A few days ago, I finished my Digital Declutter Experiment. Here’s what I accomplished:

  • Successfully fixed my leaky kitchen faucet
  • Attempted to replace the burned out lights in my car’s climate control dashboard, but did not succeed.
    • It turns out you have to take apart a ton of the dashboard to replace the tiny light-bulbs which burned out. I spent an hour and a half on it before deciding it was more work than it is worth to me.
  • Worked out 3-5 times at the gym each week.
    • This goal got severely impeded by a nasty cold I’ve had off and on for several weeks.
    • It became clear that the amount of energy I was expending in exercising was causing me to relapse into sickness again, so I’ve had to take more time off than I wanted or anticipated.
  • Read several books
  • Started a puzzle with Sinah
  • Significantly cut down my time on-line
  • Had significantly more face-to-face interactions with friends and family

Things I’ve learned

YouTube Can Be Awesome

YouTube was very helpful in fixing my leaky faucet. The tutorials I found were accurate, clear, and to the point. This made fixing my faucet significantly easier than it would have otherwise been.

Giving up on the junk food of YouTube (fail videos, random recommended videos, etc.) ensured that it wasted very little of my time as well.

Working out

Working out many times per week was immensely satisfying, but also takes a lot of energy. This is fine when I am in good physical health, but when I forced myself to work out in spite of feeling crummy due to my cold, this only ended up making my cold worse.

I want to get better about giving my body the rest it needs. (It can be dificult for me to know whether I just don’t want to work out or whether I really shouldn’t work out. This is a work in progress.)

Disabling Notifications is Awesome

Partway through the experiement, I started leaving my phone on Do Not Disturb mode for hours on end. This turned out to be a wonderful choice.

My phone was significantly less noisy and I found it became easier to focus on whatever I was doing without random interruptions.

I really wish Apple would make notifications on iOS better by:

  • Enhance Do Not Disturb mode to:
    • Allow us to select which apps can send notifications when Do Not Disturb is on
      • Example: I nearly always want to get my calendar alerts.
    • Allow us to select which apps can send notifications live and which notifications will be delivered in batches at specified times
    • Allow us to hide all notification icons when Do Not Disturb is enabled
      • I don’t want a big red icon telling me I have 12 unread texts when I’m busy

TV can be helpful

Until I got sick, it was not a challenge at all to give up on most TV. I reduced my usage to somewhere between 1-4 hours a week.

Then I got sick. At first, I tried to push on as if I was healthy, but after working out several days in a row, I relapsed and became sick again.

Once I started giving my body the rest it needed (which involved me lying on the couch wrapped in blankets and watching TV), I began to feel better.

I am a very driven person and it can be difficult for me to turn that off. But it is clear that sometimes I need to do nothing substantial (i.e., watch TV) in order to rest and recover.

I think that as long as this is not a consistent pattern, I am OK with this.

Distractions suck

The distractions I normally experience from technology (e.g., email, texts, chat messages, etc.) really suck up a lot of time and mental energy. It was far easier to plan high quality activities when I was ignoring these distractions.

I also realized that I do not miss them and did not miss out on much of substance when I gave them up.

After living like this for a month, it now seems absurd to me that we’ve allowed a culture to be created where it is OK to interrupt (e.g., send a message which will generate a sound/notification) each other for any reason at any time of the day 24 / 7. (If I actually responded to all of these Urgent communcations as they come in, I’d end up living most of my life in the Urgent and Not Important quadrant. This is not where I want to live my life.)

It’s also clear to me that most people are suffering from a barrage of notifications, such that the notifications themselves are becoming ineffective. Unfortunately, the common solution appears to be to send even more notifications.

For example, it appears to be becoming more common for companies to send follow-up emails on their reuest for feedback emails. I flew on Delta this past month and they have sent me two emails asking for feedback.

Batching is awesome

For about a year now, I’ve been batching my personal email. This means I typically only check my email once per day and when I do, I clear out my inbox completely. This has reduced the amount of stress I feel over my email to nearly zero.

I am tempted to use the same cadence with text messages, but this is a difficult proposition. Most people expect texts to be answered within a few minutes or hours. For now, I’ve settled on muting almost every single text message thread I’m a part of and checking for texts every hour to few hours.

Phones suck as productivity devices

My phone absolutely sucks as a productivity device:

  • The screen is small
  • The user interface makes it difficult to write or manipulate text/data quickly
    • Phones are mainly good for consuming content, not creating it
  • Typing is slow
    • Leads to low quality emails / texts
  • The tools are minimal

Ways in which my phone is awesome for productivity:

  • Viewing and editing my calendar on the go
  • Viewing and editing my to do list on the go
  • GPS / Google Maps

As such, I realized I’m significantly more productive at just about anything on my laptop. When I eventually upgrade my laptop, I will likely choose one which is more portable so I can be productive on the go.