minimalist tech setup

Minimalist Tech Setup: Can It Increase Your Productivity?

So your desk looks like a messy stage…Instead of actors, there’s an overwhelming ensemble cast of tech gadgets—laptops, tablets, smartwatches, a nest of tangled cords, each shouting for attention and clamoring for their own spotlight. 

It’s a chaotic, never-ending tech performance, and you’re the beleaguered director, struggling to keep the show running smoothly.

But how would it be if, instead, it would be like that… Your work desk, the stage, is clear. 

The ensemble is gone. 

In their place is a single, sleek, multi-purpose device, humming quietly in the center of the stage. 

The show is a one-act play now. Sounds nice, right?

This is how a minimalist tech setup could be, where less is more and tranquility is the reigning queen. 

So my article today about this topic will cover…

  • How cluttered tech hampers your productivity
  • What is a minimalist tech setup, and how does it look like
  • How to achieve a minimalist tech setup and how to maintain it over time
  • Four case studies about how minimalist tech setups have improved lives and productivity


How Cluttered Tech Hampers Your Productivity

You know how it feels when you’re trying to concentrate on something. Still, your neighbor decides to make a soundcheck with a new stereo sound system that almost needs a sonic weapon license? 

That’s pretty much what a cluttered tech environment can do to your brain.

Your focus is being crashed by too many devices, countless apps, and a sea of files. And science agrees with this.

Ever heard of the term “cognitive overload”? 

According to this source, the visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and reduces working memory.

Let’s say you’re trying to win a staring contest, but a bunch of people are trying to distract you. 

That’s what clutter does – it messes with your focus and makes it tough to process information. 

The same thing happens with tech clutter… it’s like this anxious feeling you may get when you are late for an appointment.

UCLA article mentions a study by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families which found that living in a cluttered space is like having your personal stress factory

Translate that to your digital world, and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety soup—with a side order of lower productivity.

By the way, I discussed the impact of digital clutter in my past article.

And then there’s the great time sink. Imagine spending one day each week looking for your keys or phone. 

Sounds crazy, right? 

However, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute mentioned on IMB’s website, that’s what we do at work, except we’re searching for information or colleagues who can help us.

This report states that employees spend, on average, 1.8 hours daily and 9.3 hours weekly searching and gathering information.

By the way, I could never get to the original report after cross-checking several sources citing the same “report.” So you may take it with a grain of salt. 

Still, even if no report existed, it would sound plausible. Why? I could observe this firsthand, and “office stories” from friends also confirm this situation. 

And if your tech setup is like an overstuffed closet, finding what you need becomes a wild goose chase, eating away precious time you could use to get things done.

The situation regarding open browser tabs is similar, as this article points out well, mentioning several studies.

Ponder this: you’re working on a task, but Post-it notes are everywhere, reminding you of other stuff you need to do. 

Those open browser tabs and unread emails are your digital post-it notes. 

They keep nudging your brain about unfinished tasks, hogging your mental bandwidth, and making it harder to concentrate on the task at hand.

The takeaway? 

A clutter-free tech environment is like having a well-organized toolbox. It keeps stress at bay, saves you time, and leaves your brain with room to focus. 


What Is a Minimalist Tech Setup, and How Does It Look Like?

As the name suggests, a minimalist tech setup applies minimalism principles to your technological environment. 

It is similar to what I outlined in my article “The Definitive Digital Minimalism Guide” here, and thus all about simplifying, decluttering, and returning to the essentials. 

But what does this look like in practice? 

You may usually associate a minimalist tech setup with something like this…

minimalist tech setup

…or this…

minimalist tech setup

However, as you will later learn, it is not that universal.

But let’s first discuss the key features of a minimalist tech setup:


1) Fewer Devices

Rather than having multiple devices for different purposes, a minimalist tech setup typically involves using a single, multi-purpose device whenever possible. 

For example, instead of having a separate laptop, tablet, and e-reader, you might just use a laptop with a good screen for all three tasks.


2) Less Clutter

This applies to physical clutter, like cords and accessories, and digital clutter, like unused apps and files. 

In a minimalist tech setup, everything you own and use serves a purpose and adds value to your life. If it’s not being used, it’s removed or replaced.


3) Streamlined Workspaces

With fewer devices and less clutter, a minimalist tech setup can make your workspace cleaner, more organized, and more conducive to focus and productivity.


4) Simplified Digital Environment

This means having fewer browser tabs open (this is something I definitively have to work on), regularly clearing out and organizing digital files, and curating the number of notifications you receive. 

The goal is to reduce distractions and make focusing on one task at a time easier.


5) Intentional Use of Technology

Minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of things; it’s also about being more intentional about what you keep. 

In a minimalist tech setup, every device, app, and file is there for a reason and is regularly used and appreciated.


Is there Such a Thing as a Universal Minimalist Tech Setup?

As you can see by the key characteristics of a minimalist tech setup from above, you may already suspect that there can’t be a universal one.

Yes, there are some clichés (see the earlier photos)…However, all the earlier features are inherently individual.

So, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Everyone’s needs and preferences are different. 

For some, the three plants in the second foto may already be a distraction, and getting rid of two would be best. For some, this may be the best setup.

What works for a digital artist, a software developer, a writer, or a student, could be wildly different based on the nature of their work or study.

Remember, the goal of minimalism is not to have as little as possible but to make room for what truly matters.


Is A Single Device Enough?

In a sense, this question is similar to the one before. Why?

Because the answer also largely depends on your individual needs, lifestyle, and the nature of your work or hobbies.

I don’t know what enough means to you.

For some people, a single device might indeed be enough. 

For instance, if you’re primarily using your tech for basic tasks like browsing the internet, sending emails, and watching videos, a good-quality laptop or a robust tablet could meet all your needs.

On the other hand, if you’re a professional graphic designer, a single device may not cut it. 

You might need a high-powered desktop for your design work, a tablet for sketching ideas, and a laptop for meetings or on-the-go tasks.

However, even with multiple devices, you can still embrace a minimalist tech setup by focusing on only keeping what you truly need and use. 

The key is ensuring each piece of tech has a specific purpose in your life and isn’t just contributing to clutter or distraction.

So you want to regularly assess your situation and monitor what you use and need.

While a single device may be enough for some, it’s not about how many devices you have but how purposefully you use them. 

The minimalist approach is about simplifying and focusing on what’s necessary rather than limiting yourself to a specific number of devices. 

So the question might not be, “Is a single device enough?” but rather, “Does each device I own serve a distinct and necessary purpose?”


How to Achieve a Minimalist Tech Setup and Maintain It Over Time

Creating a minimalist tech setup isn’t something that happens overnight. 

It’s a process that involves thoughtful decision-making and the development of good habits. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to achieving—and maintaining—a minimalist tech setup:


1) Assess Your Current Setup

Look at all your tech devices, including computers, phones, tablets, e-readers, smartwatches, and any other electronic devices you use regularly. 

Again, you want to ask yourself, “Does each device I own serve a distinct and necessary purpose?”

Also, consider digital clutter, like unused apps, old files, and anything else that’s taking up space without adding value.


2) Identify Your Needs

What do you need your tech for? 

Work, school, creative projects, communication, entertainment? 

What devices are essential for these tasks, and which are just nice-to-haves?


3) Purge Unnecessary Tech

Once you’ve identified what you need, it’s time to eliminate what you don’t. 

Sell, donate, or recycle devices that aren’t serving a purpose. Uninstall unused apps and delete old files.


4) Optimize Your Remaining Tech

Streamline and organize your remaining devices. 

This might involve setting up efficient file management systems, reducing notifications to minimize distractions, or even just physically cleaning your devices and their surroundings to make them more pleasant.


5) Create Tech-Free Zones and Times

This one is only indirectly related to your physical tech setup. But it’s an important part of a minimalist tech lifestyle. 

You want to designate certain areas of your home or times of day as tech-free to help maintain balance and prevent tech overload.


6) Regular Maintenance

Regularly reassess your tech setup and habits to ensure they still serve you. 

Technology and our lives change rapidly, so what worked for you six months ago might not work now.


7) Practice Mindful Consumption

Before buying a new device or downloading a new app, consider whether you really need it. 

What purpose will it serve? Can something you already have, fulfill this purpose?

These steps will help you create a minimalist tech setup and maintain it over time.

Remember, the goal isn’t to have the least amount of tech possible but to have tech that serves you and adds value to your life without causing stress or distraction.



Case Studies: How Minimalist Tech Setups Have Improved Lives and Productivity

While I couldn’t find explicit “case studies” on minimalist tech setups during my research, there are, however, numerous anecdotal reports and stories that highlight the benefits.


1) Cal Newport

Newport, a computer science professor and author of the book “Digital Minimalism,” experimented with his own life by intentionally reducing his technology use. 

He reported increased productivity, enhanced focus, and improved personal satisfaction as he limited his tech use to only what was necessary for his work and personal life.


2) Manoush Zomorodi

Zomorodi, who hosted the podcast “Note to Self,” created a project called “Bored and Brilliant.” 

This project challenged people to disconnect from their devices to let their minds wander and think creatively. 

The challenge reportedly positively affected participants’ creativity, productivity, and well-being.


3) Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan, a writer and blogger, took a radical step and went on a complete technology detox for a year, as described in his article “I Used to Be a Human Being.” 

The detox profoundly impacted his mental health, personal relationships, and overall outlook on life.


4) Matthew McConaughey

The actor went through a tech minimalism phase, giving up emails and limiting his use of technology to only essential communication. 

In various interviews, he has credited this change for improving his quality of life, enhancing his creativity, and helping him be more present in his daily life.


Various Productivity Gurus… 

Many productivity experts, including Tim Ferriss, have discussed the benefits of a minimalist tech setup. 

Techniques such as limiting email checking to specific times, turning off most notifications, and using a single device when possible have significantly improved productivity and personal satisfaction.

However, if anecdotal case studies are not enough for you and you want to go beyond, I also collected scientific studies about the benefits of digital minimalism in this article, of which a minimalist tech setup is a subcategory…


This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.