Before I Start
The longer I’ve kept this post in draft, the more work I’ve been doing to try to edit it to make it sound better than it actually does. And one of the things I dislike about blogging for myself, at least, is when I spend too much time trying to write something that doesn’t really sound like me.
And that’s what this post is in danger of becoming. So forget about it. For the sake of hitting publish, I’m going to share what I have and then go with it. No perfect time like the present to hit publish, I suppose.
Okay, Let’s Go
A couple of weeks ago, I came across the phrase “unalloyed benefit” when reading this post:
No half measures here; ditch your habits without abandon and only add back in the things that contribute an unalloyed benefit to your life.Cal Newport
“Unalloyed benefit,” I thought. And kept thinking. That sounds good. I want that (or at least to aim for that). But here’s the self-deprecating truth: I’d never read those two words together.
- Unalloyed: Complete; unqualified.
- Benefit: Something that promotes or enhances well-being; an advantage.
But let me back up for a moment: It’s been a long time – in Internet time, at least – since I’ve written anything here. That’s a bummer for me because it’s something I really enjoy doing.
Further, it’s been a while since I’ve written a a long-form post. Granted, I try not to do that since it either comes off as rambling, too long, or not as interesting. And maybe this is going to be the same or maybe this is the exception or maybe it’s one of those Schrödinger’s posts where it’s both – its state just depends on who you are.
Further, I was going to publish this in September but there’s no real compelling reason to do so. So here it is.
So everything I’m about to share is something I’ve never tried in all of the years of having a smartphone (which is roughly, what, 11 years now? Maybe more. 👴🏻). It’s something I really want to do, it’s something that may help my getting back into a routine of writing, and it’s all because the single excerpt above struck such a strong, reverberating chord with me.
Cal Newport, Again
Years ago, I’d first heard about Cal Newport and was intrigued by his ideas behind deep work. It’s something that I think many of us desperately crave but trying to make it happen in the midst of the busyness of work life (let alone the balance of work life and home life).
Sometime after that, he showed up on my radar again talking about digital minimalism. I don’t know why I didn’t pay attention the first time. I suspect it’s because the idea of minimalism was all the rage and it seemed to be being treated more as a fad than anything else.
And fads, by definition, come and go. Why waste my time on studying something that I don’t know if I’m even interested in doing and that already sounds like it’s going to fade away in the first place?
I never said I wasn’t cynical.
Fast forward to February 2019 and I heard Cal talking about the idea of digital minimalism in a podcast. Despite my natural inclination of wanting to skip the podcast (again, because of the whole minimalism shtick), I didn’t.
And I’m really glad I didn’t.
I’m not going to belabor the point of the, uh, weight this year has pushed down on all of us. It’s been hard for all of us albeit in different ways.
Stress and Eustress
Since we all have a story to tell that is transpiring or has transpired during the global situation, some of the more normal “life stuff” we had going on since last year include:
- adding another child to the family (at the end of 2019),
- moving in May of 2020,
- losing two pets,
- getting two pets,
- preparing to build a home,
- attempting to develop stronger habits in other, personal areas of my life,
- and so on.
All of this, like I’m sure is true for you, too have made things more complicated and/or challenging than they’ve ever been. (Of course, if this is what’s challenging, I consider myself lucky.)
Obviously, some of it is eustress; some of it not. But it’s stress nonetheless.
Further, when you throw personality, disposition, and personal goals into this, the water starts to muddy really fast to the point where you almost find yourself suffering from some type of analysis paralysis.
I often find my thought process going something like this:
I want to do [this] but I should probably do [that] first, but before I can do [that] I need to look at that [other thing] which reminds me that I’ve not read enough about [this topic] to reach a level of education on it that I’d like. Oh wait, I just wanted to do [this] so why am I thinking about [this topic].
For more, this includes a few different things (again, in no particular order);
- As I’ve attempted to do the majority of my life, I want to continue studying and practicing guitar.
- I want to get back into the habit of blogging which is something I sorely miss.
- I’d like to have more time to dedicate to exporting certain technologies tangentially related to WordPress, such as React, Next.js, Tailwind CSS, and more to further engineering competence.
- I’ve read more this year than I did last year, and more in 2019 than I did in 2018. I really want to continue that trend and there are two more books I want to complete by the end of the year. One of them is The Stand by Stephen King so you can imagine the amount of time it’s going to take.
- There are initiatives and talks at work in which I’d like to participate.
- I want to continue to pursue certain goals in fitness. (I’ve done more running in 2020 than I probably did in 2019.)
- And thought his should not have to be said (simply implied), there are things I want to do with my wife and kids.
When I list it all out like this, it’s evident that something has got to go.
On September 1st, I’m going to start over with all of it. I mean, in a way. I’m not starting over with guitar or technology or work or my family. What I mean is I’m going to go nuclear for unalloyed benefit by following Newport’s advice on my phone.
With the exception of the core applications that are loaded on my phone, I’m going to delete everything for 30 days.
I’ve noted everything that I have installed but I’m going to stick hard and fast to the rule of adding things back that only add unalloyed benefit.
I’m interested in seeing if, after the initial ‘detox,’ for lack of a better term will have me reinstalling things that I currently use simply because they are there and because they are fun.
Initially, I wrote a whole digression on parenting and social media and my personal opinion of the whole thing but perhaps that’s pre-emptive. So I’ll talk about that another time, maybe. Or maybe not.
If anything, maybe I’ll blog about this experience as I go through the steps.
This one isn’t quite as strict. Since I’m at a computer most of the day and since the majority of the work that I do requires only a small subset of tools, I do a good job of making sure I only have what I need.
And the things that aren’t actually on my machine are on the web and I have utilities that I use to backup or capture content, services, tools, and so on that I’ll need to reference.
So there may be a few things that I have to remove but the majority of what I need I already have with nothing extra.
Even with that said, I plan to do nothing, or at least add nothing, for the next 30 days.
As far as my watch is concerned, my primary functions for it are:
- Time and Date (and thus, the Calendar app)
- Shazam (because knowing what to add to a playlist when I hear a song when I’m out and about is just too convenient)
It’s never been a crutch for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever really even bothered to do more that open the App Store on the Watch more than once so there’s nothing that I plan to change except maybe uninstall something that maybe I’ve neglected to remove.
I’m mentioning it here to be comprehensive if for no other reason.
This is the big one and this is the one that seems to be a sticking point more for some than others.
In the past, I’ve generally been happy with the way I’ve managed social media but it’s starting to illicit multiple feels none of which I like:
- The obligation to check-in on things only to find, read, or see more noise than signal. This is something I can fix for myself.
- The felt need to “catch-up” on what others have shared simply because I wouldn’t know any other way. Doesn’t text messaging, the OG as it were, do that for those we really know?
- A compelled to desire to keep up with what’s up so I’m aware of the technology, state thereof, and how to handle this as a parent. This is also something that I can manage via RSS and other means.
And though this isn’t really social media, it’s definitely crept into it now more than ever, as far as I can remember, so I’m going it here:
- The responsibility, as a citizen, to be well-informed and to follow various outlets of information to track what all is going on in the municipality, state, federal, and global level. There’s a lot of to talk about here but this is not the post for it (and there likely never will be; not on this blog). Suffice it to say, I’m still working on this one.
With all of that said, this is not a I’m going on a social media sabbatical for a month, see you soon! Instead, this is going to track with what I’m doing with what I’ve mentioned above: I’m removing the apps from my phone.
I still plan to use them when I’m at my computer (because there’s absolutely value that comes in keeping up with new tools, technology, music, and on and on it goes), but maybe not so much when I’m away from it.
I’m sure I’ve missed something.
I’ve written a lot here (in this post and over the years 🙃), but it’s getting long so if you’re still reading this, thanks! But there’s even more I’ve kept in a journal as I prepare to make the move for this.
I’m extremely excited and I’m looking forward to pursuing, participating, learning, growing, and ultimately resetting.
I do think it’s going to be tough to go nuclear on things that I’ve simply become accustomed to having, doing, using, or whatever.
That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to it.
So What and When?
So I’m going to complete that.
I’m also going to continue to make small, daily efforts to make sure I’ve got everything ready to make the move to nuke so much stuff that I have and can refer to whenever the 30 days is up.
I truly want to pursue this notion of unalloyed benefit in my digital life. Perhaps it sounds cliché but without the various software and other digital distractions, I’m eager to see what bubbles to the surface of my life offline.
What are the things I’m doing when I’m not at a screen that aren’t bringing me unalloyed benefit? What things can I be pursuing, how can improve my state of being, and so on.
I’m really eager to see. And I plan to do what I can to capture my experience along the way under the Digital Minimalism tag that I’m creating with this post.
Further, I also hope that this brings me back into the fold of writing more consistently. I’ve missed it, but when there are only so many hours in the day and things one can achieve, things get left behind.
And if I dislike leaving blogging behind, what else may I be leaving behind and not even be aware of it?
Obviously I have mixed feelings on all of this. But ultimately, I’m optimistic and I’m eager to document and share the experience.
So in a couple of weeks, I’m going to be going all in. Until then, I’m getting ready.