I’ve been a reader of Cal Newport’s books and blogs a while and as I adopted a No Spend Year 2020, I wanted to do the same with the social world and technology. I came across his January Analog Challenge and started reading his latest book Digital Minimalism (it’s a great read, refreshing and funny too).
My story with technology: I’m an older millennial, I don’t use or like the term much but it gives people a picture quickly. I learned what Facebook was in my late teens and used that first, though now it was coming up with memories I rather forget and I use it sparingly. I used to use Vine to record short videos and that went bust in 2017, I tweeted on and off. I knew a world without Instagram.
I’m not a social media lover or excessive user, I didn’t do many selfies (I think) or post everything I thought all the time. I did use to post foodie photos, though what for? The real shift happened when I no longer had a job and became a mum, moments on public transport and lunch breaks to use my phone didn’t exist anymore. My real-life friend group got smaller as I’d moved to a city 80 miles from home. I live with my husband’s family and we get on, I’m grateful to have somewhere to stay though there’s a lack of depth to our conversations and I was struggling to tune in with the creative me a lot. As our daughter got bigger, now 9 months, she became aware I was using a device, my phone or iPad, really quickly. I didn’t want her to see me on my phone all the time or reach for it after a nap, she has plenty of toys.
I don’t want her to be reliant and have a habit of needing a device to entertain herself. I want her to be a creator not a zombie.
I was reminded that I didn’t have that sort of distraction from my parents, I have an old memory of my dad and me sat together playing a computer game where a robot man had to escape from the baddy and the tension was horrifying for me. My Dad may have been distracted by books, he loves to read as do I and now, I think that’s where my love of books comes from – libraries, bookshelves, seeing people read around me and choosing them over my brother’s TV show Robot Wars.
It’s different now and I understand the changing times, even to book a doctors appointment for myself I need to use an app.
I had doubts about doing this experiment as I’m in the process of promoting new yoga classes and an Ebook I wrote, unsure how it would work, I chose to do it anyway and tailor-made my own rules, listening to other’s stories in Digital Minimalism encouraged me.
There’s a simplicity to how it was and how we can streamline our use of phones and social media. Another key thing I think to myself is, I spent a long time excited by and enjoying using a big screen (home computer) and then an iPad, why do I want to limit myself to something small?
In January 2020 I did a digital detox and declutter, here are the outlines of my experiment:
Firstly don’t announce on social media what your doing.
- Use your phone for only: Calls, texts, maps and audio
- Commit to reading 3-4 books a month
- Move, go for a 15-minute walk every day
- Hold 20 different conversations with different people in person or through audio.
- Make, this can be creative or physical, overcome the resistance of the physical landscape around you.
- Join something that meets weekly.
I’ll go over these points more in-depth, what worked and what didn’t:
I prepared myself for a declutter by deleting Instagram accounts I no longer felt I needed or I could speak to them in person, around 800 accounts. Then I moved my social media to the last page on my phone and into a folder, it will work the same way if you delete them from your phone, or even better. I later moved my Safari and Gmail too, putting maps, calls, and messages as a priority.
- Use your phone for calls, texts, maps, audio
Ok, I found a lot of freedom in sticking to these guidelines, it took the pressure off using my phone for everything. I feel I reset my thinking of it being a phone over a smartphone after all that’s the main primary use of them. I use maps while walking and driving and I recently got Audible to listen to books and I’m a big podcast listener. The surprising turn it took as I was mindful of how much I was listening to, I started to enjoy some walks without my headphones in, I challenge myself to walk to a place listening to a book and on the way back I listen to the sounds around me.
I did use my phone for other things – I use Insight timer for meditation and yoga, MySikhi, Hukumnama prayers apps in the morning. I used my banking apps, calculator, Forest a productivity timer app, The Work a self-inquiry app, Moon plus where I track the moon cycle with my tasks and Mindbody for classes I’m teaching or to go to in person. I found out about Moment, tracking the times you pick up your phone and use it in the day.
My biggest downfall was Safari though with a baby it’s not always practical to get to my laptop, I used it to get clothing essentials in the sale and to read through some articles. That’s the other thing, it allowed me to practice mindful eating as I ate my dinners distraction-free from technology and when I did pull out my phone to read something, every time and I mean every time, my mother in law started talking to me while she watched her much loved TV show.
I also used Evernote and Pages, I have written entire blog posts and idea sheets on there in this time, that’s another wonderful thing, it has freed up space to think creatively and put it into action. I will talk about this more point 5.
I did go to social media in the beginning weeks, Instagram remains a place where I see events I can go to near me or further out and that’s my primary use for it now. I like the feature of muting pages and stories of people and they don’t know any different, I’ve done it to so many accounts. I also am inspired by artist accounts and hashtags like #carveoutimeforart.
I did use buffer to pre-schedule classes I had planned to teach while at my laptop, two hours a week.
Another interesting turn was with WhatsApp, it’s great that it connects groups of people though I tuned into how I felt with a family group created for our wedding two years ago. I live with family, family work in the same house I live in, we see each other regularly and I’m an introvert. It wasn’t adding to my life to then type messages to each other on WhatsApp. It created a sort of false friendship and I am more willing to be present in in-person conversations. I feel so much freer having less contact than more of it, it may even benefit our marriage.
- Commit to reading 3-4 books
This I did not do, my schedule plays out around a baby, that being said I am a reader, I love reading books. I decluttered a large bag of books that I didn’t feel bought me any joy now (Kon Marie method) and took them to a charity shop. We made three bookshelves and I put my older books at the top, the ones to read next below and my yoga books too. I kept four books by my bedside, Wild love by Gill Edwards is my current read that I open at nap times when the baby is resting on me and won’t lie down in the bed or cot, I have enjoyed those moments and eaten a box of dark chocolates in that time too. The moon journal, Juicy pens and thirsty paper and Do the things you love and love the things you doodle are all books I can write to journal or colour, something I’ve enjoyed doing in bed. While writing I realize that is 4 books, ongoing not completed yet.
As I’ve been reading I’ve been less habit driven to watch a video or two or three or four on Youtube, I decided to watch 2-3 videos a week, to be selective and not jump to the first ones suggested by a computer to me. I’ve watched Personal philosophy project, Just between us and Naanak Naam and Basics of Sikhi. I’ve tried to keep them interest-based and not followed the trend or one that has a juicy title. I don’t watch a lot of TV, though doing this experiment I’ve limited myself to two hours a week, realistically I watch one hour, with a baby who wants to play play play and won’t sleep before 10 pm on a good night, there’s no time for it and I’d rather be creating in spare moments or playing with her. That being said I followed my interest in simplicity through watching documentary episodes of Living with Amish and Louis Theroux’s weird weekends.
- Move, go for a walk every day
This one comes easily, I walk each day with baby in a pushchair – for my mental health, for fresh air, to move my muscles, for baby to nap and to go shopping or a baby playgroup. I am a big walker, I haven’t always lived in a city and started driving late in life if anything it deepens my love for it and makes me determined not to make excuses. I have had a few chill days in, this is good news for me as I am restless and permission to slow down is sometimes what my body needs.
- Hold 20 different conversations with 20 different people face to face or through audio
This was my favorite one, as suggested I pre-planned an incomplete list. I didn’t include people I see and talk to nearly every day – 6 people. It’s audio-based as our brains react strongly to seeing someone and talking to them, or hearing them compared with seeing or composing written text.
I made it to 20 people! Some I remembered the challenge and called up or visited and others just flowed and happened. I didn’t bring an agenda with me I was present and listened and talked to people. Here’s my list:
Conversations in person
Woman in family visiting
Woman in family visiting
Kaur at Katha talk
Chris, a stranger who carried my shopping with me
Man at Kirtan class
Teacher at Gatka class
Woman in Yoga class
Conversations on the phone:
It showed me how messaging is within my comfort zone and calling someone I felt a little shy doing, though it forced me to break the norms and brought forward the connection of friendship. I was more willing and focused to have conversations and be authentic too.
- Make something, creative or physical, overcome the resistance of the landscape around you.
I started this challenge the same month I moved my creative desk to the top attic room, in there is natural light, a window and it’s the least used room in the house. At the same time baby SK has started rolling off the furniture if she’s given a chance to, crawling and pre-walking. While I have seized some nap times creating upstairs, I’m working on posters to add to my freebies page, I haven’t used it to it’s full yet.
I have used a laptop beside her to write blog posts:
I’ve used my energy to apply for part-time jobs near me, to practice yoga sets, to set up a new yoga class launching in the evenings, read more about it on my class page. I’ve been holding ideas that have come to me and even wrote part of a song, something I haven’t done for years.
This time has given me a bigger picture of what I can do, for example, get more people to my classes and spend time learning and implementing SEO so people come to my site and read my stuff, rather than just press a heart to red to ‘like’ my post.
- Join something that meets weekly
This was another point I was looking forward to, though it was harder to do than first thought. I kept putting it off and making excuses for why I couldn’t go out in the evenings – baby dinner, baby bath, not much money. Also, one class wasn’t on for a few weeks and I later found out the teacher was ill, each time I turned up to a dark room, till things turned around.
I started Gatka classes, A Sikh martial arts, and self defense and it is intense for fitness and I’m learning a new skill too. I also started music classes (or Kirtan, Vaja playing) too, both are affordable and it feels so great to get out of the house by myself or not doing something baby-related or mundane like food shopping. It renews my soul.
At the start of the experiment I wanted to find a playgroup with other Sikh kids and after much doubting, messaging and finally a phone call, I found a Kiddie Sangat that’s once a month we can go to!
In conclusion, my life has changed since the dropping of social media, I still post for marketing and use Buffer and my website to schedule. The difference is I’m not pulling out my phone as I feel ‘I have to quickly look at x, y, z’. My phone doesn’t feel like the third part of me, I now use a watch to find out the time. I’m intentional about what I have in my leisure time, I understand more now the phrase ‘action before inspiration’ and I feel that while I saw inspiration online and put myself forward as inspiration to others, it was also neediness and validation. I take action on ideas, projects or relaxation without my phone at the end of a night.
On a deeper personal last note, I feel as Gill Edwards puts it ‘having an intimate relationship with myself’. When things came up that angered and frustrated me, I didn’t post a quote or an image or a story that loosely related to how I felt to erase that feeling and try and feel something different. I simply felt it. I started practicing EFT and meditation with Simran out loud, careful not to wake the baby. I’ve been less reactive and more accepting, I’m doing more self inquiry and slowly but surely feeling amazing for it.
There’s so much more I could say about this challenge, I will continue to do it and adapt and learn more from it, Cal Newport has a great blog go and visit it!