Healthier Living

Time for a Digital Declutter – 7 Ways to Reclaim Your Time

Esther Pransky March 7, 2020

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Those garbage bags at your curb? They’re a sure sign of spring cleaning and organizing.

But along with last year’s sweaters and last decade’s tax receipts, are you decluttering your digital space, too?

Digital decluttering is a real thing – and with all that’s going on these days, it’s more important now than ever.

Shabbat gives us a much needed 25-hour rest, but then comes the rest of the week. It’s “only” 24/6, but we’re glued to our screens for more time than we’d like to admit.

Why digital decluttering matters

Just like old clothing takes over your closet, digital use hijacks your time and crowds out your other activities.

And it’s not by accident. Digital media is DESIGNED to be addictive. It releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical, into our brains.

Have you heard of “nomophobia?” Nomophobia is a shortened version of “no mobile phone phobia” and means exactly that – fear of being without a mobile device. A 2010 UK study defined this new term when it found that “53% of mobile phone users experience anxiety when unable to use their device.”

We’re addicted, and, like most addicts, often in denial of the effects it has on our lives. We don’t even know what our lives would look like without digital distractions.

Psychology Today spells it out for us in an article titled “Why Your Smartphone Is Destroying Your Life.” (No subtlety there!)

If we could contain our digital use, we would:

  • Have more meaningful, empathetic social exchanges
  • See increased productivity with fewer distractions
  • Feel less anxiety and experience higher self-esteem
  • Be mentally sharper

The article doesn’t mention this, but we would also be role models for our children who struggle with this issue.

Given everything going on in the world today, we’re on our phones more than usual, and understandably so. We’re not recommending you shut off all contact from the outside world, but too much digital time can still be, well, too much. Now more than ever, it’s important to take a digital break.

So, how do we do it?

Seven ways to digitally declutter

If you’re not convinced that you have a problem, start by tracking your phone usage. There are lots of phone usage tracker apps out there for you to try. Most people are surprised (NOT in a good way) by the results.

And when you’re ready to make a change, here are some suggestions:

1. Put your phone away during family interactions – Psychology Today writes that a silenced phone is still a distraction if you can see it. Move it OUT OF SIGHT to be fully present with the family you’re home with during this time. And turn it off and PUT IT AWAY at night. Alarm clocks may seem so last century, but you can still buy one to wake you up in the morning.

2. Uninstall apps– Imagine the freedom of waiting until you get to your desktop to check your business feeds, Slack groups, or social media. If we’re honest, most of the time, there’s no urgent need to keep looking at them. In a pinch you can use their mobile websites. Or download apps only when you need them and then uninstall. If you’re REALLY brave, take your email off your phone. If you can set boundaries, people will learn them and come to respect them.

3. Silence push notifications– If you can’t bring yourself to uninstall the apps, at least keep them quiet. YOU rule your apps, not the other way around.

4. Do not disturb– Do you know about the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your phone? It puts all calls and notifications on hold for a set time. You can program it to repeat for certain times of the day or week. And don’t worry about what your mom will say; “Do Not Disturb” has a useful feature that allows your “favorites” to still reach you.

5. Take a break– What would life be like without social media? You can find out by taking a 1- to 2-week break from it. The internet (and ironically, social media!) is full of personal accounts by people who did just that. They report more free time, less anxiety, and a host of other benefits.

6. Change to grayscale- It isn’t new news anymore that changing your phone to grayscale makes it less addictive. Does it really work? There’s only one way to know.

7. Clean up your digital space– Even if you never get to the mythical inbox zero, you can cut down on the digital clutter competing for your attention. Unsubscribe from email lists and newsletters. Unfollow, defriend, or mute unwanted contacts on social media. Uninstall apps that you never use.

Some of these ideas are more drastic than others, but even a small change can make a big difference in your quality of life.

Fill your new-found time

If we cut out hours that were previously spent on mindless scrolling, then what?

With Mother’s Day and Shavuot coming up, and with all of you with kids home at all times, it shouldn’t be too hard to fill your time.

But if you still have “extra” time on your hands, consider:

  • Re-connecting with friends or family on Zoom
  • Enjoying the benefits of getting outside more
  • Taking up or revisiting a hobby
  • Getting to the backlog of items on your to-do list
  • Sleeping more