Two screens, your phone, and 50 people on the Zoom call. Source: Link

2021, Zoom out and be a digital monk

Clean your room, put your phone away and reclaim your identity

Jack Chong
5 min readDec 28, 2020


2020 is defined by Zoom fatigue. The more we Zoomed in and plug ourselves into the digital world, the harder it is for us to Zoom out.

And no… this is not another article about the Social Dilemma. The attention economy is not all bad: think about how online dating and networking is made much easier now with online profiles such as Instagram, Tinder and LinkedIn.

While we can also easily live a life not giving a fuck, we can’t live a life without the Internet.

This over-reliance on the Internet is really alarming. And I’ve found myself to suffer from Zoom fatigue with a huge productivity drop.

So recently, I revisited Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism. Cal Newport is is a living paradox. He’s a tech scholar with a PhD in Computer Science from MIT who’s never owned a Facebook account. By the way, I first knew of him through his book on “How to Become a Straight-A Student”.

Digital Minimalism. Source: Link

So what is Digital Minimalism? It has 2 core principles:

1. Focus and don’t get distracted

Cluttering your time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services kills productivity!

Do not cut your time. Do not spread your attention. Focus on the task at hand.

If you are writing, don’t touch your phone or your laptop.

If you are clearing out emails, don’t check social media.

If you are editing videos, don’t go on YouTube every 5 secs watching “how to make cool video effects”

When I was a kid, my only task to is complete the homework due tomorrow, or next week. Now in university and working at startups, I juggle between my academics and work. This means I spread myself too thin across too much information. I always find myself having 50+ tabs open.

2. Own your tools and don’t get owned

To extract the value of a piece of technology, think carefully about how it will support your habits, goals and values.

Think about how each of the features/softwares you use are helpful for your use-case.

Do not follow the herd mentality. The Mac community is small compared to Windows/Linux but much more noiser. Ask yourself, what are the utilities of using a mac?

A very useful framework to use here is the Jobs-To-Be-Done.

Started off as a way to think about products, Jobs-To-Be-Done states that when a consumer (you or me) buys a product, they buy it to perform a particular job.

Think about the tools you use. What “job” are you getting done with Facebook? What “job” are you getting done with checking emails every 5 minutes?

From Digital Minimalism to Digital Monk

1. Limit your time with electronic devices

Yes I mean it! Time spent on working on laptop included!)

Dedicate yourself 30 minutes for clearing emails in the morning and in the afternoon. Any other time is for deep work.

Spend no more than 30 minutes on social media every day. Instant Messaging is a bit more tricky given remote-working and how Slack has penetrated into our habits.

2. Reclaim quality conversation

A conversation is not a connection.

Connection is a low-touch low-bandwidth interaction. You and I are “connected” on LinkedIn.

Conversation is committed hgh-bandwidth interaction. You and I both dedicate effort to interact with each other.

While connections are certainly important in the beginning, you need to work on your conversation as you accumulate enough connections. This definitely is a kind of explore/exploit problem commonly referred to in the computer science circle.

If you live with your family, put away your phone in dinner. Talk to them.

If you miss your friends, forget texting. Call them.

Restaurants are closed? No problem. Treat lockdown as quality family-time together. Now you get to hear stories about your parents that you haven’t been told (probably PG-13).

3. Be alone and be yourself

Being a monk is lonely, but it also gives you time for introspection.

While physical solitude is easy to achieve — long walks in the woods — mental solitude is much harder to achieve but is way more important.

Just being alone and reflect. Source: Link

Mental solitude is a state of mind where your mind is free from the others. The philosophical parallel is solipsism.

The biggest enemy of mental solitude is the phone in our pockets. We are well-connected to each other via the Internet. This also means that we have lost our independent thinking. We start to worrying about things outside of our locus of control.

Stay away from your phone in the morning. Go for a run or a swim. No music. Just enjoy the moment.

It’s good to be a 13-year-old again.

At least when I was 13, I did not have a smart phone.

And do you still remember when you used to play with your neighbours on the street when you were 13?

Don’t you just miss childhood? Source: Link

Your 13-year-old was more social than you are.

Put your phone away and strike a conversation with people you meet.

What’s the point of all this?

The point of being a digital monk is to see things in a different light than before.

What is really important in your life? What do you actually enjoy doing? Who are you loved ones?

In times of uncertainty, distraction and neuroticism, your mind needs to calm down. Perhaps being a digital monk is not so different from being a stoic after all.



Jack Chong

I review products, strategy and startups. Twitter: @jackchong_jc