Does digital minimalism have a place in a developer’s life?
What is digital minimalism? Is digital use taking too much time of our busy lives? Being mindful of how you spend your time using digital devices may be productive for developers. This article examines ways to help become more mindful of wasting time on social media notifications, checking emails, or scrolling endlessly out of boredom.
Technology is, more than ever, a daily part of our lives. In fact, according to research tracking the estimated average screen time, the data varies between five and twelve hours every day. That includes time spent on your computer in addition to the use of smartphones and other digital devices. You can see the average consumption data for different countries in the chart below:
Digital media relates to listening to music, using social media, digital newspapers, and multitasking between activities. Considering the analyzed data, a question comes to mind:
Is digital use taking too much time of our busy lives?
We do live in a digital era, so the idea that we can be a fully integrated member of society without using technology daily is absurd. From my experience working in a Java development company, in developers’ work especially, a considerable amount of relevant information is shared through email. The rest is conveyed using Slack, Jira or other forms of digital communication. Not to mention digital organizers such as Trello, Google Calendar, or any other app.
The potential issue with the rapid use of technology is the habit-building factor. The more often you check your phone, the more often you are exposed to notifications. Often coupled with, other forms of attention engagement tactics that encourage people to use their phones more and to consume more virtual content.
To understand why it can be so hard to put down our phones and direct our attention to more essential parts of our work, we need to analyze the structure of what makes a habit.
A habit can be broken down into three stages:
- Trigger. A structure that evokes an instinctive response, actively redirecting your focus to fit what the app creators want from you. In the digital world, this is where notifications and prompts step in to serve as a trigger.
- Routine. After you received a notification, you likely either opened the app to complete an action or swiped it away to clear your screen. Regardless, you perform an action that requires involvement with the application that sent you the notification.
If you were wondering where your unaccounted time goes… this is it.
- Reward. You experience a sense of accomplishment. It may be as simple as seeing your inbox without any unread emails or checking off an item of your to-do list. Depending on the purpose of the app you are using you receive a different payoff in this stage. In games, you may get gems to participate in microtransactions.
- Back to the trigger. You receive another app’s notification or another email and you feel compelled to resolve the conflict of having an unread email and fall back into the routine step.
- Then the cycle completes and restarts… and then again.
Granted, many of those actions take less than a minute. It does not seem like much, does it?
“Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land.
So the little minutes, humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages of eternity.”
– Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney
Now think of those small daily things you do in the context of a repetitive action? How many times per day do you open your email, just to check if you got a new one? How many times did you get a notification someone sent you a message on LinkedIn? How many times did you unlock your phone to swipe away the “Battery life running low” message?
Distractions are a constant and never-ending aspect of the digital world, which is precisely why they should not be left unattended. We end up spending more and more time of our day performing mundane and rarely valuable actions.
And the result? The average adult spends over 5 hours every day on screen time, consuming content or performing small actions for a variety of apps, most of which do not have a meaningful return in value for the time you spent.
What is digital minimalism?
Software developers have no way around working multiple hours on end in front of a computer screen. At the end of the day, you cannot create software that builds upon technology if you do not master and use digital tools. This can be anything from coding to researching digital scientific papers that help you develop products, or even as simple as receiving feedback that assists in the development process.
So how could digital minimalism possibly apply here?
“Digital Minimalism is a philosophy of technology in which you focus your online time on a few carefully selected activities that support the things you value.” The principle is explored at length in Cal Newport’s book if you want to read more about it.
That being said, the concept does not stand for:
- It is not focused on cutting all technology or digital services out of our lives.
- It is not focused on creating a stigma around using any tech or apps daily.
- It is not focused on reverting into older working models since before technology became a part of our lives.
What it does stand for:
- Being mindful of what you choose to spend your time and energy on, to lead a calmer and higher-value life.
- Being able to have better focus when working on a project, and cutting out unnecessary distractions that do not add anything to the work process.
- Prioritizing and moderating the content you consume on a daily basis while maintaining any tool that helps your work or your state of mind.
How can a developer benefit from it?
We all know that developers need to use technology for research, development, and testing. So cutting down screen time is not the goal when we think about digital minimalism for programmers.
In fact, the goal is to make the most of a focused use of technology, while in the process, reducing stress and increasing the quality of work.
Do not Disturb setting (DND) on your phone
This is a setting that many of us use when we head off to bed to keep our sleep high-quality. Or if we head into an important meeting – we do not want to cause interruptions.
So from the previous example, we know that we use it when we want to dedicate our time to something important without distractions. So why not use it to help with our focus at work? Whenever you pick up an assignment, set your phone to DND.
It can be for an hour, two, four, or even the full 8 hours. You can choose to what degree you want to eliminate the noise of constant texts, notifications, calls, and spam emails. The goal is to direct your attention to what you are doing for a period of time.
The benefits will show in the quality, and the time it took to complete the task when compared to not using DND.
Of course, you have the option to tweak the settings so that you receive some notifications – in case of emergencies, or not to miss important calls. You can manually set what part of the communication is stopped by DND.
In addition, if you choose to check your phone during this time, you will see all notifications you received at once, rather than one at a time. You can simply spend 5-10 minutes to respond to them and then get back to your work.
Chances are, using this method, even if you check up on your phone you are likely to spend less time on it, than when you check it for a couple of minutes every time it buzzes.
Dedicating time each day to reply to emails
Right off the bat, I should say, you should check your emails every day. As mentioned earlier, emails have become a cornerstone of business communication. Besides, more often than not, it would make a bad impression if you are not up to date with the latest information related to your work.
However, checking if you got a new email five or ten times a day is a sure way to cripple your productivity. Aside from being anxiety-inducing, compulsively checking your email can be bad for your workday practices for the same reason as checking your phone multiple times a day.
What you can do is set aside dedicated email time once or twice a day. This is the time you sit down, read through all of the emails you received, reply and move on to the next task.
The best option is to check it twice for about 15 minutes or so.
- First, at the beginning of the workday, so you are aware of any changes that may affect what you will be focusing on during the workday.
- Second, in the middle of the workday, after lunch, for the same reason as in the morning. You may receive something that requires your attention and will change your work throughout the day.
Social media declutter
We all have social media accounts. They provide a great way to communicate with people without too much effort. Also, they also allow you to get familiar with things happening on the other side of the globe that you may otherwise not hear about.
But let me ask you this: Do the accounts you follow give any value to your life? Do they help you make more informed decisions? Do they expand your view of the world around you, giving you insight on how you can do better?
If the answer is no, or if you have noticed that you scroll for the sake of scrolling, pushed by boredom and nothing else, it may be time you consider a declutter.
Unfollowing channels that do not contribute to your life and are not coherent with your values might be for the best.
This is not to say you should become close-minded and throw away content that does not match your opinions and beliefs completely. But to choose how you spend your time on social media, in addition to understanding why you spend as much time as you do.
Are you scrolling for the sake of scrolling or boredom? Then maybe it is time to focus your time and energy into working towards your goals instead. Both professional and personal!
Have you noticed your phone or computer getting laggy? Did you open the memory information and end up surprised to find just how little disk space you have left? That is when you delete applications you do not regularly use, right?
You don’t need to wait for the quality of work to drop to make a change. If you notice that you receive notifications from too many applications that rarely actually help you, it is time to declutter.
Delete anything that you have not used in the last month or week. It is up to you to decide what is the time frame for an unused app to sit around before getting uninstalled.
Focus on what you value most
Choosing what you value the most in your life, be it personal or professional, and dedicating your attention to it is the best thing you can do. Life will always have a way of distracting you from your goals. But you can control the unnecessary distractions that come from your phone’s notification and email newsletters that you keep “forgetting” to unsubscribe from.
Digital minimalism should not be considered as a strict strip-down method that bans all technological tools. It should merely be adjusted to your work and your goals, in a way that extracts the most benefits, while reducing the stress you experience.