Know that feeling when you wipe down a countertop from an obscure appliance you never clean or when you finally fix that shelf? The same feeling as closing all your tabs at the end of the day. Don't @ me on this; it's a great feeling. And it's become quite a necessity to stay focused and connected.
There's a lot to be said about working behind a computer; from eye-strain, soreness, all the way to conversation rigor mortis through digital chat all the way & to the correct usage capacity for cloud storage. Being mindful (or dare I say, ‘minimal’) can be applied without having to put your phone in a locker. As humans we’re all connected to the internet in some way, for better or for worse. It’s another dimension to thinking inwards.
The core of digital minimalism
Whatever your intentions may be; there are a lot of guides to minimalism out there. Minimalism is often defined as an aesthetic for interior, clothing and design. But it can also be looked at as a mindset shift. Today I’m going to focus on digital minimalism through the lens of productivity.
Cal Newport's book Digital Minimalism is probably the most popular guide on why applying minimalism principles to digital products is worth a look. Its intro lays the groundwork of a need for digital mindfulness as it mentions the rise of Facebook and the iPhone, the whistleblower Tristan Harris and reclaiming ‘leisure time’. Newport defines leisure time as finding parts in your daily life completely dedicated to one's self immersed in a topic of interest outside of work. As a side-note, I started writing this article during a government-mandated COVID lockdown.
The core of (digital) minimalism; a direct quote from the book mentioned earlier: “Intentionality is satisfying”
Minimalism is not all about thinking deeply through every action, step or click. It’s compartmentalizing to a core where you’re left with nothing else *but* to take action. Be it mentally, spiritually, in your relationships or in your digital clutter. If you’re interested in learning more about digital clutter and taking action upon it, @muchelleb shares super practical tips on how to tackle digital clutter head-on. She talks all about getting to know herself, setting up her goals and working towards that with specific routines, online tools and challenges. I can also recommend her YouTube Notion playlist!
Everyone’s mind works differently and this blogpost is focused on neurotypical behaviour. But for example, I have a chaotic mind that can remember house keys lying on a stack of mail on the kitchen table or think back to an oddly-specific website that was mentioned in Slack last month. Trying to work against that mind in favor of the advice of someone else is counter-productive. I’m also relatively good at context switching: jumping between tasks in both tabs or in the real world, or, their more well-known cousin multi-tasking for that matter. While science is against multitasking, there is that marginal room for mindful spontaneity. Especially since no one is exempt from interruptions in the real world.
With Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast & Slow in mind (the UX holy grail for behavioral design thinking); we can cook up our own ways of dealing with interruptions and spontaneity. The principle of his theory is that the brain is divided into two systems: system 1 (fast, intuitive, emotional) and system 2 (slow, analytics, rational). Rational thinking takes up a lot of brain power, going the easy route saves precious energy. This is called ‘cognitive ease’ and it can be applied to habit building systems. For example, you always put your keys in the same spot and screenshots in the same folder, in the beginning it’s awkward but over time it becomes automatic. Creating new behavior is called ‘setting an intention’ — because your intention is to instill new habits.
Intentions part I: Set the precedent
Getting towards that sweet spot of satisfying intentionality, what must we do? Where in that process are we currently? This is a process of elimination.
Do a braindump in your medium of choice, what jumps to mind when you answer these questions:
What do I do during my day?
What do I have to do in the upcoming weeks?
What do I need to let go of?
After the braindump and seeing it all out in front of you. Re-evaluate what still serves you. When you apply it to the apps you use on your devices, there is really just one question to answer for each of those apps: How often do I use this?
The same accounts to ‘where and ‘how’ you store your files. Are they in the cloud? Are they into folders or scattered across your desktop?
Ask yourself: How easily can I retrieve this?
You are allowed to create a ‘maybe’ pile of stuff that you’ll want to think about some more.
The next step is thinking about principles. These are ‘intentions’ already created by other people for you to use in your life so you don’t have to start from scratch. What are some principles you want to introduce in your life? Here are some interesting examples to explain these concepts:
Intensions part II: Clean up
Once you’ve evaluated your current behaviors it’s time to learn & evolve. You might have set up some principles you want to learn along the way.leaning up with a certain intention can set that in motion.
Step 1: Clean up your desktop (where stuff piles up easiest)
If you’re on MacOS, hide your dock
Turn off all notifications
Use a calming wallpaper
Tag- & color code your work in MacOS’ Finder
Step 2: Use Hazel to set up some ground-rules for automated, habitual cleaning. Things to consider when setting up rules in Hazel:
Where files are allocated once they’re downloaded (tip: it’s not your downloads folder)
When files are due to be automatically deleted
How files are tagged
Step 3: Set up a calendar structure
Will you use any of the links above like timeblocking or a reset day? Put it in your calendar. We use Amie for combining to-do lists and calendar items
Use multiple calendars for different tasks so you can color code more easily
Schedule in time for mental breaks, taking rest is just as important as doing the work
Set up a space for backlog tasks, so they don’t loom over your day-to-day and scare you off.
Intentions part II: Follow through
The bulk of the hustle means following through on your rules without straying from them too much. Realistically speaking you’ll run into issues as you go along. These are some tips to achieve results day in & out:
Use Raycast for different workflows and shortcuts
Quick jump into your browser
Adding items to to-do list, calendar or otherwise
Shut down at the end of the day
Switch modes (from work to private and back)
Take the time to allocate any files that might’ve hit the downloads folder
Organize your professional tools. This might be mostly relatable for people that love creating UX Research tools, be it during meetings for clients or when researching topics.
We use Whimsical, the browser-based tool where the team can collaborate in the same canvas
Whimsical recently introduced ‘present’ mode so that you can create slides and present them easily
Contain tools in a hierarchy. Yummygum has opted for Project > Part of Design Process > Tools
Only take screenshots with cmd-shift-4-ctrl shortcut so that you can allocate that screenshot without dragging it from a location first. Or use a cloud-based tool like Cleanshot X for saving- & editing screenshots easily.
Now let’s see how long you maintain that new ‘digital clean up mindset’ and if you fall off the road, no problem! Maintaining a minimalistic, intentional approach is not linear and shapes you over time.
Intentions part III: in retrospect
Now you’ve built some momentum, time again to see what serves you. ‘Hindsight is 20/20’ is the tell-old tale. Nonetheless it remains to be a powerful measurement for what you set out to do and how it has unfolded. It takes about 66 days on average for new behaviour to become automatic. So set yourself up for a check-in once every quarter of the year. That way you can adjust often enough for it to stay interesting.
Some questions for your retrospect:
What worked for you and what didn’t?
Did the newly created habit stick?
Would you rather build up your digital ecosystem (files, folders, photo’s, tabs, etc.) in this new manner or the previous iteration?
Do you want to expand your universe of digital tools?
If the answers to these questions was yes, that means Yummygum will have to come up with some more content about tools we like to use, such as Keyboard Maestro,, Elgato Streamdeck and Zapier. Would you like to know more? Please tag us on Twitter!
Find out if you need a digital cleanup
Discover your personal workflow style
Try out the tools that work
Access, don’t own: upload mindfully to the cloud, stream your music and movies but own what you like
Look back on your accomplishments, positive reinforcement helps!