Here’s a quick tip I’ve found to rapidly trim down my email inbox and slow down my rate of new emails at the same time. It’s a simple three step process:
Find an email you identify as junk. For example, I created a Pinterest account and started receiving spam from them automatically.
Search for an unsubscribe link or navigate to the site to unsubscribe from all emails.
In the email, look for a common “to” or “from” field. For example, the Pinterest emails were coming from “firstname.lastname@example.org”. Now search for “from:email@example.com”, do a quick scan to verify all emails in search list look like junk, select all, then delete all the emails, not just the single email.
By doing this my delete or archive actions have a multiplying effect so I don’t waste time making the same decision for similar emails over and over again. Rinse and repeat until I can’t find any repeating emails. I’ve found I can quickly trim down my neglected inbox to a small fraction of what it was before, giving me more time to focus on the important emails.
This post contains my carefully crafted summary of Cal Newport’s new book titled Digital Minimalism, choosing a focused life in a noisy world. If you’re interested in my review see my previous post.
Modern digital life is exhausting. The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life. There’s a collection of distressing concerns: addiction, reduction in autonomy, decrease in overall happiness, incentive to stoke darker instincts, and distraction from more valuable activities.
The author has become convinced that what you need instead is a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else. He calls it digital minimalism, and it applies the belief that less can be more to our relationship with digital tools.
I recently read a new book from Cal Newport titled Digital Minimalism I thought my readers would enjoy. He argues the rise of our hyper-connected digital life has evolved into a threat to our society’s stability. The combination of unintended and intended addictive behaviors at play have caused us to be feel more anxious than ever before and is stripping us of more rewarding activities. He suggests we combat it with a “digital minimalism” philosophy, carefully evaluating if a digital tool is beneficial and extracting only it’s essentials while avoiding it’s addictive traps.
I found the book wonderfully written with compelling examples, as is usual from Cal Newport. The repetition and examples really drive home his points but the core content and suggestions fit on a few pages, which I’ve summarized in a later blog post for a quick reference. I’d still recommend reading the full book if you’re looking for an enjoyable read.
I won’t be switching to a flip phone any time soon, but the book refined the way I look at attention seeking apps and made me more conscious of their addictive behaviors. The most impactful section for me wasn’t specific to digital minimalism, but instead on how I’m spending my leisure time. I love the idea of planning “high-quality” leisure to bring more fulfillment rather than falling into “low-quality” leisure activities every day like watching TV for hours. I’ve already began implementing this practice in my daily life with success.
The book obsesses too much about social media and smartphones as the root of all evils and reducing our digital usage as much as possible. More and more of my high-quality time is digital and that trend will continue in the future and with future generations. For example, drawing an original work of art has similar benefits to the artist whether it’s done digitally or with physical drawing materials. Digital isn’t the enemy, the real enemy is not living intentionally in all aspects of my life.
Interested in more book reviews? Follow me on Goodreads. Want to read a full summary of the book? Stay tuned for my book summary in a follow up post.
On my digital tidying journey I began to wonder, what’s digital content’s purpose? What’s the end goal of digital tidying? Is all this tidying going to be a benefit in my life? I needed a guiding principle to keep myself in check and track if it’s beneficial to my life. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that digital tidying’s main job to be done is to enrich our analog life.
Think about some of the activities you do with your content. Everything you do eventually ties back to your analog life. For example, you might spend an hour one day curating an awesome workout or study playlist. Why bother spending that time? You’re making a prediction that your work is going to payoff in some form by enriching your analog life, whether it’s pushing through a tougher than normal workout or staying in flow longer while studying. You’re attempting to maximize you’re analog life by digital tidying.
Will this digital tidying enrich my analog life?
This is the question I’m beginning to ask myself before embarking on any tidying. It makes you question if something is really worth tidying just for the sake of tidying or if it’s really important to your life. If the answer is yes then the solution is obvious, tidy away! If there isn’t any benefit to your analog life, you should remove the content from your life.
I want to first clarify that I love Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and it had a strong impact on me when I read it in 2015. It inspired me to spend several weekends “konmaring” my apartment and discarding (including selling, donating, or recycling whenever possible) more than 10 large trash bags of items that previously only served as clutter. For a little while I felt at ease, my apartment was a zen peaceful home as promised. But the feeling of clutter started to creep back in when I realized I only addressed part of my life, my physical things. My tidy analog life was in stark contrast to my messy unfocused digital life, arguably where I spend more of my time.
Does Konmari apply to the digital space?
Yes and no. Many of the book’s basic principles are general enough to be re-used in the digital domain:
Apply “sparks joy” test on an item to decide whether to keep or discard it.
Organize by category, not by room.
Start with easiest to hardest categories.
When starting a new category put all items from that category together in one area.
Don’t discard items others own.
Don’t let others see what you are discarding.
Thank an item when discarding it.
A gift giver wouldn’t want you to hold on to their gift if it’s causing you stress.
But the system starts to break down when attempting to apply specific techniques. How do you test that an item sparks joy if you can’t touch it? What are the categories and their order? Is there a digital equivalent of the humble shoe box? Do you really want to optimize for putting away, or is quickly looking up information more important? A lot is left to the reader to figure out.
In addition, the book completely ignores any of type of digital solutions to decluttering. If you have too many books, how about switching to eBooks? Maybe hoarding hundreds of eBooks sparks joy because they aren’t taking up too much space anymore. Paired down your physical documents to a manageable size? Why not take it to the next level by scanning all of them that don’t require the original copy to get it down to nearly zero.
I’m very excited to write my first post! Digital clutter is a topic dear to me and will explore on this blog. It’s easy to accidentally accumulate vast amounts of digital clutter, from files to saved Reddit posts, without realizing how much it’s weighing you down. I’m sure many of us have an overflowing email inbox. Maybe you have a row of outdated bookmarks in your browser? An external hard drive you keep telling yourself you’ll organize some day? Do you actively use all the apps on your phone? Should you backup your data? Follow this blog to find out how to tackle these problems and more.