Minimalism seems to be a hot topic these days and rightly so. People like clutter-free living and getting things done. After listening to a recent podcast between minimalist Leo Babauta and problogger, Darren Rowse, I started thinking about how I could apply minimalism to my internet marketing operations.
After all, I’m sure we can all agree there is time we spend on a computer each day that isn’t spent doing relevant tasks. I personally know that I check Tweetdeck, Facebook, and my email inbox far more often than necessary. Over the last few days, I have completely overhauled the way I do business online and setup the system and principles I’m going to share with you today.
If you’re not familiar with minimalism, then you might be wondering about the benefits that it offers. If you are familiar with minimalism, you may be wondering how it can be tied to internet marketing.
Before I give specifics on a minimalist internet marketing set-up, I want to dive into what the benefits of operating like this may be. I also want to add that I recognise the irony in the fact that my guide to minimalism spans thousands of words.
To that, I say: I’m writing as much as I need to write to help you do less.
If you’re new to the whole idea of minimalism or don’t see what it has to do with search engines or making money online, then let me begin by highlighting some of the benefits of this new way of living:
If you like what you see about the positives (like, you know, actually getting things done) then we can ahead and look at what the minimalist internet marketing system actually involves.
The system presented here contains both the pillar-stones of minimalism you would find elsewhere but also steps presented towards internet marketing / computer use in general. This is just my personal guide after trying to simplify my operations over the last few days. If you truly find a better way of doing things that helps you more, then stick to that.
Start With a Simple Desktop
If you had seen my desktop a few days ago, you would question my authority to be giving this advice. After seeing the error of my ways, I have opted for a more minimalist desktop and I’m loving it already. Not only is a minimalist desktop fast to load and nice to look at, it also keeps you in a simple frame of mind for when you are working on other applications.
Above, you can see my desktop has 3 items. The first, is a link to my web browser: Firefox. I do as much of my work as possible online, so that is really my ‘documents’ folder as well. On the right you can see my iDrive account (Mac backup system) and a Base work folder. This is where I store all of my work documents.
I don’t need any more clutter on the desktop and keep all of my files in folders on my hard drive. This not only means I know where they are, but it stops me from clicking around and wasting time with things I shouldn’t be focusing on.
One Thing At a Time
Minimalism is all about cutting down the number of things you work on in general, and the number of things you are doing at once. One of the cornerstones to simple living is to focus on one task at a time and give each your full attention.
In internet marketing terms, this means turning off your Facebook, Seesmic, Tweetdeck and MSN until you actually have time scheduled for them. I personally run Tweetdeck in the background and simply let it catch updates so I can check them all at a more convenient time. If you can do the same with some of your applications, then I recommend that you do.
The internet is an industry I absolutely love working in, but it’s also a workplace that has the most distractions. Amazing links are being shared around the web everyday and it’s so easy to get lost in one thing while trying to work on another. Decided what you want to do next; get it done; and then move on to your next task.
Do The Most Important Thing First
At the start of each day, one thing I like to do is ask myself “If I only had 2 hours to work today, what would I like to get done?” I always have two hours available, so I know that if I answer the question then I can actually get started on that task and finish it. This also helps me focus on the tasks with the highest priority.
Back in middle school, a teacher told me a great story that ended with the message that no matter how you spend each day, you can’t be more productive than if you work on your most important task. And, to do just that, you should make the first thing you do the most important.
Writing a blog post or building links to new site is far more important than updating Twitter, reading the latest guide to blogging secrets or constantly monitoring your stats. Start each day with your most important task first, and you can’t go far wrong.
As you may have seen on my desktop, I use iDisk which is part of Apple’s Mobile Me service. It costs $99 per year and gives you 20GB of space on the web. I have a current set-up that allows me to work with files on my desktop and access everything without an internet connection. Then, at 1pm each day, the contents of my work folder automatically get copied to a folder of the same name on my iDisk.
This means that all of my important files get backed up the cloud, daily, and instantly. If you don’t have a Mac, I recommend you use a service called iDrive. It’s free for up to 2GB of data and allows scheduled backups.
It’s not only your documents you have to worry about backing up as an internet marketer, but also your websites. Imagine how disastrous it would be if you were to lose the database and files of your most important website tomorrow. You can never be too careful when it comes to having extra copies of your information. Try to organise some sort of scheduled backup with your hosting company so that your precious information is safe.
Before I left the UK and moved here to Amsterdam, I had three emails accounts. Two of which, had over 2,000 unread emails. I literally spent two days organising my email and deleting all of the things that I didn’t need, because I knew that email productivity is something that could save me a lot of time.
Although I had completely cleared my inbox, I still wasn’t handling new emails efficiently. I set-up a system where new emails not only go to my inbox, but automatically get assigned a new label called ‘Identity’. This means that when I’ve read or responded to an email, I simply uncheck the ‘inbox’ label and I won’t see it again.
This means I know exactly what I have to respond to each day or what task I have to do next. I never miss anything with this kind of set-up — if there’s something in my inbox, then I need to process it.
Some of my standard recommendations for cleaning up your inbox include:
I used to be someone who would compulsively check their email 10 times per day, but now that I’m moving most of my operations into a more minimalist setup, my desire to see who wants my attention has decreased greatly.
Hide Bookmarks / Use Simple Apps
At first, I just wanted this section to be ‘hide bookmarks’ but I didn’t really have much else to say than that. If you use Firefox or any other browser that puts bookmarks on a new line, then get rid of that. It’s distracting, and you’ll click around.
As an alternative, trying using the shortcut keys (Right click on a bookmarklet >> Properties) which, when pressed after CTRL+L (CMD + L on Mac), will load a specific website. There’s also a cool app mentioned further down in this post that is an even better solution.
Besides decluttering the things you use everyday, I also recommend that you use the simplest apps possible for the things that you need to get done. Extra features that you don’t need in applications slow down the software, make it harder to find things, and give you more opportunities to waste time.
Keep it simple.
Now that we’ve covered the benefits of being a minimalist and shared the exact steps to put a more minimal system in place, I hope you’re excited about the new levels of productivity and focus that await you.
Before we end the post though, I want to highlight some excellent apps that are helping me get things done, simply. These are things I couldn’t thank their creators enough for and I greatly appreciate the work that went into a number of these.
And finally, before the linky goodness, I want to say that you should try not to get caught up in constantly testing new applications and looking for minor speed improvements. Find a system that you enjoy and works for you, then stick to it. Doing that will be far more productive than constantly looking for a ‘faster’ system.
As I’m typing this right now, all I see is small green font on a totally black screen. WriteRoom, as many of you will know, is a very simple text editor which has a full-screen mode that allows you to completely focus on your work.
There are versions for both Windows and Mac, which is always useful as…I’m a Mac. In the past I would write posts in WordPress which itself has a fairly uncluttered interface, but even then I would constantly refresh posts and play with the style, rather than focusing on the content and getting the words out.
Write Room is a great application and worth every penny in my eyes.
Launched just a few days ago, Quix App is quickly becoming one of my favourite tools. Now that I’ve removed my bookmarks toolbar, I need a quick way to access websites that I use frequently. Quix does that by allowing me to input my own commands that take me to certain websites.
For example, now when I want to go to my blog admin I simply hit CMD + 1 and then type vca. If I want to check my viperchill email I hit CMD + 1 and then type vcm. I have lots of different commands set-up and can even do searches on Google, Wikipedia, or find out information like how old a website is and how many backlinks it has.
Using this tool is actually slightly slower than having regular bookmarks (for a couple of things) but I believe that it makes up for it by removing the distraction of me clicking on different sites all day.
David Naylor SEO Tool
I have a four year history in SEO so I am a bit of a search geek. Because of that, this tool from David Naylor is right up my street. With a quick shortcut keyboard I can easily share a page on tons of social networks, find out about its history and backlink data, and a lot of other nifty insights.
I have set this up to work with the shortcut key x (right click on the bookmarklet and go to properties) so to load it all I have to do is press CMD + L (CTRL + L in Windows) then x, and hit enter. This will load the tool for whatever page I’m on. It’s out of the way, but a great tool and doesn’t require any software to be installed.
I prefer Google Docs for serious organisation and task management, but when it comes to simple to do items, Teux Deux takes some beating in the simplicity department. I first became aware of the site via a blog post by Seth Godin and have used the service ever since.
The interface is very simple and gives you all you need in a to-do list application. Teux Deux, which is obviously a play on the words ‘to do’, promises to have both iPhone and Adobe Air apps available shortly. I have just noticed my screenshot makes it look like I want an seo-ho, but I’m actually setting up SEO hosting.
If hiding your bookmarks and decluttering your desktop is not enough to keep you focused on your work, you could literally block yourself from distractions. Self Control (Mac only) is a great tool that allows you to block websites for a certain period of time. I also love that if I block something like Twitter, then that will stop Tweetdeck from working.
What’s different about this tool is that there is no way to turn it off. Even if you quit the application and restart your Mac, your websites will still be blocked for as long as the time limit your entered. I did eventually find out how to turn it off, but I won’t ruin the best part of the service for you. I wish my fix didn’t work.
If anyone knows of a Windows alternative, please share it in the comments.
Last, but not least, is Trakkboard. If you run a lot of websites and don’t mind an initially German interface, Trakkboard is the perfect solution for monitoring the stats from multiple Google Analytics accounts.
I personally don’t keep any sites on the same account because there are a number of tools out there which make it easy to find who owns what websites. I make my living online, so I have a reason to be wary.
Before I join you all in the comments, I just want to let you in on a little secret. Each time I write a long blog post, people tell me how much they admire my effort and how much work I’m putting in. It’s true that some of them take 6-8 hours and that’s even when I’m working flat out.
However, on articles like this where I open up WriteRoom, know what I’m going to talk about and just shut everything off, I can literally write a 2,900 word article in 90 minutes. With the editing and adding of images, it’s going to take a while longer to hit publish, but just think about how far you can go with that kind of productivity.
Let me know what your thoughts and suggestions are in regards to minimalist internet marketing, I would love to hear them!