music, navigating, reading, and watching shows. This approach might seem counterintuitive and potentially expensive, but it's a long-term investment toward diminishing our dependence on the omnifarious smartphone and reestablishing control over our digital consumption.
For instance, one could consider investing in a standalone music player like an iPod or a high-resolution digital audio player. A device like the Sony Walkman NW-A105, which allows the option to download and play music offline, can reduce the reliance on your smartphone for music, thereby limiting potential distractions. These specialized devices offer superior sound quality and battery life compared to smartphones, promising an immersive, uninterrupted musical journey. This shift is about reclaiming the delight of listening to music without the incessant interruptions of notifications, calls, or the lurking temptation to check social media. Choosing such dedicated devices over the multipurpose smartphone might seem like a technological regression. However, in terms of personal well-being and productivity, it's a significant stride forward. It is a deliberate decision to prioritize the quality of experience over convenience, to treasure presence over pervasive connectivity. Investing in separate devices can also help streamline your digital experience. For example, a Kindle e-reader can greatly enhance your reading experience. Unlike smartphones or tablets, e-readers are designed solely for reading, offering a distraction-free environment that closely mimics the experience of reading a physical book. The e-ink technology reduces eye strain, and the long-lasting battery life ensures you can immerse yourself in a book without worrying about charging the device. This might seem like an extra expense, but consider it an investment in your well-being. These devices allow you to enjoy the benefits of digital technology without the constant barrage of notifications and distractions inherent in multipurpose devices like smartphones.
Another vital aspect of this journey is acknowledging when we require external support. Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous (ITAA) is an invaluable resource for individuals wrestling with the allure of the digital world. They extend guidance, foster a supportive community, and proffer practical strategies to manage and eventually overcome internet and technology addiction. Their sponsorship program and frequent meetings provide the necessary encouragement and motivation, reinforcing the fact that we are not alone in this struggle. Embracing this challenge calls for bravery, humility, and often, a shift in perspective. Digital minimalism is not merely a lifestyle choice, but a declaration of our personal agency in a world increasingly dominated by digital consumption. It is a quest to rediscover the profundity of human experience that extends beyond the boundaries of screens, to recognize the worth of our attention, and to invest it in pursuits that genuinely enrich our lives. This journey may be laden with setbacks and trials, but the rewards – in terms of enhanced control over our time, improved mental health, and a more meaningful life – are immense. And remember, you don't have to traverse this path alone. Seeking help, whether from organizations like ITAA or from a supportive community of like-minded individuals, is an expression of strength, not a sign of weakness.
As you embark on this journey of digital minimalism, remember that it's okay to feel uncertain or overwhelmed at times. The goal is not to achieve perfection but to make consistent, mindful choices that align with your values and aspirations. Each step taken towards reducing digital clutter is a step towards a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Step 5: Repeat
The journey to digital minimalism is not a one-time sprint but a continuous marathon. It requires ongoing commitment, evaluation, and recalibration, thus leading us to the fifth step: Repeat. This step is the crux of the process, emphasizing the importance of continual reassessment and adjustment. It's about understanding that this journey isn't a linear one and that you'll need to periodically reevaluate your relationship with technology and make necessary adjustments.
To embark on this process, it's beneficial to take a step back every quarter or biannually to reassess your digital consumption habits and evaluate your progress towards your goals. This doesn't just mean tracking how much time you're spending on different platforms or apps, but also asking yourself deeper, introspective questions. Are your current digital habits serving your larger life goals and values? Are they enhancing your well-being or causing stress and distraction? How can you refine your strategies to better align with your aspirations for a more balanced, intentional digital life?
A fundamental part of this process is visualizing the lifestyle you desire and working backwards from that vision to set achievable goals. This could mean envisioning a day where you can read a book without checking your phone every few minutes, or a workday where you can focus on tasks without being interrupted by incessant notifications. What does a balanced, fulfilling digital life look like for you? Once you have a clear picture of what you want to achieve, you can then start crafting strategies and making changes to move closer to that vision.
Remember, digital minimalism isn't about completely eliminating digital technology from your life, but about using it in a way that serves you, not the other way around. It's about reclaiming your time and attention from the relentless demands of the digital world and investing them in activities and relationships that truly matter to you. In essence, the repeat step is your commitment to a cycle of continuous learning and improvement. It's your promise to yourself that you will regularly reassess, readjust, and refine your digital habits to better serve your vision of a fulfilling, intentional life. This process may be challenging, but the rewards—a sense of control over your digital life, greater focus and productivity, and a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle—make it a pursuit worth undertaking.
Moving Offline is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.