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Analog January Challeng

I love the idea of replacing digital habits, particularly ones you use a phone for, with analog habits. It can seem quaint, or old fashioned, or even hipster-ish, but I’m always delighted at the great experiences I have when I consciously choose to use a physical object instead of a digital one. Handwritten notes, hardback books, and typewriters. So much fun.

Cal Newport, author of the great book Digital Minimalism, issued an “Analog January” challenge. This is a great idea, and something I’m trying to do. Here are some of the ideas he gives:


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.


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.


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.


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 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.

I suggest you pick one of these areas and set a goal. Don’t try and do them all. Pick one, put it on your calendar on a regular basis, and lightly track your progress in your journal, on a goal tracker, or even on a sheet of paper stuck to the fridge. One small change can make a big difference over time if you stick with it. Tracking your progress gives you natural times to look back and see the difference.

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