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7 Digital Minimalism Rules: Just Another Self-Help Fad? (According to Research)

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01.23.23

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Minimalism is not new …

Antisthenes was one of the earliest known proponents of a minimalist philosophy 🧠 and lifestyle in ancient Greece.

He thought that virtue and self-sufficiency were way cooler than being rich or famous.

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Turns out, Antisthenes wasn’t the only one into this “less is more” thing, a bunch of other philosophers who came after him, like Diogenes, Zeno, Epicurus, Seneca, all weren’t afraid to question why everyone was so obsessed with getting rich.

It was kind of a big deal in that, there was something foundational in that thinking. It really shook things up and still influences how we think about minimalism today.

Any Half-Awake Materialist Well Knows That Which You Hold, Holds You.

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According to Tom Robbins, (who said that quote) physical items take up mental space, and wanting more is an insatiable desire.

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Interesting …

But isn’t wanting less also insatiable? 👀

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Correct!

But wanting less isn’t Minimalism.

It certainly is not the focus of Digital Minimalism …

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So what is the focus then?

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Minimalists aim to avoid becoming attached to possessions and material success as the path to happiness. Wanting less is just a result of that.

The real question is …

Does the stuff you have, or the things you do, bring you peace? Do they make you better? Or are they just dragging you down?

Social media, YouTube, Netflix, endless browsing, interactions, recommendations… 📱anything.

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And everything else that doesn’t help you get better.

Basically, if it’s not helping you be your best self, then what’s the point?”

In this guide, we’re diving deep into the core principles of Digital Minimalism.

We will also provide a 21-day action plan and a case study to help you implement Digital Minimalism in your own life.

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Digital Minimalism. What’s It All About?

Unlike popular belief, Digital Minimalism doesn’t mean you have to go all ninja and delete every social media account you’ve ever laid eyes on.

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Lol, that’s too religious!

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Exactly

Here is what you should do instead:

  • Delete the apps you don’t need. (Also try to redefine “need”)
  • Disable distracting features and notifications
  • Consume content that helps in any way or form except the uncontrollable desire to feed memes for 2 hours straight 😵
  • Use automations
  • More (we’ll see below)

This concept was made popular by none other than Cal Newport, Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University.

I read his book the other day, called Digital Minimalism.

It’s pretty legit!

I specially agree with the idea that:

Full Tech Abstinence Results in it’s Exact Opposite

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I totally agree …

It’s like any addiction

All direct efforts seem inconsequential.

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Well said …

Now I my self have been trying to live a simple and minimal life for a while now.

I think I’m pretty good at what I do, but I’m always learning new things. Here are 7 tips that have really helped me along the way, and I hope they can help you too:

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Rule #01: Multi-Tasking Is a Myth

Multitasking is the mistaken belief that when we do two or more things at the same time, we get them done faster and better.

Modern society has taught us to perceive handling multiple tasks simultaneously as a productivity superpower.

However, scientific studies have shown that multitasking is NOT REAL and can actually even hinder performance.

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Wait, not real? What does that mean?

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It means that when we think we’re multitasking, we’re actually just task-switching, rapidly toggling our focus between different activities.

… which might actually help in some scenarios (don’t get me wrong)

Otherwise, multitasking is almost always a misnomer, as the human brain lacks the architecture to perform two or more tasks simultaneously. Our neurons cannot fire in multiple patterns at the same time.

What feels like parallel processing is just toggling rapidly between tasks.

This fractured focus results in more stress, more mistakes, and poorer retention than giving one activity our full concentration.

So here is what I do to focus:

  • Use one or two max number of windows/tabs
  • If some thing came up, put it in the checklist
  • Turn off any distractions for the duration of that session
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I always keep my phone out of the office, and I use Notion for checklists.

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Rule #02: The “Third Party” Rule

Signup, signup, signup … uhh!

You just keep signing up for some new online service that seems cool, only to completely forget about it after a few weeks.

Before you know it, you’ve got subscriptions and accounts scattered everywhere that keep charging your card each month.

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Guilty as charged! 😅

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It needs to stop! – If it’s a service, app, or subscription you aren’t directly accessing yourself at least once a month, it’s got to go. No exceptions.

This means all those free trials you forgot about, premium channel subscriptions you never watch, monthly boxes that just pile up.

Time to purge them!

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Manually combing through credit card statements could take forever, and is probably boring.

So here’s a clever shortcut:

  • Log into your bank account online and use the filtering tools.
  • Select only “recurring” or “monthly” charges.
  • Scan for any you don’t immediately recognize.
  • Research them further and cancel what’s unnecessary.

You can proly knock this process out in under an hour. The mental clutter relief is huge.

Plus, you’ll likely uncover over $50-100 a month in unused auto-renewals that can be nixed.

Over a year that’s a free vacation fund! 😉 (Thank me later)

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Nice!

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Moving on to Rule #03 …

Rule #03: The 2 Minute Rule

A simple idea that any task that takes less than two minutes should be handled immediately, no delays.

That’s it, that’s the two minute rule!

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We don’t wanna have long checklists.

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Yeah, See a phone call you need to return? If it will take less than two minutes, don’t procrastinate – do it on the spot.

Got a form to submit or bill to pay? Get it done right away if it’s a two minute fix.

You’d be amazed at how even just five or ten of these micro tasks tackled per day clears mental space and prevents bigger headaches.

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Rule #04: Use Pomodoro

The ol’ pomodoro 🍅 …

Yep, still works!

The Pomodoro Technique is all about breaking your work down into focused sprints.

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You set a timer for 25 minutes, work without distractions on one task until it rings, then take a 5 min break. After 4 Pomodoros, you take a longer 15 to 30 minute break.

Then repeat.

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Does it have to be 25 min?

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Optimally … But here is a better idea.

You can increase the work time by 10 minutes every next pomodoro, this can lead to what we call, deep work.

We concentrate better working in short intense bursts. And knowing a break is coming makes it easier to really zone in. Plus, crossing off completed Pomodoros gives you a sense of progress.

Use any pomodoro timer tool you can find online, I don’t care.

You can visually see how many productive sprints you churned out. This fuels motivation to keep going.

I use Pomodoro for my work flows and let me tell ya, it simply works. I get more done.

So, definitely recommended.

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Rule #05: The “1-3-5” Rule

Every day, complete one large task, three medium, and five minor ones.

For example:

1 Major Task:

  • “Finish writing the project proposal for the new client”

3 Medium Tasks:

  • “Respond to emails from the team about the upcoming launch”
  • “Review the analytics report and summarize key findings”
  • “Schedule meetings with stakeholders for next week”

5 Small Tasks:

  • “Organize files on computer”
  • “Order office supplies for the team”
  • “Submit expense reports”
  • “Confirm meeting with manager tomorrow”
  • “Print and file signed contracts”
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Rule #06: Delete Upon Arrival

I’m a 100% sure!

You have hundreds, if not thousands of unread emails right now. 😔

Subscriptions …

Notifications…

Useless Emails …

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If you don’t stay on top of cleaning it out, it quickly gets out of control.

The “Delete Upon Arrival” rule says: “any email that you know you won’t need ongoing access to should be deleted as soon as it arrives in your inbox”.

It’s a simple habit that takes seconds but makes a huge difference.

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But I need most of my Emails …

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You definitely don’t need these 👇 (at least you can save them locally):

  • Online purchase receipts and shipping notifications
  • Event registrations and tickets
  • Marketing newsletters you’ve signed up for
  • Social media notifications
  • One-off inquiries that have been addressed

Having these types of emails pile up makes it overwhelming to parse what’s important in your inbox versus what’s just digital noise.

Tackle the problem at its source!

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Rule #07: Analog Hour

So many of us STILL begin our mornings magnetically drawn to screens, flipping open laptops and phones immediately after waking up.

Bad!

The “Analog Hour Rule” is simple – don’t look at any digital screens for the first 60 minutes after getting out of bed.

Keep it 100% non-digital activities only.

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Like what? 😒

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“Like what”? (you should be ashamed of your self) …

Literally any thing else:

  • (Number 1, don’t play hide and seek with the snooze button)
  • Exercise, running or walking …
  • Journaling, Reading PHYSICAL books 📖 …
  • Drink water, eat, wash … talk! (For goodness sake)
  • Take care of the house, kids … or pets and so on

This rule could also be named the “Analog at Least an Hour” rule … or the “No News” rule …

The goal of starting the day with an “analog hour” is to avoid triggers that require impulsive responses, so we can be more intentional and focused.

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When you first wake up, your brain is in a more primitive state – it’s just emerging from REM sleep and isn’t fully awake yet.

If you immediately start staring at screens, checking messages, scrolling feeds, it’s like hitting your brain with a jolt of stimulants before it’s had a chance to properly transition into wakefulness.

Give your brain space to “wake up”

So there you go, those are the 7 Digital Minimalism Rules.

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Not bad …

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Let’s recap.

Recap

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I. Thou shalt recognize that multitasking is but an illusion, for the mind cannot truly focus on multiple tasks at once.

II. Thou shalt cast out any third party tools doth not enrich thy life, accessed less than once a moon’s turn.

III. Taketh action in two minutes or less on minor tasks, procrastinate not.

IV. Embrace the Pomodoro technique, using intervals of 25 minutes work and 5 minutes rest.

V. Each day, complete one major task, three tasks of middling size, and five small. This is the 1-3-5 rule, essential for balance.

VI. Delete each trivial email straightaway upon arrival, save those needed down the road. Thus declutter thy inbox with discipline.

VII. Unplug from screens for the first hour after waking, keep it analog. Let thy mind awaken slowly, without simulation.

FAQs

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What is digital minimalism? What’s it all about?

Digital minimalism is about being more intentional and focused with your use of technology. It involves reducing distractions from apps, social media, and devices so you can spend more time on the essential things that matter most.

Is multi-tasking really effective? Or is it a myth?

Research shows that multi-tasking is actually less productive than focusing on one task at a time. When we try to multi-task, our brain is switching between different tasks and cannot fully focus on either one.

How can I become a digital minimalist?

Audit and reduce app usage, set limits, take regular tech breaks, replace mindless scrolling with intentional activities, prioritize in-person connections, single-task, and adopt a “less is more” mentality about technology. Get the full Checklist here: MNML Checklist

What do I benefit from becoming a digital minimalist?

You’ll gain more focus, presence, time, creativity, control, mindfulness and appreciation when you minimize digital distractions.

Summary✨

In this post we covered 7 main rules to help you people be more intentional with technology use. Okay okay … including me 😁

But is it just another self-help fad lacking evidence?

Nope …

Research suggests there are valid benefits. Studies show that reducing digital distractions improves focus, presence, mental health, productivity, and relationships.

While additional research is required, the key ideas of digital minimalism are consistent with numerous scientific results on better well-being through increased mindfulness, attention, and moderation of technology use.

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