a phone on table with no apps, showing digital minimalism

Digital Minimalism: How to live your life free from distractions

Photo by Vojtech Bruzek / Unsplash

It all begins with KonMari.

Her show Tidying Up revolutionized how I view my home and my workspace. And I've come to a conclusion that most of the stress that I have (and most people have) is just because of a cluttered life.

When I feel restless whenever I'm home due to the worries of life, I declutter my room first. When I felt stressed already at my work, I declutter my work table. Although it's simple, it's never easy. But the effects were immediate. I felt more focused, relaxed, and finally, I think I am getting more clarity on the things I needed to do.

I've been battling anxiety for about three years now, and at times when I feel worse, it's because whenever I look at my room or my table, it's a complete mess. And my phone is not helping.

The Problem With Phones

Social media, entertainment and shopping apps continuously feed me notifications to lure me into their world of advertisements, constantly selling me stuff that they think I want but will never need. The red badges on my mail nudge me that I am missing out on something I've never checked yet, but mostly unimportant. My feed is filled with negativity, doom-scrolling, and division in the comments, but I still end up scrolling endlessly through their opinions.

Phones steal my rest and suck the life out of me, that's why I feel restless and lifeless.

Phones catch my attention all of the time hence my inability to do deep, satisfying, focused work. No wonder why I, as a creative, even with the ocean of tools available for productivity and efficiency, can't create quality work anymore or still feel unhappy and distracted. When compounded daily, I feel like a slave to my phone and stuck in life, not going anywhere.

So when I applied the KonMari method in my home and my workspace and saw its immediate effects and relief from stress, I figured, I can apply it too with my digital workspace and digital home! And as soon as I did, I felt happier within and able to cope better in these trying times.

"You should take control of your phone, not your phone taking control of you."

If you are struggling like me, it's time to take control of your phone.
Welcome to the joy of Digital Minimalism.

Becoming a Digital Minimalist

There are numerous books already on how to declutter your digital life but I always found them too idealistic it would make me look like a hermit. Also, I found that they always focus on the negative impact of technology but fail to focus on the joy of using the internet for a more meaningful life. If you've felt the same way as me, here I want to show you how I did it realistically and how it helped me have a more peaceful and distraction-free life, one day at a time.

Here are some tips in decluttering your digital life that worked well for me:

I. Commit to the Digi-Mini mindset.
sorry, I made this one up to shorten typing, sounds cool to me. haha!

The first thing is always a change in mindset, this is the resolve that we should have in reclaiming joy and peace in our lives. Without a change in mindset, all behavioural changes are futile.

Decide from now on that you will let go of the excesses and fanciness of life and choose contentment instead of greed, focus instead of distractions, happiness instead of loneliness and peace instead of worry every day. And that the Digi-Mini lifestyle will be the car that will take you there.

II. Native apps are much more useful than you think.

The goal is to have as fewest apps as possible. All phones nowadays have their built-in calculator, calendar, mail app, messaging app, notes and even tasks/to-do list. I have used both android and iPhones in my career (Apple native apps are fantastic) and the first thing that I always do is to uninstall all apps and make use of the native apps only.

These apps are made to work in the phone natively well even without connection to the internet, and if you experience a slow or buggy phone, you will be surprised that using the native apps have almost no impact on your phone's memory or processor, making your phone work lightning fast and less buggy. Also, it has no ads! Amazing, right?

III. Remove duplicates.

Do you really need 5 shopping apps, 4 delivery apps, 3 browsers and a whole bunch of photo editing apps that are being offloaded often by your phone often? No wonder why your phone is lagging so much, and finding these apps are an eyesore!

Duplicate apps are the ones that bring nothing to your digital life but clutter.
"Wait, these apps are for me to have options."
I believed that too. But the problem with always having an option?
It's non-commitment.

Yep, having options promotes non-commitment.

  1. Imagine a romantic relationship, but the guy says to her love, "You are only an option." The more options the guy has, the less committed he is to the person he loves. Also, it makes him more unhappy in the long run since he is more stressed about his options rather than committing to one.
  2. There is a term in recording studios in the 70s when they record on tape, "Commit to a sound." It means before you record, you have to commit to the sound you like that will not be edited later, so it will be printed as an audio file directly. With the advent of today's MIDI sequencing, these are all gone and all kids go "Oh well I can fix it later and choose whatever sound I want down the line." There is no commitment to a sound now. Committing to a sound is important because for me personally, I play differently in every sound. Pinch harmonics doesn't always work well with other patches. So my playing is optimized to the patch and the sound I am hearing during recording, and if I change that later using another sample, it will sound synthetic and dull.

I have a lot more examples but this one is getting mega-long, so my point is committing to one is a very important key to happiness. Having too many options is like a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none thing. I'd rather have a single app or software that is very capable and I knew very well inside out and be an expert of it, rather than a bunch of apps that I know only in mediocre and waste a lot of my time.

Options also promote paralysis analysis. Rather than just simply going to a shopping app and buying a storage box, more time is spent checking the other apps to have a better deal of that same storage box. Really, does a $1-2 discount really worth wasting an hour of your time by sifting through your options? (Inflation is waving!)

I implore you, to commit to a single shopping app, a single mail app, a single browser, a single delivery app, a single note-taking app, and be an expert of it by knowing it inside and out. You will save a lot of time, gain a lot of peace of mind, and free up a lot of memory in your phone to convert it into memories through photos and videos.

IV. Remove all apps that are accessible in your browser.

Now let's take it up a notch. The browser is the most important app for surfing the internet. Most social media apps can be accessed through a browser, so why install an app for it?

Real Digi-Mini life starts when you start moving your social media and entertainment apps in your browser. Isn't it nice that you don't need to quit or deactivate your social media accounts (because it's unrealistic), and just by moving it to your browser helps you already break free from the rabbit-hole of digital ad slavery? Here's why moving them to a browser is a better idea:

  1. Social Media apps are memory hogs. Yes, I am surprised after 1 month of using the Facebook app its memory went up to 1GB and ate up storage in my phone. On the other hand, Safari is only using around 100MB. I felt like my phone can breathe again.
  2. The only toxic elements of social media are ads and notifications. Remember this. Social Media is a user-based platform, meaning its content depends on its users and what they upload. So it's not Facebook's fault why the comments are toxic. The only unhealthy part of it that is actually Facebook's fault is the aggressive ads (which came from the collection of your data) and intrusive notifications of all sorts. Just by uninstalling the app (and letting your phone breathe) and logging it into the browser frees you up of the notification nudges, and browsers have their own ad-blockers and cross-site tracking prevention which makes your surfing safer. Or better if you use a VPN for an ad-free experience! Two birds in one stone, right?
  3. YouTube and Netflix save a lot of data on the browser. Browsers are designed to conserve data and not use background data, unlike apps. It's inconvenient to some, but it's that inconvenience that will keep you away from being addicted to these entertainment apps. YouTube maxes out at 720p in the mobile browser, and mind you the true name of 720p is still Standard HD! Seriously, do you really need a 4k resolution on your 6-inch phone screen?
  4. You don't have to worry about automatic app updates. Web versions of apps are always updated daily, so no annoying FOMO you-need-to-update-your-app notification from your app store.
  5. However, don't use bookmarks and auto-fills. Now it's tempting to bookmark the home page of Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube like it's a mini-phone, but don't. Even the "Remember Me" options or auto-fills. Make bad habits harder to access. Let your fingers type the whole thing "f-a-c-e-b-o-o-k-.-c-o-m" (cringe, right?)  and not rely on your browser's help to auto-fill. In this way, your passwords are protected against hackers (like your friend sitting beside you) and it makes social media harder to get easy access to. One day, you'll be surprised, the urge to check your social media because of FOMO is much much lesser, but you are happier.
  6. Don't use Chrome, uninstall/disable it. Google apps are personal data hoarders and memory hogs too (which kinda defeats the purpose of moving to browsers).  The best browser for Apple users, it's a no-brainer Safari. For Android users, the best is Ecosia. It's a browser/search engine with great privacy and a minimalist look that uses its revenue to invest in companies that plant trees! How awesome is that?

This applies to all apps, not just social media, but any app that can be accessible in the phone's browser doesn't need to have an app installed. In this way, you'll free up so much memory in your phone, and you will only access the sites when you need them. It's you telling your phone what it wants to do for you, not the other way around.

V. Have a book reader app on your phone.

You need something to replace that void in your phone. You need healthy alternatives to social media. And for me, that is reading books.

When you keep scrolling in social media, you get more depression.
When you keep scrolling through a book, you get more knowledge.

There's no greater feeling but to flip and smell the pages of a physical book, but a digital book library is equally beneficial too. It's not ads that keep you hooked, it's the topic that you're reading. May it be a picturesque novel, poetry, books about investments, business, habits, or leadership, there is a huge treasure trove of books waiting for you to be read rather than looking at the posts of your neighbour. If you don't replace the void of removal of social media apps with something healthier like book readers, you will just spiral back to scrolling in social media again.

My Recommendations:

For me, Scribd is the best all-in-one app for e-books, audiobooks, snapshots, and even music sheets! It's also a lot cheaper than Kindle and Audible, although their library is the largest and the best (I'll still choose Scribd over Kindle and Audible since I get an ebook reader and an audiobook in one app instead of two, and the music sheets access is hard to beat!). Also, you get a free account in various wonderful apps like Peak, a brain-training game (my only game on my phone) and a nat-geo like app Curiosity Stream! For those not available in Scribd, I just buy them through Book Depository since I love physical books to rest my eyes from screen enslavement.

VI. Turn off all notifications, except three. Use alarms instead.

The ultimate Digi-Mini move. If you've reached this step, you have made a big leap to pursuing peace of mind, joy and contentment. For the remaining apps on your phone, turn off all notifications. Turn off the alerts, banners, the red badges, the sounds, everything. Except for these three apps, your Mail (if you use it mainly for work, if you don't, turn it off), your main single Messaging app for friends & family (I don't have one for work, I encourage my workmates to call me and email me for something very urgent; life-work balance in messaging is a must, all my work is in Mail, all my friends and family is in my messaging app), and your Calendar app (to not miss out on events!).

These are the only notifications I believe worth turning on since these will give you meaningful chats and relationships with your friends (since when they message you, they really want to talk to you!) and being able to attend events so you can show up personally. Remember, our goal is Digital Minimalism, not Digital Quitting. We just narrow down the essentials that give real value in our lives and assist us in remembering the most important dates with people that we most love.

Other reminders and routines, put it on alarms. Alarms bypass notifications, and Alarms help you to stick with daily habits like Time to Sleep, Drink Water, Have Breakfast, Feed The Cats, Start Morning/Evening Routine, Get Up and Run, Wind Down/Read Book, etc. Again, using the phone to assist you in making your life productive and meaningful (Don't use an alarm to Check Social Media, etc, it's a disservice to yourself, only the habits that you want to develop but you don't have the strength to stick to). Even alarms today have checkboxes that set off on certain days (Mondays only, Weekdays, Weekends, etc)! How technology has grown!

Bonus Tip: Only use your phone when you are alone.

Whenever you are with someone, having lunch with your friend, having a meeting with your colleagues, or family get-together, give your full attention to the person in front of you, that person gave up precious time and comfort and decided to spend it with you at that moment. But whenever you look at your phone, you are saying to the person in front of you, "I'm checking something else more important than you." That's painful to your friend, right?

Do not disconnect from your friends and family to check the world. Disconnect from the world to spend time with your friends and family.

Live Your Life Free From Distractions

These steps actually helped me to live a peaceful and happier life now by not being a slave to my phone, and my desire is for you to take hold of these simple joys as well. Distractions and noises are everywhere, that's why we can't hear peace and solitude. Everyone is trying to get our attention, but it's when we pay attention to our life, our surroundings, our relationships, our work, and the things that we already have, these things bring contentment and gratitude wells up in our hearts.

So, let's free ourselves from distractions, and live our lives to the full!

Jeroel Maranan

Jeroel Maranan

Jeroel Maranan is a musician, singer-songwriter, arranger, and producer. He loves cats. 😸 Join his newsletter and friendly community of creatives by clicking on the "Subscribe" button below! See you!
Los Banos, Laguna