Digital minimalism: Organize your phone for fewer distractions

Digital minimalism is such a hot topic right now, and I honestly think it was one of the healthiest things to come out of 2020. Most of us spent a lot of time working from home, and we had to get serious about reducing distractions and organizing our digital world. Lately, our team has been really into reorganizing our phones, mostly because Tiktok said it was cool.

Marimar is actually the one who started the phone organization trend in our office. One afternoon, in the middle of a warehouse meeting, she happened to unlock her iPhone and we saw her new layout and immediately said "how did you do that?" She sent us the Tiktok so we could try it ourselves. It has this instant calming effect, and is so aesthetically pleasing. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Home screen minimalism tutorial by Linda Tong Planners

It's made possible with iPhone's latest update, and she shows you how to reorganize your phone using shortcuts. We had way too much fun doing this. But more importantly, now when I open my phone, I have to think about what I picked up my phone to do - send an email, check slack, get directions - instead of going into cruise control and opening whatever app usually sucks me in the most - usually Instagram or Tiktok. Have you noticed that the colors and designs of apps get crazier and more technicolor as time goes on? It has an almost addictive effect on our brains. Apps actually use a lot of techniques to keep us coming back for more.

For a long time I've had the background of my phone as a very pale sky blue because I read somewhere that it would reduce distractions for a more mindful experience navigating your phone, but this is next level. With my new home screen layout, I get to decide what my apps look like and what I want to notice first.

If you want to watch the Tiktok I'm talking about, I've linked it here. It's by Linda Tong who is known for her planners and productivity tips, so we like to think she knows what she's talking about. I won't lie, reorganizing my phone in this way took me an entire Saturday, but the rewards were instant. First, I chose a color scheme, and then I went about changing all my app icons using the shortcuts feature. I used to arrange my apps by page (one page for work, one page for sailing/outdoors, one for shopping and social media and so on but I find that it didn't help me as much as I thought it would. In fact, some apps were just taking up space and others were distracting me all day long.

Right now, I've reworked it so the apps I want to use the most are on the first page. NYTimes, Pinterest, Spotify, Slack, the weather, my notes app and yes, Instagram. However, I put instagram in a washed out pink hue that doesn't really stand out and I changed Evernote to a bright watermelon illustration to draw the eye! Evernote is where I keep my productivity journal and write down all of my ideas. I want that to be the first thing that draws me in, to be inspired to create or write whenever I have a free minute. So far it's working! More often than not, if I click Instagram it's because I want to post or look something up, not just scroll. It's building a better habit for me and reducing my screen time a bit. (just a bit, but I'll take it!)

This is just what worked for me, but you can create all kinds of widgets and basically redesign your entire user experience. The coolest part is that you can create shortcuts to your apps so that you decide what each app looks like and what it's called. Most people are choosing a variety of pastel colors or neutrals so that the names stand out, but I wanted to have a little more fun with it, so I did a mix of desert colors and botanical textures and illustrations. Here's what my home screen looks like right now!

My next page houses Youtube, Podcasts, Headspace meditation, Twitter, Books, all those fun things. I also kept a few planning apps on the first two pages - Mint for financial planning, MyFLO (a period tracking app that suggests different diet and exercise at different phases of your cycle) and AirBNB. My favorite part of the iPhone update is that it allowed me to remove a lot of apps from my screen but still keep them installed on my phone. I've removed all the apps that I use infrequently but still need access to (sailing rule book, offroad maps for foraging), or ones that would be a temptation (hello, Poshmark. Hello, Netflix). These apps remain on my phone, but I now have to search for them with a plan in mind rather than stumbling upon them and getting distracted.

What's at the heart of this new trend is reducing distractions and taking back your time. It reminds me of the big bookshelf we have in our office that's full of a myriad of delightful topics - everything from seasonal eating and meditation practices to forest bathing and clean beauty recipes. One of the books we've been passing around is called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Think of him as the Marie Kondo of tech. It's a very cool book that goes beyond the simple tips of "put your phone on do not disturb" or "unsubscribe!" to give practical advice on thoughtful methods that allow us to change the way we use our phones as tools and to become immersed in our daily lives again. The idea is to that you'll be able to have fun without feeling the urge to document it, to go for a walk without checking our notifications every five minutes, and to start the day without scrolling social media. Digital minimalism gives us more freedom and satisfaction in regards to how we use our devices. Would highly recommend the book!

There are so many other ways to declutter your digital world too. One thing I've been doing is charging my phone in my bathroom overnight so I don't check it first thing. Instead, on an ideal morning I'll wake up slowly, repeat a gratitude mantra, brush my teeth, drink some coffee, and sit by my sun lamp. Maybe journal a bit. Then, once I'm feeling fresh and awake, I check my phone to see what came in overnight - emails, slack messages, texts, DM's. Once I've given that a quick scan, I try to put it down and go about my day - maybe a walk or a workout, or diving into work. It's hard sometimes because part of my work is to run an Instagram page, but it's too easy to get sucked in to scrolling through the colorful world where every one shares the prettiest parts of their everyday lives. It's fun in moderation, but over time, I'm learning to set better boundaries.

Same thing at night, I try to wind down with a good book instead of my phone, and I've set all my devices to switch to night mode immediately after sundown. I've actually finished two books already this year! Blue light glasses help as well, if I want to watch a show or read a book on my tablet after dinner. The brand Genusee makes blue light glasses out of recycled plastic water bottles in Flint, Michigan - the same city with the clean water crisis. The Good Trade writes "The team employs formerly incarcerated and low-income communities from the local area to craft fashion-forward specs that are made to last." 

Digital minimalism

My friend Elisabeth from ElisaAnne Caligraphy and the Biz Birthday Bash podcast has me thinking that Do Not Disturb hours from dusk til dawn aren't enough. Why not set your phone to Do Not Disturb during the work day so you re-train yourself to only check it on breaks or over lunch? I think she's been keeping her phone in another room altogether, which is fun. We spoke on the phone the other day and a few minutes before the call, she texted me from her laptop that she would actually have to find her phone first. :) We know it takes a staggering 23 minutes to regain your focus after getting distracted - and that distraction can be as simple as a notification from Instagram or a message from a friend. Why not set ourselves up for success and limit the distractions from flitting across our screens?

I have been very pleased with my new phone layout. Don't get me wrong, I still hit high screen times some days or catch myself mindlessly scrolling, but when I do, I try to figure out what I need in terms of self care and then dive back into whatever I am doing IRL.

I'm so curious to know if any one else has been feeling the same pull to digital minimalism and what you're doing differently. Write me if this resonates with you, or if you try a home screen redesign like we did! <3

PS - I had my phone on Do Not Disturb the whole time I was writing this blog post! Speaking of phones, if you recently got a new one and are in the market for a case, we don't carry phone cases anymore but we highly recommend the brand Pela Case. They have very cute colors and the phone cases are completely biodegradable. Doesn't get cooler than that!

Zero waste phone case