Study Hacks Blog

The Analog January Challenge

December 31st, 2019 · 68 comments

One of the surprising lessons I learned working on Digital Minimalism is that when it comes to reforming your relationship with your devices, successful outcomes are less about deciding to stop harmful digital behaviors than they are about deciding to start committing to meaningful analog alternatives.

If you simply resolve to quit social media, and end up sitting on your coach, bored, white knuckling the urge to check Twitter, you’re unlikely to experience lasting change.

On the other hand, if you fill your life with hard but satisfying analog alternatives — activities that resonate with our primal urges to connect, to move, to reflect, to be surrounded by nature, to manipulate elements of the physical world with out hands — you’ll find the appeal of animated GIFs and ASCII snark to be greatly diminished.

With this in mind, I’m introducing the Analog January Challenge. It’s a collection of five commitments that last one month. They’re designed to provide you a crash course introduction to the types of satisfying analog activities that will reduce the anxious attraction of your screens.

(Note: you don’t have to begin exactly on January 1st; just block off four weeks starting on whatever day in the month you initiate the challenge.)

Here are the five commitments that make up the Analog January Challenge:

READ
Commit to reading 3 – 4 new books during the month. It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction, sophisticated or fun. The goal is to rediscover what it feels like to make engagement with the written word an important part of your daily experience.

MOVE
Commit to going for a walk every single day of the month. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Leave your phone at home: just observe the world around you and think.

CONNECT
Hold a real conversation with 20 different people during the monthlong challenge. These conversations can be in person or over the phone/Facetime/Skype, but text-based communication doesn’t count (you must be able to hear the other person’s voice). To hit the 20 person mark will require some advance planning: you might consider calling old friends or taking various colleagues along for lunch and coffee breaks.

MAKE
Participate in a skilled hobby that requires you to interact with the physical world. This could be craft-based, like knitting, drawing, wood working, or, as I’ve taken to doing with my boys, building custom circuits. This could also be athletic, like biking, bow hunting, or, as is increasingly popular these days, Brazilian Ju Jitsu. Screen-based activities don’t count. To get the full analog benefit here, you need to encounter and overcome the resistances of the physical landscape that surrounds you, as this is what our minds have evolved to understand as productive action.

JOIN
Join something local that meets weekly. For many people, this might be the hardest commitment, but it’s arguably one of the most important, especially as we enter a political season where the pseudo-anonymity and limbic-triggers of the online world attempt to bring out the worse in us. There’s nothing more fundamentally human than gathering with a group of real people in real life to work on something real together. This has a way of lessening — even if just briefly — the sense of anxious despair that emanates from the online upside down.

You might be wondering how you’re going to fit these commitments into your already busy life. The answer is simple: by spending less time online. This was another one of interesting discoveries I made working on my book: people were often surprised by how much free time they had once they stopped treating their phone as a constant companion.

To take advantage of this reality, I recommend that for the duration of the challenge that you dumb down your smartphone by following the rules I outlined here (summary: use your phone only for calls, texts, maps, and audio — as Steve Jobs originally intended).

Furthermore, I’d suggest that when you access social media on your computer, you always log out when you’re done, and un-save your password — introducing the crucial extra friction of typing in this information every time you want to check your account.

Finally, if you have a YouTube habit, you might consider temporarily deploying an internet blocking tool (like Freedom) to strictly limit the times during which you’re allowed to wander down streaming video rabbit holes.

If you’re unhappy with the out-sized role your phone plays in your daily life, I highly recommend trying this challenge, as it builds upon a powerful but often overlooked truth: We fall into the traps of the digital only when we distance ourselves from the attractions of the analog.

If you do attempt the challenge, send me an email at author@calnewport.com, or leave a comment below, to let me know how it’s going. And, of course, if you complete the challenge and feel fired up about making more permanent changes to your digital life, then I have a book to recommend that you might find useful…

(Photo by Dennis Jarvis.)

68 thoughts on “The Analog January Challenge

  1. Nassim says:

    I just want to add some tips that I’ve found useful in diminishing my exposure to Youtube.

    In addition to blocking the site at specific times I would recommend people to actually install a browser extension that removes the recommendations on the site.

    If you want even more control on how you use online services I would recommend using the browser extension Ublock Origin. In addition to being an ad blocker it gives you control over every element of a webpage.

    This mean that you can actually remove any part of a website that is deemed addictive by just selecting the area.

    i.e: I want to remove comments on Youtube because I read them too much. I can easily do so with Ublock Origin.

    I came across this article that explain with images how to use the extension: https://medium.com/@n3ss/how-to-be-less-addicted-to-youtube-b55e31fe8c85

    I think it would be of great benefit to every digital minimalist starting out.

    1. Lance says:

      Great comment Nassim. I’ve been doing this exact thing for years actually.

      I did it with the homepage of YouTube to get rid of the annoying feed too. Now all I see on the homepage is the search bar. I also used it to get rid of the self-advertising trailers when you open Netflix which is great. I have a habit of doing this to any site that I visit semi-regularly that has lists of recommended articles on the sides or bottoms that distract me.

      It’s a great way to make the internet a little more quiet.

    2. Amit M says:

      Thanks for sharing the trick with Ublock Origin 🙂 . Have implemented in my browser. Let’s see how it goes

    3. Andrew says:

      uBlock O is a great way to use the internet more deliberately.

      Like in your YouTube example, if you add the following to the filters list, then YouTube becomes a platform for watching a single video deliberately, rather than an endless social viewing black hole.

      http://www.youtube.com###secondary
      http://www.youtube.com###sections

      The first blocks recommended videos in the sidebar, while the later blocks comments.

    4. AC says:

      I use Firefox as my main desktop browser. I have uBlock Origin as my ad blocker. The only other browser extension I use is DF YouTube (DF stands for Distraction Free) – (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/addon/df-youtube/)

      Install it, activate it and you’ll see that every element of YouTube that is “social” and distracting and dopamine focused is suddenly turned off. It eliminates all the feeds, prompts and suggested videos from all the places that you’d usually see them. Someone recommended it in the comments of another post on this blog about 12 to 18 months ago. It’s pure gold. It’s helped me reduce internet time as a whole.

      The other thing that has really helped is uninstalling the YouTube app from my Android smartphone, because I could use that to watch on my phone or my TV at home and it was an enormous time sink.

      1. Vivian Hir says:

        Based on my own experience, I use an extension that eliminates recommendations (home and side), comments, side videos, trending, etc. If any of you use Google chrome this extension is pretty awesome: Remove Recommendations Youtube VK Facebook
        After using this, I surprisingly found watching Youtube on the weekend boring. Hiding recommendations has stopped me entering rabbit holes. By limiting the function of YouTube, I only use it to watch 2-3 channels that I subscribe to because the benefits outweigh the negatives (Thomas Frank, John Fish, etc.)

    5. April says:

      Thank you for the resource! Is there a way to do this through AppleTV and/or Roku as well?

      Or any tips on how to minimize the dopamine & couch interia with auto play features that are hard to control?

      Thank you!

    6. Michael says:

      Great idea thank you!

      Instead of using uBlock origin to block Youtube recommendations etc. I found out from another comment on reddit, that using DF Tube (a youtube element blocker) is easier and better.

  2. Rambhakta says:

    Wise words. Thank you. I find that technology can be used either expansively or contractively; the former produces happiness unvaryingly, the latter the opposite. For me, it isn’t the hours but the quality of what I’m doing. I can write something that will help people and feel wonderful; I can watch videos on YouTube that expand my ability to help others – and I find that I’m feeling great, even if body and brain are tired. But if I spend too much time slumming with Amazon Prime videos that do nothing to expand my consciousness, I lose happiness and can even feel kinda grouchy or at least much less responsive.

    1. Simmy says:

      What a great reply, thank you for your post. I share the same sentiment, when it comes to internet, it really comes down to how we decided to use it

      Happy New Year

  3. Raphi14 says:

    The most difficult part in undertaking the Analog January Challenge might be (for me) the lack of time. I usually work from 8:00 to 18:30, and i can’t leave my workplace to take a walk during lunch break. Once i’m back home after a 20 minutes comute, i have domestic tasks to tend to. And after all of this is + dinner is done, i have just enough energy left to read for 15 minutes, and i go to sleep after that. Let’s not talk about weekends : i work all Saturday + Sunday morning every four weeks (no recuperation time after that so i work normally the next week).

    Sorry for how whiny all of this sounds, but having a high responsability job with extended work hours and weekend shifts might be incompatible with being “mindful” about spending one time in high quality activities… (and i don’t even have kids yet).

    Happy New Year everyone though 🙂

    1. Sanjo says:

      How about waking up earlier and do your walking? I wake up early and spend the first hour of the day on my personal important topics, such as writing, reading, drinking my favorite coffee.

      I also have a high intense job and my brain is toast after work. So, I do my important things right after waking up (without ever looking on any screen).

    2. Andrew says:

      Maybe this year will be the year your supervisor either
      1) realizes how indispensable you are and gives you a 20% raise
      or
      2) realizes how stretched you are and hires someone to help you.

  4. Eddie says:

    I’m in! Thanks Cal.
    Happy New Year to you all.

  5. Great ideas! Even if it’s not possible to do all of these in full, movement in this direction is so powerful!

    To a happy, healthy 2020!

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth

    1. Jesus M says:

      Happy 2020!

  6. Sam says:

    Does have anyone have ideas for things to JOIN that meet every week?

    1. Phillip Long says:

      Sam: consider looking on MeetUp – they have gatherings by category with information about the frequency, location, etc.
      https://www.meetup.com/

      Cheers and good luck!
      Phil

    2. Anita Realjov says:

      Could try a yoga class. That’s my plan but I realize it’s not for everyone

    3. Jatinder Luthra says:

      Sam… You might think of joining a charitable organization and contribute by actively participating in volunteer work.

    4. Jatinder Luthra says:

      Sam.. I will advice to look for charitable organisation and look at contributing which might need weekly presence and meetings..

    5. Clemens says:

      Hi Sam, why not join a choir? I find that singing instantly takes me away from the daily grind and makes me truly happy. Plus you’ll experience the benefit of creating something with other people, something that you cannot achieve on your own (at least not in a comparable way).

    6. Andy Ballentine says:

      Ummm, a church? Seems like a possibility! ?

      1. Jenny says:

        That was my first thought! I already have that one worked into my life, and yes, church or anything else that meets weekly is wonderful for moderating social media. For me at least.

    7. Andy Ballentine says:

      Ummm, a church? Seems like a possibility! ?

  7. Eesh Gupta says:

    Hi Cal and StudyHacks World!
    After finishing Digital Minimalism, I am disturbed by the amount of time college students spend listening to music, especially in today’s airpod-era. To tackle this issue, I am writing an op-ed piece to be published in my university newspaper. But whatever I write comes off as downright condescending or sage-like advice. But when reading your blogposts and books, I don’t feel like being patronized. Instead, I feel as if I am discovering shocking trends and I feel an urge to change myself.
    How do I impart these same feelings to my readers? How do I let them know that I as an author am genuinely invested in improving their lives?

    1. John says:

      Try framing your suggestions as a member of the same group. Instead of “I do this, and you do that”, use “we do this, and we should try that”, for example.

  8. Terri says:

    I’m in. This comes at a very good time for me to do other things than be on the computer. Great challenge. I really like how you framed this. Simple enough to do. I’ll report back.

  9. Stephen Blais says:

    I posted your blog entry on Metafilter, with uh, mixed results 🙂
    https://www.metafilter.com/184921/Digitalis-interdictum

  10. Pranay Agarwal says:

    Hello everyone, I have started this challenge yesterday. About my background, I have a hearing disability and i have a doubt about this challenge because I find it hard to talk to people on phone calls so I rely on text messaging service like Whatsapp.

    1. Din says:

      In that case, you could set out chunks of time in the day for texting and leave the phone for other times. As text is a primary way of communication for you, don’t shut off or put do not disturb on your WhatsApp either.

      I don’t have an app limit on Whatsapp but over time I’ve found that i stopped looking at it even when there are notifications

  11. Kamran says:

    Ah, this sounds a bit daunting but good.
    I’m in !

  12. Andres says:

    Happy new year and thanks. I’m in.

  13. Jeehyun says:

    Hey Cal, this is incredibly timely. I’m in for sure.

    I just realized how unhealthily dependent I had become to my very small social circle, so I’ve resolved to make more friends in 2020. This obviously involves fighting against rooted social anxiety and meeting strangers in analog. So for me, Connect, Make, and Join are one large, the most important yet the most terrifying challenge. I plan to achieve all three by attending local social events of any kind at least every other day during winter break, and once a week during school semester. This public post is there as an accountability.

    (Other socially anxious & isolated readers, let’s conquer our fears and get used to analog social media in January!)

  14. Thank you Cal for sharing your incredible insights with us.
    I just finished reading your Digital Minimalism. My friend suggested your book Deep Work but when I saw your Digital Minimalism I chose to read it. Terrific suggestions and advise.
    Most of my friends always tell me they are overwhelmed. I suggest they cut back on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. They think I am crazy.
    However I am blessed to have a very balanced life (for decades). Every morning I go in nature to do my prayer, meditation, reading and journating. I finish reading a book a week, usually I am reading or listening to seven at any given time. I enjoy KiaChiDo weekly and water aerobics and playing soccer with my grandson. I enjoy talking or meeting new interesting people like yourself. Many of them we create affiliates or joint ventures together. Every week I participate in our local art & music center’s Wednesday activities (such as Open MIC, Imprompt2, writers critique, story telling, poetry, show and tell, etc. In December I participated in 18 holiday celebrations with the various groups I am a member of or groups of friends. I love my life. In 2007 I created a Collaborative Cloud Community so everyone can do what they love and love what they do and only spend 5 minutes a week and reach tens of thousands of executives, entrepreneurs, event professionals and the media. Thanks again for sharing your amazing insights! Appreciate you! Joanne

  15. Shawn says:

    I really like the analog living stuff. Keep it coming!

  16. I’m late to the post but challenge accepted! I’ll post my updates by banging on a rock in Morse Code.

    Unfortnately, my work involves computers but I think I can stay disciplined enough to keep the phone in another room. I’ve also already given up video games for January so this just seems like a natural extension.

  17. Joe says:

    READ, MOVE, MAKE, and JOIN are pretty close to what I do monthly anyways.

    I’ll likely hit 3 books in January.
    I’m back to 45-60 minute walks every few days and getting in a good 15 is easy. Hoping my PT gives the go ahead to start jogging again this month.
    I’ve been doing a ton of work in my yard now that I’ve owned my place for just over a year, and I’ll likely add a small garden plot this year. This month, I’m going to try something way beyond anything I’ve done before and “flip” a door frame so the door opens out instead of in.
    Join is unnecessary as I’m in a small group meeting every Wednesday night and get coffee and breakfast burritos with a group of guys each Saturday morning.

    The tough one is CONNECT. I’m not even sure I talk to 20 people outside of work each month. Checking my phone, I don’t even have 20 individuals saved as contacts. I’ve also moved 3-4 times between 3 time zones in the last 3.5 years, so those connections are tough to keep (Hawaii and DC were the two places before my current west Texas location). I’m going to modify this to 20 real conversations this month and aim to draw back in some folks I haven’t really kept up with enough between all the moves.

  18. Nicky Danino says:

    Hi Cal

    I’ve only just discovered you, via YouTube of all places.

    I’m thinking of starting this challenge on Monday so getting mentally prepared.

    How do you feel about using the Kindle to read books?

  19. Kelly says:

    Hi Cal,

    I’ve been reading your blog since I was 16, now 23. Your advice helped me succeed through school and university despite having chronic fatigue and so having very few hours of energy to work with.
    Now January has come I’ll be rereading deep work for the 5th? 6th? time, and having my second read of digital minimalism. After years of boycotting it all, social media is quite important to the work I do, but I’m trying to find ways of making my time on it more effective and reducing the overall amount of time and energy i spend on it.

    Really i just wanted to leave this comment to say thank you for your books and your blog. They’ve made such a difference in my life and I come back to them again and again to refocus on what’s important.

    Happy New year,

    Kelly

  20. Am going to implement this advice for my Bible readings. It’s time to go back to a real “analog” Bible instead the Bible App on my phone. Anyone else out there have an opinion on digital vs real Bibles?

    1. John says:

      I find the plans in the digital version to be motivating. I am also prompted to read in the morning with the daily verse reminder. I would read the actual Bible more often, but the one I have is small and the type size is so tiny that it is challenging read. The problem with the digital version is that it is on the same device that has access to the internet. I suppose the medium isn’t as important as the message, as long as you read it.

    2. Cheri says:

      I much prefer to read a physical Bible. I have used the same one since 1978. It is duct-taped together. I have notes in the margins, things underlined, a few pages scribbled by one of my boys when they were little. I may not know the reference of a verse, but I can ‘see’ where it is on a page and as long as I know the book, I can generally find the verse.

    3. Joe says:

      I’m a both/and person when it comes to Bible reading. My actual (almost) daily practice is with a physical copy I got about 15 years ago. It’s calfskin and still holding up with little wear despite a ton of use. When I’m looking something up on the go, or at the office during a break, I’ll use my phone or just a browser tab.

      The reading plan situation was solved years ago by printing the pdf each year of the one I like the most, and this year that’s tabled for a year while my church works through one together.

  21. Eric says:

    I know it’s not really the point of the post, but I’d like to hear more about building circuits with kids.

    Thanks!

  22. Eric says:

    I know it’s not really the point of the post, but I’d like to hear more about building custom circuits with your boys.

  23. Andrea says:

    I was watching a YouTube makeover series I enjoy and as she was organizing the bookshelf, I noticed your book prominently placed! I thought you might enjoy that.

    https://youtu.be/wxz37DF5DzU

  24. Thanks for this challenge, Cal. I am going to do a better job to put this to work. I already do most of what you suggest here – plus have a flip phone and a tablet with wi-fi only – but I need to curb my email habit. The thing you said that really hit me was this truth: “We fall into the traps of the digital only when we distance ourselves from the attractions of the analog.”

    Keep up with this important work, and I look forward to your next book that I hear will be about email.

  25. Jen says:

    I’m doing this! I’m in the process of reading your “Digital Minimalism” and loving it. I haven’t been on social media in about a week. I’m reading your book and have 2 others planned. And I’ve had face to face lunches with 3 people in the past 2 weeks, which is very unusual for me. Oh, and I’ve picked up my ukulele again! So excited. Cheers, thank you, and happy new year to everyone.

  26. Cliff Brake says:

    should “with out hands” be “with our hands” ?

  27. Great idea – some of these I do already (read 3-4 books, member of social clubs). But this post inspired me to build something I haven’t used since I was a child: Marble Run Towers.

    Since reading Deep Work, I had thought about building something physical. I remember being fascinated as a child watching marbles flow from one level to the next.

    So I picked up a set at a local science store, and my nephew and I spent hours building up and taking down and building up different towers, just to watch the marbles run down.

    The plan is to slowly, over time, build a giant marble tower maze that runs through the whole house!

    Thanks Cal, great idea!

    1. Pam says:

      What a wonderful idea and inspiration, thanks, Paul. I’m in as well. Updates to come in as they transact. Marbles yes!

  28. Fernando says:

    “Furthermore, I’d suggest that when you access social media on your computer, you always log out when you’re done, and un-save your password — introducing the crucial extra friction of typing in this information every time you want to check your account.”

    This is a powerful advice. I just deleted Tinder on my phone; I didn’t know you could use it on your computer.

  29. Roya says:

    Hello Cal,

    I agree with you. I tried to limit my access to social networks, and it was great.
    But then I could not continue it simply because I am an Iranian (living in Europe). How can I stop scrolling news and event these days?
    How can I focus on coding and reading literature, two activities that I love, when I saw my people are suffering.
    I know that I have to do something useful instead of scrolling twitter and news sites, but it is tough these days.

  30. Billie Wells says:

    I’m late to the party but I’m totally in. What a relief. I just took google, facebook, instagram and what’s app off my phone. I already feel so much lighter. I also only brought up email 1 time this morning to send something.

    I can’t wait to read the books – all of them. I’m just starting a tee shirt business and would love any pointers on how to do that while drowning in social media

  31. Billie Wells says:

    *make that while NOT drowning in social media. That was an appropriate slip

    1. David Drake says:

      Best of luck to you! Keep us posted.

    2. David Drake says:

      Yes, it was funny! I too am doing the analog challenge. Best of luck to all of us!

  32. Daniel Dickson says:

    I hope you write more about the hobby of custom circuit boards.

    It sounds like a great hobby for myself and my children, but after a long day in the office I dread more sitting or screen time. Perhaps it is something that can be performed at a standing desk?

  33. Daniel Dickson says:

    Great article Mr. Newport.

    Small (butty funny to think about) typo in paragraph two. *Couch instead of *coach 🙂

  34. Clarke says:

    I’ll be doing this over lent. I disabled my social media accounts over lent last year and left all but 1 deleted permanently. But mindless Facebook scrolling has crept back into my life. I’ll use the five commitments to fill the gap this time and see what happens.

  35. It sounds like a great hobby for myself and my children, but after a long day in the office. I focus on coding and reading literature, two activities that I love.Best of luck to all of us.
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  36. Brooke says:

    I loved this challenge and am continuing it in February. The hardest one for me was having conversations with 20 different people. I’m being a little more thoughtful about this in February and hoping I can actually reach 20 conversations. I’m a stay at home mom with 3 young children and one thing I loved about this analog challenge was that I had no idea how exhausted I was from watching other moms’ lives on Instagram. I replaced scrolling social media in the mornings with art sessions at the breakfast table before my kindergartener leaves for school and it’s been an absolute joy for our whole family.

  37. Genie says:

    Talk about late to the party! So I will switch it up. Start on St. Valentine’s Day and continue through the Equinox on March 21. Thank you to those who posted specifics on advertisement, recommendation and time of use blockers. For what it’s worth, I find using fountain pens as much as possible each day to be very restorative to mind and spirit. Calligraphy is a special niche within handwriting but it does not have to be “fancy” writing. Just practicing writing, as legibly as one is able to, is enjoyable.

  38. Sian Northey says:

    Another one who’s very late to the party (just finished reading Digital Minimalism). What would you all say constitutes a ‘conversation’? When does a chat become a conversation? How long, how deep does it need to be to count? And yes, I know we don’t need to get too hung up on ‘keeping score’ – just more talking is good.

  39. MP Lynch says:

    Hello, Cal,

    I understand the importance of MOVE and what do you suggest as adaptations for those with limited mobility?

    Thank you!

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