The fact we have a new administration hasn’t hit me yet. I feel like a cat hiding in the carrier after coming home from a vet visit.

Digital declutter, 3 days in

So far, so good. I’m usually busy on the weekends with grocery shopping, batch cooking, and laundry, so the real test of my digital declutter starts tomorrow, when I have more time to fill. I’ve been reading a lot and listening to plenty of music, but that’s not going to be enough.

I don’t really feel like anything’s missing, but it’s early yet. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after a few more days of being mostly offline.

Digital declutter challenge prep

I’m sharing a room with at least a dozen other people, none of us talking to each other. We’re all staring at our screens instead. I’m constantly refreshing to see if I have any new messages, playing the social slot machine.

No, this is not me today, although it could be. This was me in college in the late 80s. I went to an engineering school where one of the students created a chat room. We also had email, and I was immediately hooked on both. Many of us would spend hours typing to each other even when we were in the same room. Years later, I spent way too many hours chatting on online forums and searching the web to explore the huge world of information now at my fingertips.

Which is to say I’ve struggled with being addicted to certain technologies even before Web 2.0 algorithms were designed to make them actually addictive. That rush of meeting people online or learning something new, that’s simply being human. Today’s tech companies hijack that rush to keep people on their platforms as long as possible (this is not news to anyone, I hope).

These days, I usually manage to not waste too much time online. Lately, I haven’t done as well and I feel the effects, none of them good. I also realized that even though I’ve tried to minimize my online time in the past and have implemented some strategies from both DEEP WORK and DIGITAL MINIMALISM by Cal Newport, I’ve never been systematic about it and haven’t explored the full potential of reclaiming my attention.

To fix that, I’m going to formally do his digital declutter challenge and see what happens. The challenge:

1. Take a break from optional technologies for 30 days and set ground rules on the technologies that remain.

2. Explore activities and behaviors I find satisfying and meaningful during those 30 days.

3. At the end of 30 days, reintroduce optional technologies starting from a blank slate, determining its value and specifically how I’ll use it to maximize that value.

Step 1- list my optional technologies:

  • The big ones (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.): The good news is I don’t have any social media accounts. The bad news is I still sometimes check the news and doomscroll on Twitter (easy to do these days) since you don’t need an account to do so. Ground rule: Avoid these platforms completely for the same reasons I avoid processed food and alcohol–they’re terrible for my well-being.
  • Web browsing both on my phone and my computer: I removed the Safari icon from my phone, but I need to stop unlocking it. I also waste too much time browsing on the computer for no reason. Ground rule: online from 4-5pm only, and only for specific tasks listed ahead of time.
  • Email: Not a problem since I don’t have it on my phone. Ground rule: check between 4-5pm.
  • TV/video/streaming: Not applicable
  • Podcasts: This is a tough one because I get a lot out of podcasts, but I often use them to procrastinate. Ground rule: Avoid them for the next 30 days and then re-evaluate.
  • Spotify: Music brings me joy, so no limits on this.
  • Texting: I only text with a few people, but even then I should keep mornings for myself. Ground rule: text only after noon.
  • WordPress: Blogging is something I’d like to do more of, but not as a substitute for creative work. Ground rule: blog only after 4pm.

Step 2–explore meaningful activities. That’s easy because I know what I want to do more of (write, read, draw, knit, craft, exercise, explore, drum, etc.). It’s getting myself to do them that’s the challenge because wasting time online is easier.

Well, it looks like I have a game plan. Compared to most people, it’s downright ascetic, but I’m a minimalist at heart and it works for me.

I’m only about 10% into THE BIGGEST BLUFF by Maria Konnikova and I already love it. It’s a great guide into how to make better decisions in the face of uncertainty and how to acknowledge that both skill and luck influence outcomes (I find many people unable or unwilling to accept the luck part). I love how she uses poker as the tool to illustrate these concepts even though I’m not a big poker player.

Also by her: THE CONFIDENCE GAME, which is one of my favorite reference books on con artistry.

What a week. I was doing well staying offline and avoiding the news for several weeks, but I got sucked back in the past few days. Just another reminder I need to stay away from screens to preserve my mental health and have enough brain capacity for my projects. Enough already.

2020: not a total waste

Despite 2020 being a flaming dumpster fire of poo that will vex future history students forever, I managed to accomplish some things this past year. This list is my way of reminding myself to celebrate victories, no matter how small. Stuff I did in 2020:

  • Stayed with my whole food plant based eating pattern for a second year. With the Clean Food Dirty Girl meal plans, this was pretty easy–I honestly prefer to eat this way now and I don’t feel deprived at all. The effort to cook all my food from scratch is SO worth it.
  • Didn’t drink alcohol (and if I was going to start drinking again, this was the year to do it). I’ve never had a drinking problem, but a few years ago I wasn’t happy with the trend my drinking was taking. After I cleaned up my diet, even a sip of alcohol made me feel nauseated, so it was easier to cut it out altogether. There are still times I look longingly at Campari and Buffalo Trace bourbon at the store, but I know I’m much better off staying alcohol-free.
  • Learned how to sew masks. I ordered a sewing machine and fabric in late March and am so thankful I did! I hadn’t sewn in nearly 30 years, but with practice I was able to regain some muscle memory.
  • Briefly volunteered on a political campaign. I will never do this again–it’s definitely not my thing.
  • Rediscovered how fun playing cards are. I relearned nertz and euchre, which I played a lot when I was younger, and I learned gin rummy (my new favorite card game) and a few solitaire variations. I also learned how to deal casino blackjack, baccarat, three card poker, and pai gow poker. Odd skills to have, I know, but I might use them someday, somehow, when this pandemic is over.
  • Read a lot of books. I don’t keep track of what I read, but I definitely loaded up on stories set in WWII and spy stories (both fiction and non-fiction).
  • Wrote and submitted two short stories. I’ve been in a writing slump for years, so I’m glad that I’m finally turning things around a bit.
  • Kept up with regular exercise, thanks to this bike trainer (much cheaper and more versatile than a Peleton).
  • Kept a pandemic journal that I’ll eventually donate to Michigan History Center. In their words, “When we look back at what the state collected during the 1918 influenza epidemic, we find government records, but few glimpses into what the crisis meant on a personal level. Our hope is that the record we preserve in 2020 will help future generations understand what it felt like to live through this time.”
  • Crewed a socially-distanced, outdoor community theatre production of “Working: The Musical.”
  • Investigated other skills I want to learn, such as zine making, collaging, and drawing. I gathered several bankers (banker’s?) boxes of material and have been tinkering with them a little. Thanks to Austin Kleon for the ongoing inspiration during this difficult year.
  • Refreshed my website and started this blog. I’m already enjoying this incarnation more than my past attempts, maybe because I’m not trying so hard this time.

Whew! That list is longer than I expected. I know I’m missing a lot of items, but that shows that even in a crappy year, many good things can still happen.