Digital Minimalism Defined

Recently I have doubled down on my stated practice of minimalism. Maybe I am just excited because I successfully cleaned my house and took a huge bag to goodwill, threw away some old spare parts, and consolidated some kitchen items.

About a month ago I was pretty inspired by this great interview with Cait Flanders. Cait is a personal finance writer out of Vancouver. In July she was featured in Forbes / Personal Finance: The One-Year Shopping Ban: How This Woman Lived On Just 51% Of Her Income.

Her personal finance writing comes with a strong dose of minimalism. This certainly mirrors the well-noted popularity of Marie Kondo's: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Minimalism fits in very nicely with many interpretations of the personal finance gospel, and thus it's a well accepted sub topic in this community.

Today I am proposing we take the topic of minimalism into our lives on the internet. Here are some of the tools I and many others utilize on a daily basis:

  • Feedly, RSS Feed Aggregator
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Bigger Pockets
    • A network and (slightly old fashioned style) forum for real estate investors, professionals, and service providers.
  • Email

If I left you right there, you could rightly assume that I do absolutely nothing all day but frantically engage with all of these channels.

Minimalism: a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

Minimalism may get a bad rap as a lifestyle defined by complete scarcity and an aversion to useful / enjoyable material posessions. If instead we define minimalism as Lifestyle By Design, I think we'll get a better idea of the nature of digital minimalism.

In digital minimalism, interactions are not passive or random. Instead, interactions are by design. If we're honest about the cost-benefit of a particular (oft-repeated) activity. We can engage with discipline.

Although I used the words 'cost-benefit' above, I will apply the more semantically accurate 'peril-profit' in the case of my evaluation:

  • Feedly
    • Peril: In an attempt to read everything I will become over-subscribed and under-engaged.
    • Profit: I can intercept the best long-form writers of my choosing on a daily basis.
    • Minimalist Solution: Limit to 20 publications, across categories. Potential for daily reading averages around 100 articles. I scan headlines for the most relevant topics. Save articles for later with Pocket (to be read on the train). Don't read anything older than 1 day. New publications added have to kick out something old (therefore they must merit it).
    • Outcome: I end up reading and committing to about 5-8 longform articles, daily.
  • Twitter
    • Peril: The number of people / companies producing streams of information is endless. It's noise if I try to do it all.
    • Profit: There are few better ways to connect directly with influential content creators.
    • Minimalist Solution: @pearoftheweek follows a maximum of 300 Twitter accounts. Checking Twitter once daily is actually enough. Tweet out using Buffer, so my tweets are time-spaced and I am not constantly checking my feed.
    • Outcome: Twitter remains relevant because it's not just endless noise. I can give credit to great influencers via tweets, retweets, and favorites.
  • LinkedIn
    • Peril: Business networking becomes and endless empty gesture of 'making connections' despite never closing a deal.
    • Profit: Great tool for vetting potential recruits, collaborators, specialists, and publishing business-interest content.
    • Minimalist Solution: Keep profile up to date and clean. Check/clear messages once a week. Publish articles, again using Buffer. Send messages and make connections with a specific goal in mind (try not to lurk).
    • Outcome: Platform has been a great tool for present and former colleagues to read some of my work, and re-connect as business necessitates.
  • Facebook
    • Peril: Probably don't even have to say it: Stream of friend/family political arguments, lifestyle envy, photo tagging, rabbit hole of wonder what are they up to now? <<<< Wasting tons of time with no foreseeable goal.
    • Profit: Typically the source of my most engaged early readers. Also a great source for demographics under-represented on virtually every other social network (60+).
    • Minimalist Solution: Rarely ever log in. Post articles via Buffer. I keep in mind the volatility of certain topics, and leave the tricky ones for Twitter. I am not a censor in any respect, but I do find Facebook debates to be completely pointless, and thus divest myself of them.
    • Outcome: I never feel like I have wasted time just lurking on Facebook. I don't have growing issues with lifestyle envy. I never seem to know when anybody gets engaged (small negative side effect).
  • Pinterest
    • Peril: Infinite scrolling + amazing pictures and ideas anyone can stare at for hours.
    • Profit: Group boards and a great archive for content history. Not to mention a great place to receive quick inspiration.
    • Minimalist Solution: Follow only 60 other pinners, much like the twitter strategy, don't let the noise distract from the objective. Join group boards for each of your subjects of interest. Use it for lead gen.
    • Outcome: It's certainly my newest channel, so some ideas are untested. In general, it's been a great source of lead gen. Allowing me to connect with other influencers in a similar manner to Twitter.
  • Bigger Pockets
    • Peril: I can easily blow an entire Saturday afternoon reading through long threads and getting involved in technical debates with other users.
    • Profit: Haven't found a better place to connect with real estate investors. Great for advice, referrals, whatever you need.
    • Minimalist Solution: Respond to 5 posts a day, only. Try to be helpful in roughly two paragraphs. Focus on topics where I can be most helpful to others.
    • Outcome: Some of my most faithful readers come straight through Bigger Pockets. We've done investments with the help of other members on the site.
  • Email
    • Peril: Many of you have already read my article on Practicing Inbox Zero. I am also reminded of The Harvard Business Review's article on The Cost of Continuously Checking Email. There is a real cost to near constant context-switching.
    • Profit: Still the best way to connect personally with influencers and other VIPs in your network. Also plays much better with the 60+ crowd.
    • Minimalist Solution: Aim for full checks twice daily, with brief check-ins for very urgent material (every now and then something can't wait). Unsubscribe from lists you don't read (even if they are good), and always empty your inbox. Follow-ups belong on your task list.
    • Conclusion: Email Stress avoided. Work and responses completed in a very timely manner.

Through my system for engagement I manage to spend less than an hour daily on all these tasks. I make a small exception for reading longform articles.

Reading is a near constant interest of mine. Don't mind saving a few long articles for the train ride home.

Digital minimalism will help you manage your time online. Minimalism is not a lifestyle of scarcity, it's lifestyle by design.