Book review – 10 lessons learned from Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

The book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport is a hugely popular book in the productivity space. Many productivity bloggers and vloggers have this book in their favorite lists and many advise their followers to take a closer look at their own digital consumption and the role of their digital devices and the applications running on them with the help of this book. We live in a world where portable digital applications have become commonplace in a relatively short time. But these applications are not necessarily always useful. And when they could be useful, we often use them in such a way that they disrupt the more important aspects of our lives. Our use of these digital applications is becoming less and less intentional and is unconsciously driven by the built-in addictive characteristics that keep us hooked. In his book Digital Minimalism, Call Newport teaches us to take a good look at our digital behavior and gives us tools to transform this behavior into intentionality. In this article, I share 10 lessons learned from “Digital Minimalism” by Call Newport.

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Content of the article

  • Why this review of the book Digital Minimalism
  • Who is the book Digital Minimalism for
  • 10 lessons learned from Digital Minimalism

Why this review of the book Digital Minimalism

I am an avid user of the train to travel to my office for my day job. In theory, I would have probably lost a lot less travel time if I traveled by car, but in over an hour there and over an hour back on the train I have a lot of time available to read, learn, and observe. I like to use my travel time productively and personally I think driving myself is a waste of time. During my train journey to the office I also look around from time to time, and what has struck me for a long time is how many people are glued to their digital devices. Groups of students, who clearly know each other, are not talking to each other, but are individually busy with their personal digital bubbles. Parents who have no eye for their children, but are focused on their own screens and grumble when their child wants some attention. But I also sometimes see similar behavior during my work itself. During online meetings, I clearly see how often people only half listen and think they can multitask by being busy with their mobile simultaneously. You can read more about the problems of multitasking in my article “Digital Minimalism: Win back your focus, be in control of your push notifications“.

In the period of digital developments that I myself experienced, I remember that digital applications were mainly intended to simplify and optimize existing tasks and activities. Applications were mainly practical and helped us to simplify concrete tasks. But the world is changing. That is of course something of all times, but the availability of information technology in the palm of everyone’s hand has been a very rapid development. But also the image that goes with it. In my teenage years, I was considered a nerd because I liked tinkering with my Commodore 64 computer, and now everyone is hooked to their digital device and is it considered as normal. over the years, the computer already has gone from nerdy to hip to passe, because most people use their mobile now more than a computer on their desk. 

The fact that you can have so much digital power in the palm of your hand and always carry it with you is of course fantastic. but the additional addictive properties can also bring many problems. People close by are forgotten because of virtual contacts far away. Time is wasted unconsciously when that time could have been spent productively, or with time for genuine friends, having real conversations without being distracted, enjoying the nature around you, or sometimes just a little healthy boredom and doing nothing at all. More and more people are starting to see this, for themselves and for those around them, but don’t know how to handle their own behavior or that of others. So, that’s why I want to share 10 lessons I learned from “Digital Minimalism”.

You can find Call Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” by clicking on the image below or by using the below link (affiliate link):

Go to Call Newport’s “Digital Minimalism”

Who is the book Digital Minimalism for

This book is for anyone who struggles with the appeal of a lot of the available digital applications and the impact it has on their own lives or those around them. When you are aware of the negative consequences of these digital applications on your productivity, on your personal life and the people who play a role in it, or on the behavior of people close to you, but you are not sure how to turn this around, then the book Digital Minimalism provides a very good grip and tools to help you on your way.

In his book, Call Newport describes Digital Minimalism as: 

“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

So this book is all about giving practical advice on intentional behavior and how to get there via a decluttering process of your digital life. In summary, this decluttering process consists of the following main ideas:

  • Start a 30-day period in which you distance yourself from all technologies that are not critical in your life.
  • During this 30-day period, you give all your attention to behavior, habits, and activities that are of great added value specifically for you personally.
  • When the 30-day period has expired, you bring back into your life some of the technologies that can be of additional great value and you don’t look back at the previously discounted technologies that proved to be of no value.

10 lessons learned from Digital Minimalism

Below are my 10 personal favorite lessons learned from the book “Digital Minimalism” by Call Newport and the reasons why.

“…digital minimalists, … they believe that the best digital life is formed by carefully curating their tools to deliver massive and unambiguous benefits. They tend to be incredibly wary of low-value activities that can clutter up their time and attention and end up hurting more than they help. Put another way: minimalists don’t mind missing out on small things; what worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make a good life good.”

Call Newport

This quote from the book indicates that very consciously selecting (digital) tools is extremely important. With the endless amount of apps that we can find in the app stores nowadays, we are quickly tempted to use as many as possible. But using as much as possible, to not miss anything, is not automatically best for your specific life, your productivity, and your social function. Digital maximalists, those who want to use as many tools and services as possible without making careful choices about how they fit into their lives, end up wasting a lot of priceless time on things that are ultimately low-value and ill-suited to what they do, what their passions are and what their lives actually ask of them. Digital minimalists make very conscious choices and do not feel a sense of loss or the fear of missing out in relation to everything they exclude from their lives. They choose only those tools that add value to their lives.

“Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology.”

Call Newport

It is extremely important to think carefully about how your life works, what it requires of you, how your productive processes work and can be improved, what your goals are, and so on. It is then equally important to make very conscious choices about which tools and other resources can help to optimize all these issues. A tool does not have an end in itself but is ultimately developed to support you in achieving your goals in a way that is more effective and efficient than without that tool or set of tools.

“Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools.”

Call Newport

Digital minimalism is not about banishing technology from your life. Digital minimalists are often very aware of the benefits that technological developments can have for them. Digital minimalists are also often exploring whether their existing arsenal of digital tools may contain solutions for which better alternatives are now available. What matters is that you have a carefully selected set of tools at your disposal that can have the maximum achievable benefit for your specific situation at that time. But that does not preclude you from remaining curious about further optimization. What it does rule out is that you add an abundance of tools that have a negative impact on your available time, your attention to your surroundings and the people in it, and your goals in life.

“The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.” 

Call Newport

Many people probably have the idea that the Amish community has a strong aversion to everything that has to do with modern technology. However, it turns out to be much more nuanced, since the Amish community looks very closely at which technologies do and do not have added value. In this selection process, however, several aspects are taken into account, for which one wants to guard against negative impact on lifestyle and life values. There must be good reasons to embrace new technologies if one is already able to achieve the end goal without those technologies.

“At the slightest hint of boredom, you can now surreptitiously glance at any number of apps or mobile-adapted websites that have been optimized to provide you an immediate and satisfying dose of input from other minds.” 

Call Newport

I remember the time when we could just be bored sometimes. But boredom is essentially not a bad thing at all. Your brain is not set up to work continuously at the highest level of intensity. Your brain needs regular rest, not only through sleep, but also by just looking out the window of the train for a while, daydreaming, enjoying the sound of birds, and so on. We need to be alone with our thoughts from time to time and reflect on the important things in our lives. Our brains need to be less stimulated from time to time in order to be able to process more stimuli later on. But with all the digital resources we have gathered around us and all the notifications that make sure we don’t forget our devices for a while, and all the stimuli that keep us hooked on our screens, we never have to be bored. In fact, it ensures that we no longer have the opportunity to have a healthy boring moment once in a while. Boredom isn’t bad, but digital abundance has robbed us of it.

“Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation.”

Call Newport

This quote is about trade-offs due to incorrect choices and mindless choices when it comes to using and acquiring technology. The trade-offs are found in one of the most important assets we have as humans, which is time. And the loss of time then translates into related issues, such as attention. Attention to your work, to the people around you, to your own health, and so on. Lost time is often difficult to make up for or catch up with. It is therefore important to constantly consider whether the technology you bring into your life has a positive or negative effect on the valuable time available to you and what you can do with that time.

“the “Like” feature evolved to become the foundation on which Facebook rebuilt itself from a fun amusement that people occasionally checked, to a digital slot machine that began to dominate its users’ time and attention. This button introduced a rich new stream of social approval indicators that arrive in an unpredictable fashion-creating an almost impossibly appealing impulse to keep checking your account.”

Call Newport

It probably comes as no surprise that many modern digital services can have a highly addictive effect. Even though we are all different as human beings, a large part of us all work in the same way. We are sensitive to certain incentives that have to do with rewards. When we post a photo of our child, we unconsciously receive a small happiness stimulus with every like, which then invites us to long for extra stimuli. Conversely, the absence of likes creates negative feelings and self-doubts. In addition, we are curious by nature, so we can’t help but want to know what the next scroll will yield in terms of fun videos, beautiful photos, interesting texts, and so on. App developers know all too well how the human psyche works and how to make you want to continue using an app for a little longer. The attention economy has become a very lucrative one. But by thinking more carefully about what is and isn’t important to us, we as potential digital minimalists might be able to regain a little more control over our lives.

“The typical digital minimalist will have no problem missing out on things; they’ll be too busy living a life that’s full of satisfying activities that reflect their personal values.”

Call Newport

People who are not yet familiar with any form of minimalism logically often have the feeling that you have to give up a lot of your fun, your convenience, and your freedom and, in the case of digital minimalism, have to miss a lot of social connections and that the world keeps spinning while you are no longer a part of it. Nothing could be further from the truth, because minimalism is about intentionality, making optimal choices that enrich your life and also give you the freedom (back) to focus on the really important things that are of value to you and to people that you think are most important. Minimalism also gives you back time that you can use to create instead of consume.

“The goal of digital decluttering is not simply reducing the amount of time you spend staring at screens each week; it’s instead to make sure this time serves something you deeply value instead of unintentionally taking time away from such pursuits.”

Call Newport

This quote actually says it all. Decluttering has nothing to do with getting rid of or banishing as much as possible from your life, but with conscious choices that lead to the reduction of distractions due to unnecessary burdens in your life. You decide for yourself what ballast is and what is not. Minimalism looks different for everyone and should also optimally suit your specific situation, life, interests, and goals. This also applies to digital minimalism. It is not about minimizing your digital screen time, but about arranging your digital screen time in such a way that it results in an optimal contribution and does not take away unnecessary time from you.

“Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value – not as sources of value themselves. They don’t accept the idea that offering some small benefit is justification for allowing an attention-gobbling service into their lives, and are instead interested in applying new technology in highly selective and intentional ways that yield big wins.”

Call Newport

Digital tools come in many forms and with many areas of application. It is very important to find tools that clearly have added value for your specific needs. A small added value, but a large amount of time needed to work with it and therefore lost at the expense of other things, you should reconsider. Not every small piece of profit is worth a big investment that could potentially have made a bigger profit in other ways. Digital tools are also not an end in themselves. You don’t have to adapt to the tools, but you have to find tools that fit seamlessly with your way of working and thinking. But some tools may help you to adjust your thinking and working methods and ultimately achieve an improved result. Simply ignoring tools can therefore also have the opposite effect. Intentionality is again the keyword here. With each new technology, think about whether it can support your current processes, or help you reconsider and optimize into a new or adapted process.

Final words

These were my 10 favorite quotes from Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism. Even though I am a person who always makes very conscious choices and therefore assumed that I also had my digital life in order, I literally devoured this book in a short time and learned my lesson from it. Digital minimalism is not meant to mindlessly say goodbye to all the technologies we might have at our disposal and live in digital isolation. Digital minimalism is about intentionality, about making the right choices and selections, and only allowing those tools and services that actually have clear added value for your specific situation. It is also about the understanding that it is not necessary to be afraid that by reducing these technologies, you will lose a lot in the social field since you can also get a lot of socially added value back through other ways that may be of much greater value. I highly recommend Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism.

About John Been

Hi there! My name is John Been. At the moment I work as a senior solution engineer for a large financial institution, but in my free time, I am the owner of,, and author of my first book "Linux for the rest of us". I have a broad insight and user experience in everything related to information technology and I believe I can communicate about it with some fun and knowledge and skills.

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