As I admitted in last week’s post, I am living a distracted life. The question then is what I am going to do about it? Before going further, I need to state that the most helpful resource on this subject matter has been Cal Newport’s, Digital Minimalism, that came out a few months ago. Between this book, and his previous Deep Work, I have been greatly challenged to rethink my plan and use of technology. I cannot recommend both of those books enough and believe they are mandatory reads for twenty-first century leaders.
A “digital declutter” is an idea that comes from Cal Newport. The process involves three quick steps: Put aside a thirty-day period where you take a break from optional technologies. Use this time to explore and rediscover non-digital activities and behaviors. Then, reintroduce optional technologies in your life at the end of the thirty days, determining the value each service provides for your life and how specifically you will use it to maximize this value. In chapter 3 of Digital Minimalism, Newport examines how to distinguish between “optional” and “not optional” technology, how to define your rules of technology use, and much more than I can effectively summarize here. This will help you as you prepare to “declutter,” so I encourage you to buy the book.
The question I want to deal with for the rest of this post is, “Why?” Why am I embracing a “digital declutter”? And why should you consider it, too?
The first reason is easily the deepest, that inside me is a craving to be liked, followed, and affirmed—but this craving is indicative of an unhealthy soul. Why this bothers me as it relates to social media is that social media simply will not deliver what my soul craves. It is akin to drinking motor oil the next time I have extreme thirst. Worst, social media exposes the vanity of my heart by tempting me to overshare everything going on in my life in pursuit of attaining virtual affirmation and fulfilling this deep desire.
Next, setting aside the spiritual element entirely, if I looked at the time I spend on my phone, and on social media in particular from a business sense and simply ran an ROI, I would soon discover that it is a poor investment of my time. This is the idea that always receives pushback. The skeptic says that more people are “connected” to me than ever before, more people now know about me, Hoffer Plastics, and Bald in Business, than if I wasn’t on social media. All this is true! But what is the return on “connection” and “networking.” What is really gained by digital connections? And more aptly, is it worth the time, energy, and cost of focus to obtain?
Finally, at the very practical level, what is the cost of the divided attention span that accompanies social media use? The cost of a divided attention is missed moments with family and friends, increased stress, and perhaps poorer decisions. What moments am I missing because I have my smartphone in hand? Is it “entertaining” me, or is it increasing my stress? These are questions that need to be considered because as good as I think I am at setting aside digital distractions the reality is that I too often reach for my phone at the slightest hint of boredom. This always comes at the cost of not paying attention to something else. When that something else is of less importance that is fine, but it is often Sarah, the kids, or work. And as a leader in the 2019 business world, I have to model what the proper use of digital communication is because everyone on the team is watching. If I am pulling my phone out and checking it, I have just rewritten our digital technology policy whether I intended to or not. How can I expect the organization, as a whole, to make good business decisions when it is often distracted?
The reasons above are not intended to be exhaustive, but they are my personal convictions leading me to seek a new path. Tomorrow begins my “declutter” journey. I am still discerning exactly what that looks like as it pertains to this blog. Likely you won’t be seeing as much from me on social feeds the next thirty days, just an occasional "new post" link. I have not decided on the proper cadence yet, but I will be continuing to write two posts per week because writing is one of the activities that I not only enjoy, but want to do more of with my extra time. If you want to receive every "new post" update, I encourage you to “subscribe” to Bald in Business. If anything I write is worth sharing with a friend, pick up the phone and talk about it. The last thing your friend needs is another digital ding (email, text, etc.) that distracts them. A real conversation, however, might be just what they are lacking. And if they never subscribe to this blog because they don’t have the link, or don't hear from me on social feeds, I’ll be just fine.
With apologies to my editor, one more thing. If you decide to begin your own “digital declutter” experiment, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to know what you learn during the process, and would also be open to lending this space to a guest commentator to share their experience with the BIB audience after they complete the experiment.
I am excited to see where this journey takes us. If my taste of a phone-free life last Sunday was any indication, it’s going to be well worth our efforts.