I’m on The Huffington Post!

Jan Ramsey Brick of Less For More Life has an article on The Huffington Post today, just in time for Valentine’s Day, titled Simple Relationship Advice From 14 Experts. I’m one of the experts, along with other notable minimalists, simplifiers, and lifestyle gurus like Courtney Carver, Joshua Fields Millburn, and Ryan Nicodemus.

If Katie and I didn’t have a healthy relationship, I don’t think we could have survived the stress of moving abroad. Our ability to function as a team and still operate as individuals has been as important to making living in Finland work as the minimalist principle we live by. As with everything else, it’s all about clearing away what you don’t need or want to make more space for what’s truly important.

Want more relationship advice? Check out The Outward-Facing Minimalist, available at Amazon!

We tend to label people who place their own desires above the needs of other people as toxic. In this collection of essays, author Berin Kinsman attempts to move away from the toxic label, rebranding the rude, cruel, and willfully ignorant behaviors that people in our lives engage in as “inward-facing”. You’ll learn how to identify and deal with their issues, as well as cultivate the empathy and compassion to become more outward-facing yourself. As with all things minimalist, it’s about letting go of what you don’t need in order to make more room for the things that you do.

Using Social Media to Boost Productivity

The internet and social media are usually considered to be distractions. They’re designed to be, because the longer you stay and the more links you click, the more ads the sites can serve up and the more revenue they generate. Your loss or productivity is their financial gain.

But it’s impossible to give up using the internet entirely. Its utility is readily apparent. Most of us maintain some tenuous connection to social media for personal or professional reasons, because there are people that we need or want to stay in touch with who refuse to use any other tools.

It is possible to use social media in a responsible and disciplined way. There are even ways to use it that actually boost your productivity, rather than draining it. You just need to decide what it is you actually need, and tweak your bookmarks so that they facilitate those needs.

I should throw out the caveat that I do not have social media apps on my phone. My access to Facebook and Twitter is through their websites. It’s part of controlling when and how I use social media. When I’m with friends and family, I want to give them my full attention. Because I have the mindset that my laptop is primarily a business space, it helps me to remember that I use social media for business reasons.

The first tweak I made was to set Goodreads as one of the startup page in Chrome, in addition to Gmail. I have email set up as my primary social media manager as mentioned previously. Goodreads is rapidly becoming my social network of choice because I’m a writer and a reader, and it helps reinforce good habits. I interact with other readers, and other writers. It supports my mission. Because I use the site to track what I’m currently reading, it also reminds me that instead of mindfully surfing the internet I could be reading a book. Updating the progress I’ve made in a book scratches the itch to post something, without getting sucked into pointless inanity.

The next tweak was to change my Twitter bookmark to open on a specific list. Rather than looking at my whole feed, it is a very specific group of fellow writers and professional contacts. Unless some major event occurs, the majority of the discussions there are about writing and publishing. If I need to bounce and idea off of someone, or another writer has a research question or wants some quick feedback, I’ll post. I only duck in quickly about once and hour, on a 5 minute Kanban break.

The final tweak was to change my Facebook bookmark to a group that I use similar to the Twitter list. It’s nothing but writers helping other writers, bouncing ideas around and offering advice and moral support. I realize that this utilization of Twitter and Facebook is a lot like a Slack team, and honestly, a few of us have discussed going that route, but all of us already use Facebook and Twitter to connect with readers, so adding yet another tool to do a specific thing we already do with multi-purpose tools is just so… not minimalist.

If you’re at all interested in storytelling, creative aids for fiction writers, or tabletop roleplaying games, head over to the Dancing Lights Press website and subscribe to the newsletter. It’s where you’ll be able to see updates on the project itself.

Focus on Bare Necessities

There’s not a lot on the table when I’m working. My laptop and wireless mouse. Maybe my calendar and notebook, along with a pen and color markers, which live in the drawer next to my left leg but will get left out if I’m using them frequently. In the neighbors are being noisy, or my anxiety is punching me in the amygdala, my headphones will be out so I can put them on and listen to white noise or ambient music. Recently I’ve added two more things: a gorgeous glass water pitcher that Katie found at a thrift store, and a very simple water glass.

I tend to get dehydrated. I used to drink coffee non-stop, but I’ve gotten very Finnish about that. They drink more coffee than anyone else in the world, but they make it a point to enjoy their coffee. I have yet to see a drive-thru serving coffee, because they don’t drink in their cars. You don’t see people walking around with a cup in their hands. They might have a cup at their desk, but it’s to put coffee in when they’re on a break and save a paper cup, not to drink at their desk. When they take a coffee break, they go to the break room, sit, relax, and drink coffee. None of this multi-tasking stuff. Now I do the same. Coffee is to be consumed away from my workspace.

The pitcher is there so I can pour myself a glass of water and sip it as needed. It allows me to drink more water, but it’s not distracting. I don’t need to get up and get a drink, even though I work in the kitchen and the sink is literally a meter away. If I’m writing and I stop to re-read something or pause to think about something, I can take a sip of water. So simple.

Because I work with the Pomodoro technique — write for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and take a 15-20 minute break every 4 cycles/2 hours — I don’t have to waste my 5’s getting something to drink. On my long break I refill the pitcher, then move to the living room or, in the spring and summer, go out on the patio to have my coffee.

Oh, and at least one of those 25 minute blocks during the day is devoted to knocking out unimportant and urgent, green-coded tasks.

If you’re at all interested in storytelling, creative aids for fiction writers, or tabletop roleplaying games, head over to the Dancing Lights Press website and subscribe to the newsletter. It’s where you’ll be able to see updates on the project itself.

Stick to the Plan

This is my second week of writing daily essays as the warmup for writing my next book, documenting my productivity habits, my process, and whatever else crosses my mind. So far it seems to be working for me, and hopefully I’m still providing something useful and entertaining for you as well.

Normally I write essays from an outline I’ve developed over time. I need to know what I’m going to write about and the structure the piece is going to have before I start putting down words. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I never start with a blank page, waiting for some muse to strike and tell me what to write. Instead, I start with a plan.

I don’t always stick to the plan, though. I stray from the outline as needed. That happens organically, though, as I’m writing. I decide that I want to come at a topic from a different angle, or I reorder the points I’m making so that they resonate and build upon one another better. But that’s part of the process that starts with a plan, and knowing what I’m going to write about when I sit down at the keyboard.

When I shifted to writing this productivity journal so I could focus on the book, I switched things up a bit though. I have an outline and a plan for the book, but not for this. Rather than planning out what I write, I’ve got documents in Scrivener titled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on. Today’s Wednesday, I open the blank document named Wednesday. I take whatever’s on my mind, usually whatever portion of my daily routine I just finished, and outline how to explain it. If I’ve got a personal anecdote to tie it to, I try to work that in. Then I just fill in the blanks.

If you’re at all interested in storytelling, creative aids for fiction writers, or tabletop roleplaying games, head over to the Dancing Lights Press website and subscribe to the newsletter. It’s where you’ll be able to see updates on the project itself.

Things Abandoned and Deferred

Sometimes minimalism means putting aside things you need to be doing in order to focus on the things you need more. It can also mean setting aside things that you want in order to free up resource for the things that you want even more. In a society driven by the notion that instant gratification is achievable and impulse control is for chumps, that can be hard to process. Sometimes things need to be abandoned and deferred.

When we decided to move to Finland so Katie could get her Master’s degree, we gave up a lot. No cable television. No internet at home. Limited dining out, and a very frugal food budget. It made moving to a new country and starting over with practically nothing a lot easier. If in the future we move again, back to the United States or to yet another country, we’ll be seasoned hands at this minimalist thing.

Giving up creative projects is different, though. There’s opportunity cost to consider. If I’m doing this, I’m not going to be able to do that. If your livelihood depends on the success of the project, you’re now introducing risk. I might be creatively challenged, but if the challenge means the project doesn’t turn out well, or if I pick a project that no one likes and no one buys, you’re sunk. Being a writer or an artist can feel like being a professional gambler sometimes; back the wrong horse, and you lose everything.

I think that’s why people are willing to embrace multitasking. If I spend all day doing just one thing, even if it gets the benefit of my full attention, I could fail. If I do a lot of little things, spread the money around with smaller bets on a lot of little horses, the odds are that I’ll win at something. You’ll never win big, though.

The big thing for me right now is staying in Finland. Just as it was two years ago, when every resource in my control was pointed toward getting here, it’s now concentrated on staying here. I was taking a multi-pronged approach for a while, but I’m not concentrating on one, and that’s finishing and selling my next book. It’s a risk, but the other things, the things I’ve temporarily abandoned or at least deferred until after the book is done, weren’t practical in the short term. One was becoming fluent enough in Finnish to pass the citizenship test; I have to be here for three years before I’m able to do that, and it’s moot if I can’t satisfy immigration with a justifiable reason to stay that long. The other is circulating my CV and trying to get a job. A lot of jobs require fluency, which I’m not going to get in a short span of time; unemployment is high, and unemployment for foreigners is even higher, so forging my own path, writing a great book, and putting all of my effort into running my own business seems like the best way to go.

If you’re at all interested in storytelling, creative aids for fiction writers, or tabletop roleplaying games, head over to the Dancing Lights Press website and subscribe to the newsletter. It’s where you’ll be able to see updates on the project itself.