Digital Decluttering and Creative Habits

I thought I really liked instagram. I mean, I love food tips, travel tips, animal pics, etc, all of which are on Instagram in abundance! Plus, I can see what my friends are up to, so that’s great! Right?

Well… in theory, yes. In reality, it was a little different.

This came about when I read two books back to back. One was ‘The Creative Habit’ by Twyla Tharp, and the other was ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport. After reading Tharp’s excellent book, it made me want to challenge myself by deliberately upping my creative intention. So of course, I started thinking about how I could ‘steal’ moments of my day in order to apply my newly rediscovered creative motivation. Then I came across Newport’s concept of a “digital declutter”, and that really spoke to me. So I combined them, and decided to partake in a digital decluttering, and divert the time typically spent on passive technology usage into creative pursuits.

When it comes to this type of passive online consumption, everyone has their one particular thing they really enjoy. And for me, that was Instagram. I still have to use it for work, but I use that actively, not passively, so by my own made up rules for this challenge, that didn’t count. So on January 31st I logged out of my personal instagram account, and said to myself that I’ll log back in again on March 1st. Bye, Instagram! See you in a month!

Just kidding. Because February 1st came about, and I logged back into instagram. Literally. Without. Thinking. I opened up the work account to briefly respond to some messages, and my thumb – practically of its own accord – hit the “switch account” button.

That was a pretty weird wake-up moment. I stuck to my intention and didn’t scroll or look at any stories or anything, I closed the app right away. But it was an interesting verification that these habits sure run deep. In a weird, curious, and scary kind of way.

Do it for the ‘gram.

The most interesting thing for me was noticing the urge to put stuff on Instagram. This very concept is so cringefully millennial of me to say, but I just enjoy that whole aesthetic thing. The instagramminess of it all. The way the cute coffee pot just vibes against the kitchen tile background. The way the light hits the monstera leaf just right in the early afternoon. Some sights just have an unnameable visual quality, it’s like sugar in visual form. And as someone who really likes taking photos, I get it. So I said to myself, “it’s ok, you can still take the photos!”

I did that for about a week. And then when I looked back at them a few days later, they weren’t quite the same. That’s when I realised that whatever little magical aesthetic I was experiencing in that moment, was only a little bit of magic because it was so fleeting. It was only for me. It was based on my position in space and time, light travelling to my eyes, information being processed by my brain. There was no point in attempting to share it publicly. Well, maybe someone else might enjoy looking at it too. But these little aesthetic moments… that’s all they are. Little moments. They’re there, then they’re gone. Nothing more and nothing less.

So the digital decluttering went great! Now, onto the creative pursuits…

What holds you back from doing That Thing?

You know how hard it can be sometimes to do That Thing? Even when you want to do That Thing and you kind of have the motivation to do That Thing, but then it can be so tricky to find time to do That Thing, and then eventually the final hurdle is, well, actually starting work on That Thing?

For me, That Thing is writing music. Well, I should clarify… I write a lot of music. But I do it sporadically, little and often, in an unfocussed, scattered, and haphazard way. If I’m recording a song I tend to just wait until I have a spare couple of days with no agenda, then I sit down, blast out the song quickly without overthinking it too much, and then it’s done and I move on.

The time I spend thinking about what I’m writing vastly outshines the time I spend making what I’m writing.

And I realised this month that in doing this, I’ve been denying myself the process. The actual process of connecting with my songwriting. Which is weird for me, because I’m so into all the yoga-meditation-mind-body-hippie shenanigans. I love that whole connection thing! So why didn’t I do it with music?! I don’t really have an answer, but I suspect it may just be because I didn’t have a habit set in place that prioritised putting the time in to make that connection.

Am I changed forever?

Weeeeell, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I can’t say I’m now some kind of modern superproductive Da Vinci type. However, my digital decluttering process and general making-the-effort-to-be-aware-of-time-management habits diverted multiple hours per week into creative pursuits, which is quite exciting. I realised that on the low end of the estimate, even just 8ish minutes of mindless scrolling per day can be diverted into around an hour per week. During this experiment I ended up redirecting at least 2 hours per week. Which, for me, worked out to about 4 new songs written.

I can’t claim that this experiment was groundbreaking or anything sensational like that. But what it did do was shed light on my current habits and provide insight into what improvements I could make. I’ve always been a firm believer in never saying that I “don’t have time” for something… because it’s not that I don’t have the time. Time is endless and omnipresent. But I am finite and small, and it’s up to me to choose how I fit myself into time.

Recommendations and resources:

Book: “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life” – Twyla Tharp

Book: “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” – Cal Newport

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