Minimalism can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. In my eyes, it’s learning to focus on what is essential, which means getting rid of things that aren’t. When you take the time to analyze what does matter and filter out what doesn’t, life becomes simpler. With less clutter and fewer unnecessary objects and distractions, you have fewer decisions to make and can put your energy wherever you decide it is best meant to be.
An interesting scientific philosophy on this concept is the notion of the cognitive budget. Your brain only has a certain amount of stamina every day so when you reduce the number of choices, make routines, and give everything a purpose, you will have a lot more energy leftover for the important parts of your life. It’s also in line with the 80/20 Principle that 80 percent of the fulfillment (success, happiness, results…) in your life come from 20 percent of the efforts. When you find out what that 20 percent is to focus so deeply on that and to get rid of the rest.
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.” ― Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
And this is obviously unique for everybody and minimalism can manifest itself in a number of ways in your life from your relationships, to the ways you spend your time, money and so much more. One particularly valuable application of minimalism for me has been in the technology in my life. Because technology is such a large part of most of our lives, I thought sharing some of the changes I’ve made could be helpful for others. So, I decided to put out my own guide of how to make your email, phone, and computer more minimalist. I encourage you to give some of these a try!
The most valuable email-simplifying step is to apply a technique to achieve Inbox Zero.
Inbox Zero is a process of labeling, triaging, and organizing your email inbox with a system that allows you to reach and maintain zero unread emails awaiting reply in your inbox.
This article by Hubspot does a great job describing how to set up this technique so that you will have four folders: Action Required, Awaiting Response, Delegated, and Scheduled. After these features are set up, you go through your first few pages of emails, assigning, deleting, and archiving. After that, you just archive everything else. Then, when you check your email moving forward(no more than 2–3 times a day), you go through and repeat this process: assigning, archiving, deleting, and attack your action items in an intentional, deliberate fashion. Another helpful tool in keeping your inbox organized and clutter-free is Unroll.me, which allows you to do two things: easily unsubscribe from all email lists you don’t want to be a part of and create a “roll-up,” which batches together any daily emails so that you can deal with them together as one email. This will substantially cut down the quantity of mail you have to sort through each day, letting you keep that mental energy for other things. Applying this method to your email will allow you to be extremely organized and feel much less overwhelmed from the constant flow of emails and tasks.
The next step for making your technology more minimalist is to take control of your smartphone. The motivation for this section came from this article, which offers a very, very extensive walkthrough on how to specifically configure an iPhone to work for you rather than against you. I really do recommend checking it out and applying the techniques to your own smartphone (Many of the concepts are applicable regardless of the type of phone you have). Here are some of my favorite tricks from the article:
- Turn off almost all notifications: You can leave delivery apps, texts, and calls, but definitely get rid of email and most of social media. Get rid of badge notifications, which are the stupid red dot notifications that only give you anxiety. See the article for specific instructions.
- Be very intentional about social media: I deleted Facebook and Instagram, which has saved me so much time. At the very least, move all of your social media apps into a folder on your second page and call it something like “Play” “Leisure” or even “Distraction” so that you have to be very clear with yourself what you are doing when you open up one of these apps.
- Only use three pages for apps: The first page is the essentials: things you are using every day regularly ie: notes, clock, meditation app, photos, maps etc…The second page is tools you want to access quickly but don’t need all the time ie: Venmo, banking app, your leisure folder, news. The third page is just one folder called “Extras,” which is every other app that you use very infrequently but not to the point where you can delete them ie: Google Translate, Google Drive, Airbnb etc… Everything else, delete. Worst comes to worst, you re-download it.
- Categorize apps by function: Again, the key here is intentionality and reducing clutter. For example, it could make sense to group apps into things like “Morning Routine”, “Workout”, “Commute.” This way, you know exactly what you are trying to do when you open an app and take back a sense of control from your device. Of course, don’t use this as a method to hoard apps.
- Do not disturb at all times: While for some this can seem extreme, by using do not disturb, you get to decide when you are ready to respond to notifications. The worst thing you can do for productivity is to constantly be context-switching to respond to texts and calls. Plus, if you are worried about missing important calls, you can always allow notifications from specified people.
- Black background: This one is definitely optional, but I actually really appreciate it. It uses less battery, causes less eye strain, and is simply minimalist.
There are tons of other valuable tricks from the article that will take seconds to implement. I strongly suggest checking it out and implementing as many as you can.
When it comes to your computer, you can apply a very similar strategy as with your phone. Your goal is to remove any clutter in order to emphasize the tools that enable your success. There are three main recommendations I have for this:
- Empty your desktop: Put your files in Google Drive, iCloud, Google Photos, Dropbox etc. where you know where they are and will have access to them. Some will disagree, but I am a strong believer that the desktop has no reason to be a dump-zone for files. If you are using a Mac, it is also important that your dock only includes the highest priority apps that you want to be using. Everything else you can search for when you need.
- Do not disturb at all times: Again, some people might have a hard time accepting this one, but you need to be dealing with notifications and tasks when you are ready, not right when they come in. This will also help you prioritize and get what needs to be finished. If you are on a Mac, you also should turn off badge notifications in system preferences if any of the apps left in your dock have those annoying red dots.
- Install these three free Chrome extensions:
- News Feed Eradicator for Facebook — Turns off your timeline on Facebook so you can use the site intentionally. If you want to respond to notifications, upload photos, or look people up, you can, but you are not swept away by advertisements and pictures you don’t care about. If you are just looking to respond to messages in messenger, you can also just go to messenger.com as opposed to Facebook.
- Adblock Plus, Adblock for Youtube — Most people probably have this already, but it goes without saying that ads distract you from what you care about, so on sites where it is permitted, take advantage.
- Strict Workflow — When you want to enter a period of deep work, it is essential that you don’t have distractions. This extension enforces a 25-minute-on, 5-minute-off work cycle. In those 25 minutes, you do not have access to social media or other distracting sites. This forces you to be very intentional with your time and prevents you from burning out.
If you want more resources or want to read any of my other articles on personal development, check out the following links:
- Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
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