• Schools – Online.
  • Work – Online.
  • Socialisation – Online.
  • Retail – Online.
  • Entertainment – Online.

You get the drift, I hope?

Digital has suddenly expanded itself to fill physical spaces of our lives- both at work and at home. Don’t you agree? Our lives have got intertwined inextricably. Physical and digital spaces overlap now like never before, so much so that, many of us have accepted our digital identity to be an extension of our physical persona and there is very little wrong in it, digital is indeed gaining compelling prominence. Let me, however, invoke Mark Twain, who said, to make my argument here :

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.

If you look carefully you’ll notice that the point at which our physical world meets with the digital one, there is chaos, created by the abundance of information, not all of which is found to be either factual or useful.

Let me explain how?

Before we get to the heart of the issue let us list down major points of our digital interactions.

  • Emails
  • File and data
  • Browser
  • Smartphone
  • Social media

The container of consumption may range between computer, phone and tablets (keeping IOT out of the scope, willfully, in the interest of simplicity) but for a vast majority of us, our digital lives are nested around the outlets listed above. From experience, we know that it could get overpowering really quickly. From enjoying email carrying the good news to a sea of unread emails, from having important files to mountain heap of data we do not know what to do with, from a few cool new extensions to too many of them filling the entire length of the toolbar, from occasional notifications to a phone that is a constantly buzzing menace – Digital chaos caused by excessive indulgence is real and is known to cause cognitive fatigue.

Don’t you agree?

Let me ask you a few question.

  • Have you not felt the load of unread emails on your chest?
  • Have unattended notification from your favourite social media apps not caused anxiety in you?
  • Have you not started the day with and on your phone and also ended the day with it?
  • Have you not felt lost in an abundance of choices? What to watch on a given day on your favourite OTT platform?

I see you nodding, in agreement and that, my friends, is the digital clutter that I am talking about, here.

I wrote an article on essentialism on 8th March 2020, in which I spoke about the concept, ways to implement and the reasons why I find it to be a good approach to life. (I’ll link the article towards the end of this one, if you haven’t read it already you can give it a go).

While replying to some of your comments on that article, It dawned on me that with the ‘COVID-19 house arrest’ situation, digital clutter has only intensified and so has the frustration, stress and anxiety that comes with it. ‘Working from home’ concept for digital workers does not befall without its vices. The boundary that healthily separated ‘work’ and ‘home’ has vanished, now. We have associated work with the workplace for a long time. Granted, the nature of work has changed dramatically in the last decade which has made ‘work from home’ a smart option, but the pandemic has made it the ‘only’ safe option. And this act of force has made it less pleasant. It has become particularly difficult for those with additional responsibilities of running the chores of the house.

Suffices to say, that collectively we’re not in a good place at the moment, with the spread, extent and the shape of our digital identity.

So, I propose that we introduce organisation into our digital presence with the aim to take control of its spread, to disentangle the situation into a simplified arrangement. The idea is to make technology work for us and not the other way round; to declutter it. Since I subscribed to the concept of Essentialism, I’ve given considerable thought towards introducing minimalism to my digital life too. Happy to share a few things that I have tried in my own routine, with you. My suggestions are by no means the only ways to achieve the goals that we listed earlier and certainly are not the best way forward too- but it has worked for me. So take it for what it is worth.

Let’s take prominent digital spaces that we interact with one after the other.

Social Media

The user experience of social media is pleasurable, so much so, that it has become the strongest source of diversion for modern workers, who appear powerless before its attraction. Constant, continuous and mostly free of additional charge- supply of content entices people to remain hooked to it, sometime at the cost of being productive, being social in the traditional sense and even useful to the task at hand.

Social media is a costly affair, we pay for it in the currency of time, the most valuable asset that we have. To limit its impact on my time and digital habits, here are a few routines that I have developed.

  • If deleting social media accounts sound too extremist to you, begin by unfriending and unfollowing those who do not add value to your life. I mean by the way of their content and views. Get rid of all ‘motivational’ speakers, trust me you do not need them. Keep only those who really inspire you to be the better version of who you are and who you wish to be.
  • Limit exposure:
    • The human mind loves continues inflow of information. Social media platforms are designed to give its users a false sense of fulfilment as though they are filling some deep void with the timeline/wall/feed scrolling. We often forget that it is not real. So to be mindful, I follow, the routine of 30 minutes on social media each workday and 1 hour on weekends, all platforms put together. Full disclosure, there are days when I overstep my boundaries too, but I feel good about the fact that on 90% of the days I do follow the limit that I have set for myself.
    • Do not engage in badinage with people, who you do not find inspirational. So learn to walk past a useless post without displaying your reaction or gracing it with a comment. Know when to back off from an exchange. I am not asking you to not engage, at all. Stand for what you believe in by all means but know that your comments on social media only go that far in changing the situation on the ground. Do not overvalue its impact.
  • Create friction:
    • Social media applications are easy, user-friendly to the point of being addictive, so delete them from your phone, like RIGHT NOW! Even if you wish to keep them on your phone, DO NOT turn on notification for them. It is the worst mistake to make.
    • Access it from the most useless browser that you can find. Willfully destroying the social media experience, is a great way of limiting your exposure to it.
  • Know that social media is a curated world. The real world is far from it, the world of social media is not only virtual but also fake, in most cases.
  • Advertisement cry for your attention and platforms steal your data to serve advertisers. How comfortable are you with your data being harvested without your consent to benefit corporations you have no interest in? Depending upon your ease, you decide how much time and attention should you blow on them.
  • Just renounce instant messengers, you do not need them. Those who need to get in touch with you will call you, so chill – you are not missing out on anything important.

Email and files.

Email continues to be the most patronised and invaluable mode of communication around the world. All of us have work and personal email accounts. Email clients, unify mailboxes to give us the convenience and that comfort sometimes causes us to mix one for the other. The rush to reply swiftly can sometimes get better of our judgement. It is easy to get on with an email exchange at a time when you should be working/creating/ solving a problem, instead. The situation with data files are also similar, we end up accumulating a lot of them. We become data and information hoarders without any good reason. Information and data which we do not even index, well for future use. We mindlessly create digital junkyard.

Here are a few things that I have tried.

  • Common tricks for both email and data files.
    • Colour code work and personal email IDs and file and folders. Try and use different and distinct email clients for work and personal emails.
      • Apple email for work.
      • Spark for personal email.
    • Mark calendar for work and personal account too, separately. Do not unify the two, it does not help.
    • Visual differentiation of colours will keep you from mixing, the categories.
      • In electing the colour-codes make sure that you pick a distinct and opposite colour, not just for email and calendar but and also for file and folders, related to different areas of your life. (Here are the colours that I go with)
        • Blue for work.
        • Purple for personal.
        • Green for learning.
    • Unless you work in email support in which replying to incoming emails with speed is vital to your job role, you do not need to be hooked on to your mailbox all day. Set time, one that suits your routine and work urgency. I check emails three times a day for not more than 2 hours combined each day.
      • You can create custom alerts for important clients and other important people/matters/projects, and allow them to bypass, everything and everyone else can wait, it is ok.
    • Naming your data files on the project that they belong to will help you find them quickly later when you need them. Because you will always need information in relation to a project. Also, never keep files in the email or floating around on their own. You should not have to dive into the mailbox or hard drive to find a file, always save files as they come to you in their designated folders. Create a shortcut for the folders of the current projects so that you can get to the current resources in no time.
      • Do not create duplicates.
        • Final1; Final 2.0_XYZ, Final final new – these are not the best ways to name a file.
        • Use better version control nomenclature, learn ISO; it is a good standard to follow.

Browser

Most of us spend most parts of our day in a browser, therefore organising it becomes significant, too. Here are a few things that I do.

  • I port the colour scheme from the email and folders on to website bookmarks for work, play and learning life areas so that I have a visual reminder in front of me which stops me from mixing work for play and vice versa.
    • If you have the luxury to, separate browsers.
      • Let Chrome/fire-fox be the workhorse
      • Safari/Brave be the place for play-related internet excursions.
      • Explorer for learning.
        • Or whichever you like, the idea is to create visual reminders that you are in a certain zone.
  • Do not let news/ social media notification be on. You do not need them. if something is big enough, the buzz it creates will find you.
  • Be mindful about the extensions that you keep on your browsers, the idea is to only keep the plugins that help you do your job better. You do not need FB lurking on you. It just does not add any value to your life, get rid of them.

SmartPhone

One of the greatest inventions of our times, this single device has effectively replaced so many things, from physical calendars to notepads to the phone book and so much more. But let us not forget that this always connected tool is also the greatest source of the disturbance, that we come across. It has games, social media, endless feed of news, YouTube and the mother of all a browser in it which has the ability to keep us entertained all day long. And not to forget it is always with us. Remember, the goal is to be intentional about the use, we should not let unplanned and mindless entertainment get in the way of our being productive.

  • DND (Do not disturb), use it at every opportunity that you get.
  • Messages and phone calls barring from key people are best returned at a time when you find fit and not when your caller finds suitable.
  • Grayscale (I use it to on my iPhone) it makes your phone unattractive black and white, you miss the colour so much that you do not wish to use it, more than you should. It is a bit extreme but it works. Try it.
  • Your iPhone has a million application and each of those is a ‘business’ that wants you to spend on them. You do not work for them, so turn the notifications off. Review the apps that you do not use frequently – delete them. Let the applications not enjoy, rent-free space in your life through your phone. You do not need them to disrupt you with a rubbish offer notification which you do not need, while you are at work or with your family.
  • Be very selective with notification permission, only allow, those that you absolutely need.
  • Do not have duplicates, for instance, at a time when you are on your computer there is no need for your phone to buzz with the same notification with which your computer has gone abuzz.
  • Set a limit for screen time and stay committed to it.

Remember, our limited time on earth is not to be wasted chasing digital villain on a game of PubG, or crushing candies (I’m not against gaming, but I do stress that it must be enjoyed in moderation), it is meant to be used judiciously to achieve our life goals. Technology is not the enemy here, our indisciplined nature is. The aim is to live a mindful life, to bring intentionality in whatever we do, we should employ technology, we should not let the technology contract us.

A decluttered and minimal digital space is a must for an essentialist lifestyle – when you get there, you’ll feel good and in control, I speak from a place of personal experience.

Here is the link of the article on essentialism I spoke about.

link : http://www.lavkush.co.in/essentialism-care-to-try/

Till we meet again, take good care of yourself and stay safe.