Digital minimalism vs all the good podcasts, courses, books, articles, etc

If I had to pick a yearly theme, 2020 is the year of consolidation for me. And as I reflected on this theme, I realised that I need to be more digitally minimalist, as per Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.

The thing is, there is just so much good digital content out there, and I’m struggling to figure out how to strategically absorb and implement the 20% (Pareto principle), and confidently say no to the other 80% without suffering from the Fear of Missing Out. After all, I’d much rather read and implement 10 books in a year, than read 50 books in a year and do nothing with the content of the books.

For example, at the moment, I have:

  • Over 100 podcast subscriptions in Overcast, which I’ve been struggling to keep up with while on a two-month holiday, and I’ll certainly fall behind when I go back to work at the start of February.
  • Over 1000 URLs saved in a text file that reference articles I want to read “someday” (cough cough).
  • Over 100 books that I want to read, study and implement.
  • A number of excellent courses (e.g. @MacSparky’s field guides for Keyboard Maestro and Shortcuts, and @mikeschmitz’s Faith-Based Productivity courses) that I want to study and implement in detail.

Consequently, what strategies or systems have people put in place to be digitally minimalist in the face of such good podcasts, courses, books, articles, and so on?

Side note: it’s amazing how a week-long family vacation with no opportunity to listen to podcasts - combined with misplacing my AirPods in the location of the vacation (thankfully found and soon to be returned) - sharpened my thinking about this.

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I started by dropping all podcasts that are longer than 30 minutes; which meant dropping MPU as well…

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I love podcasts but I’ve learned to limit myself. I will dump backlogs of podcasts. Many of my podcasts are not evergreen. These might be current event topics-based podcasts such as the latest Mac technology or world news. They are only relevant for this week or month at most. Many of the Mac technology podcasts falls under this category. I’d limit it to as few as possible. I love listening to hosts talking about the newest MacBook Pro 13" rumor but I don’t need to hear about it from six different podcasts.

I’ve also learned to listen to myself when I choose podcasts. If I don’t find much joy or value from a podcast, I’ll dump it. I’ve learned to dump many podcasts that I would look forward to but not longer find it joyful.

I’ve even taken to the idea of deleting one podcast if I want to add another one.

Many of the reference articles/blog posts/articles that I want to read someday will also fade in value. This is true if it is also a current events based article. Twitter and Facebook are sources of current events based articles that I could easily delete. I wouldn’t gain much value from them because its value fades away so quickly nowadays.

I’d prefer to focus more on the books and courses. Many books and courses are deeper dives into a particular subject. Blog posts don’t go as deep into a subject because not many people want to read a post that is longer than 2-3 screens worth. However, a book or course was developed by the author who has spent many hours of research going into a subject that you may find interesting. Blog posts are great at introducing a subject with a shallow dive. Read the first few paragraphs and move on if it doesn’t hold your interest. Books and courses will have value that will last a long time.

As with any podcast, saved articles, books, movies, TV shows, and any consumables, I’d skim through it and record the points that I want to keep. The first skim of a book (usually looking at the table of contents and then jumping to a particular chapter) will highlight many points that I might find interesting. I can take what I want and come back for the rest later. If it’s a book or course that has a lot of interesting highlights, I’ll definitely take time to read it.

If I can’t stand the book/course or if I’m not ready for the subject material, I’ll put it away and save it for a future date when I might gain more background knowledge to prepare for a return to the course material.

I’ve watched a few episodes of a TV show or the first 45 minutes of a movie and decided that it’s not for me. I’m not gonna force myself to finish it. I’ll pass and move on to something else.

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At the beginning of 2018 I declared Pocket bankruptcy and started fresh. Sadly I am again at 2000 unread articles and I am considering doing it again. I have the issue that I often add an entire backlog of articles, if I stumble upon a new interesting blog.

However in summer 2014 I started a habit that I had to go through 10 Pocket articles and 10 Evernote entries and read or delete it. For Evernote I checked whether the item had a long-term value for me and therefore I decided to either keep it or delete it. I also checked whether it was properly tagged and archived in my folder structure. 10 is a feasible amount and it will get you far over the course of a year-
The good thing is that you can basically do it anywhere, when waiting in line on the bus or even in bed :ok_hand:

I can see this being applied to long podcast backlogs, as well. Every day go through the list and decide upon 10 whether you actually want to hear it or delete it. As podcasts are comparably a larger time commitment than reading a short article, I would not include the actual hearing of the episode in that 10 items/day approach.
Somewhen last year I have set up Overcast to basically have an “inbox”. One smart playlist, where all new episodes show up in. I will regularly go through them and decide, which ones are worthwhile to listen to. Often times I will judge by the show notes or chapter marks and I selectively only listen to parts that are new. I will never listen to a podcast straight from the inbox, i always need to add it to my “priority” playlist, which is kept intentionally short.

For books the bookworm podcast actually motivated me to read more. My initial goal was to get to 20 books in 2020, which actually should be easy as 4 are already read. :ok_hand:

For courses: I like tackling them one by one and spreading them out over time. Some of those “30 days of x” courses will come with a simple structure to implement. I tried putting the specific lecture/chapter in my calendar to have the commitment, but then it was a slow weekend I just plowed through a few chapters in one sitting and found that I would have to adjust all appointments in my calendar, which was too tedious.
This year I’m playing around with a one hour personal study session in the morning. It’s up to me what I do in it: go through a chapter of a course, read, draft, journal, meditate, draw/craft something small. It’s blocked out me-time. Just having that block of time so far works well.

For minimalism? Simple answer: Purge.

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You just don’t need to consume all the good content.

You’re not improving your life by filling it with as much of the best stuff as possible. You’re just giving your life away to other people.

What you should have FOMO about is all the awesome stuff you could be doing instead of listening to the next “high quality” podcast.

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See my post about Collector’s Fallacy. There are thoughtful links therein.

The simple answer (although not always easy) is to dump your backlog. It amazes me when I read that people have hundreds or thousands of articles saved in a read later program. If I haven’t read something a week later, I delete it.

Trim back to the few podcasts that mean the most to you and build back up if you have the time and/or desire.

Don’t buy books, put them on a to-read list and visit that list when you have finished a book. See where they take you.

Bottom line for digital minimalism in my mind is this message: stop being a hoarder. All that digital cruft is no different than stacks of newspapers building up in someone’s living room. The same mentality leads to both kinds of hoarding. Instead, let it go.

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I treat all those things as suggestions of media I might want to consume, rather than to-dos that I must do.

I have more than 200 unlistened to podcasts in my podcast queue, about 100 books in my books-to-read list, a couple of MacSparky’s courses I’d like to take, and dozens of movies and TV series in my to-watch list. When I’m looking for something to read/listen to/or watch, I just browse the lists and generally I can find something.

If any particular media seem urgent – an article I MUST read for work – I make a separate to-do and do that thing.

I do occasionally purge the articles list. I just did that yesterday, leaving one (1) article, which i started reading and probably will not finish.

On podcasts: I use the Castro app, which is designed for just the kind of media triaging I describe. By default, new episodes come in to the “inbox,” which is not downloaded (so you don’t have to worry about chewing through bandwidth or filling your iPhone). You move episodes manually to the “queue,” which is your definitely-will-listen-to-these list. Then you can set download limits to conserve resources and bandwidth; I have my limit set to five hours, but you can go up to 160 hours. You can also set individual episodes to move automatically to the queue as they come in, which I have configured to do for a couple of news podcasts, work-related podcasts – and Mac Power Users!

I take the opposite approach: Its not like stacks of newspapers in the living room. As long as you manage downloads properly, digital media takes up negligible space. Just let it pile up – but feel under no obligation to consume it all, or even most of it. Probably I’ll only consume 3% of my “piles” – and that’s OK.

But piling up things, whether or not they are out of sight, is not minimalism, what the OP is asking about.

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But this is exactly what the OP is talking about, and the pressure ensues.

For you, letting things pile up works. But not in the context of digital minimalism. My point was for people who are trying to minimize or feel stress because of what is building up in their queue, that mental stress is the same as seeing stacks of unread papers or books around the home. For some reason, we think because we can hide a PDF in a folder that it doesn’t add stress. For some it definitely does.

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Hooray for books! :wink:

On the topic of digital minimalism, Cal Newport advocates for a digital declutter. I never went through the entire process myself, but my buddy Isaac Smith just started a 30-day digital declutter on The Focus Course blog

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I have a large book list as well but may I suggest that you consider that not all books need to be “implemented.” Some books should just be enjoyed or read for their literary, intellectual, or moral value. Reading good literature will enrich your mind and soul, give you great references for writing and presentations, expand your perspective, and will give you unexpected ways to connect ideas that one may miss otherwise. I recently finished rereading Grapes of Wrath, I’m in the middle of Les Misérables and after I finish it I plan to read The Trial. My point is that not all reading need be “practical.” :slight_smile: Read for enjoyment and enrichment too.

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I have tried any number of tactics to manage the firehose of readily available digital content, e.g., an annual declaration of Pocket bankruptcy, deleting and then reinstalling podcasts one-by-one, etc. They all worked for a time, but sooner or later the content receptacles—and precious mental shelf space—started filling up again.

This year, I decided to tackle the problem by forcing myself to be more intentional about what I choose to read, listen to, and watch. To do that, I’ve created a new journal in Day One that I use for the sole purpose of logging what I read (whether it’s books, articles, blog posts, etc); what I listen to (whether it’s audiobooks, podcasts, and non-background music); what performances or public events I attend; or what museums or other points-of-interest I visit.

In order to reinforce intentionality, I’ve added some structure to the Day One log so that it takes a little work to make an entry: I try to add some sort of image—e.g., a jpg of the podcast logo, or of the book’s cover, of an image from the article or blog post; I add a link to the content itself if available, or, in the case of something like book or an album, a link to a review or the author’s website; and finally, some sort of simple comment or observation—e.g, a star rating, whether I should recommend it to someone else, how much time it took and whether it was worth that time, etc. And of course, some tags (#podcast, #article, #book, etc).

Now, when I’m tempted by some bit of content that swims up in my rss feed, or shows up in my podcast queue, I’m encouraged to think about whether it’s worth journaling, and, if it’s not, nine times out of ten, I move on to something else that is worth journaling. So far, it’s working pretty well, and I enjoy reviewing my entries at the end of the week to see what I’ve been up to. I’m visually oriented, so I find the images really help, but you may prefer other cues.

PS - I do also keep a list of books to read, things to listen to, performances to attend, or exhibits to see. I thought of putting these in Day One too, but for now they get added to an OmniFocus project, which is not ideal, but will have to do until I think of something better.

Oh, and one more thing: I add a PDF of the front page of the New York Times (my home town paper) every day, which makes me actually focus on what the big events of the day were.

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I have “maybe someday” lists of books, etc. and mainly ignore the list. It’s nevertheless a pleasant exercise to keep track of just because it shows me over time where my focus was, even if I never read those books or articles.

I try to focus on priorities: family first, work second, exercise and time for enjoyable reading next.

A backlog of a 100 podcasts plus 1,000s of articles equates to hundreds if not thousands of hours of undone labor – dragging that burden around day after day must be really hard on the psyche. Throw it all overboard and only do today what you can accomplish.

Katie

Or just read for fun. I’m reading a 1967 noir space opera, the first in a series of novels about a space vagabond named Dumarest, by a writer named EC Tubb. Who knew science fiction did noir before William Gibson?

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I have a backlog of more than 200 podcasts, a couple of dozen articles in Pocket, hundreds of books on my to-be-read list. Maybe I’ll get to them, maybe I won’t. Adding them to the lists removes the mental friction of thinking about whether I have to carve out time to consume them.

I’ve been in this situation a few times and whenever things get out of hand I declare todo list bankruptcy and clear everything out and start over.

This also works with email. If your inbox is full of thousands of emails, just delete/archive all of them and move on. If anything is really important, you’ll be able to get it back again. If you’re really paranoid, do a full backup of your email (most email services provide this) and store it in cloud storage somewhere just in case. Either way, don’t let it keep staring you in the face.

I used to just let emails pile up but I missed a couple of important things that way. Now I do inbox zero 5-7x every business day. It really doesn’t take long and it keeps me up-to-date.

I get hundreds of emails a day, like everybody else, but most of that doesn’t need to be read. Most of what needs to be read doesn’t require a response. I even have people emailing me repeatedly to ask for a response – I mostly ignore those, unless I actually have a business or personal relationship with them.

Achieving to-do list bankruptcy is I think my main reason for switching between task managers. I move everything over manually, retyping or cut-and-pasting. And when it’s done, my, look how organized my list is!