Digital declutter week 4 recap: Capping off my final week with a pledge to keep going

I started a 30-day “digital declutter” on Thursday, Sept. 1, as part of a long-term plan to better control how, when and where I use technology in my life. Here’s how my fourth and final week went. (You can read the recaps of my first week here, my second week here and my third week here.)

Wins & Losses

For the last week, I tried picking up and unlocking my phone less, and I did — for the most part. Rather than unlocking my phone 45 to 85 times a day, I was unlocking it between 25 to 35. But this took real effort. I often found myself picking up my phone and then stopping to think about whether or not I really needed to check something. I also wasn’t super consistent about this effort, even for the week, and it shows in the data.

Overall, though, this last week hammered home why I began this exercise in the first place: I think I use my phone too much, and I want to change that. While, ideally, I would have made more progress during this month, I do think I’ve set some boundaries between me and technology in a way that works for my personal and professional life — and I can keep refining those.

I never did quite stick to the standard operating procedures I set for mandatory technology, with work email, personal email and text messages being what I used most frequently outside the rules. I did, however, stop using Instagram completely, and I used Twitter and Facebook sparingly (both largely for work but, with Facebook, for boredom relief twice on my phone on a web browser and to look up nearby events and use Facebook Marketplace on my laptop.)

Also, my use of time blocking and setting a seasonal leisure plan, has made me more productive and helped me make progress toward goals that had been lingering for a while untouched. The combination of using less technology and being more intentional about the time I do have has been a great boon for me. If nothing else, I’m grateful for that.

Moving Forward

September 30 marked the final day of my digital declutter. On October 1 — my first post-declutter day — I played Wordle and listened to The Daily, two things I truly missed. I’m planning to re-introduce word games, including Spelling Bee, and podcasts into the mix of things I do with digital technology, but I’m going to limit how much I can do them each day. I haven’t definitively set those time limits yet, but I’m leaning toward one podcast a day, and 20 minutes for Wordle/Spelling Bee.

Other than that, I’m planning to keep things the same. Mostly, this means limiting my use of social media and news apps. I don’t need constant news alerts on my phone from The New York Times and The Washington Post to stay engaged. I can read a story — or listen to a podcast — about a news event the day after it happens, and be just as — if not more so — informed than I would be if I followed it minute by minute. And, I don’t need to be connected to social media wherever I have my phone, and I don’t need to record everything to remember it.

I attended three concerts in the last month, and maybe it’s because this is the most live music I’ve been to in years thanks to the pandemic/having a baby, but the phone usage during each of these shows astounded me. Some people never put their phones down; they recorded every song. Why? Does anyone really want to watch a shaky video of a concert after the fact? Annoyingly, some of these people even let the flashlight on their phone turn on while recording, so they lit up the entire area in front of them. All that is to say, my awareness of how much we, as a society, use our phones has increased alongside my awareness of my personal phone usage, and I don’t like what I see.

Moving forward, I hope to continue to limit how much I use my phone and when and where, so I can be more present in my life. If that’s something you want to do too, I’d encourage you to start by reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.


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