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Minimalist Blogging

LeoThis guest post was written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

In recent months, I’ve reduced the time I spend writing posts for my blog to about half a day’s work, and I spend about an hour or so more every day of the week responding to comments and emails.

That’s probably 20% of the time I used to spend blogging just a few months ago, and yet with this form of minimalist blogging, I’ve actually increased readership (to well over 1 million page views a month) and made it into the Technorati Top 100.

How is that possible, to work less and accomplish more? By focusing on the essentials, and nothing else.

I’m a minimalist at heart — ask my readers. One of the most popular posts on my site is a Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home, but this minimalist philosophy pervades just about everything else I do. I have not completely achieved minimalism in every aspect of my life, but it’s my guiding light.

And when I take a look at something from a minimalist perspective, I always ask myself: what are the bare essentials here? What is the core of this? It’s what I do when I declutter a room, or clear my desk, or declutter my blog’s sidebar, or decide what I carry in my pockets (only 2 things).

And so I asked myself: what is essential about my blog? And the answer: very useful posts that are quick reads. It’s not the ads, it’s not MyBlogLog, it’s not affiliate marketing. It’s the posts, the content.

And while many people have said before that “content is king”, they don’t always take that idea to its logical conclusion: not much else matters.

Does nothing else matter? No. I’m not saying that at all. Yes, you have to work hard (especially in the beginning) to find readership. Yes, you have to comment on other blogs, and promote yourself on social bookmarking, and respond to readers, and write guest posts on other blogs. Those things are all important, especially when you’re trying to make a name for yourself.

But when you want to boil a blog down to its essentials, in my eyes, the two most important things are (in this order):

  1. good, useful content; and
  2. being responsive to readers

So those are the things I focus on almost exclusively now. Here’s what I did, and what the results have been:

  • Cut my posting down to 5 a week (weekdays only). At first, I was doing multiple posts a day, a mixture of long and short posts. Then I cut it to 7 a week, with a longer feature-type post each day. Then, after asking my readers if it would make a difference to them if I cut my posts down to 5 a week, I made the decision not to post on weekends. Not many readers read my site on weekends anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal to most people. And it drastically reduced the pressure on me. Now, I am free to post on the weekends, or do a short second post on weekdays, but I am committed to only 5 a week.
  • Write all my posts on one day. This is a recent experiment of mine, but it seems to be working well. I’ve designed one day a week (Thursdays) for writing my 5 posts. The night before, I come up with the post topics for those 5 posts (I have a running ideas list that I choose from). Then, in the morning on Thursday, I first get all the images for the posts, do formatting, do research, and generally get everything all set up. Takes about 30 minutes. Then I focus on writing each post, one at a time, trying to write the best content I possibly can. I block everything else out. Takes about half my work day. Possibly longer, if I feel lazy and take long breaks. Either way, I’m done before the end of Thursday, with time left over for reading ProBlogger.
  • Invited guest bloggers. I can’t accept many offers for guest writing on my blog, as I want to keep guest posts to once a week, but I try to invite some of the best bloggers to write a guest post for me from time to time. This allows my blog to have fresh content from some great writers, while reducing the time I spend writing each week — it reduces my posts per week from 5 to 4, on the weeks I have a guest writer.
  • Decluttered my design. I try to extend my minimalist philosophy to my design as well. I’m actually going through a redesign right now, but in the meantime, I’ve eliminated a lot of elements from my blog’s design. It’s not as minimalist as I’d like it, but I try to reduce it to the essentials. This also means less maintenance for me. Here’s a better article on this topic.
  • Reduced ads. I’ve tried probably 6 different ad services, but have cut them to the top 3 earners. Could I earn more with more ad services? Sure, but that’s more clutter for my readers, and with little return for me. I focus on just the most important ones, and the readers appreciate that. It also means less time spent checking ad earnings (I usually only do it once a week now).
  • One hour of reader comments and emails, plus feed reading, a day. Email and comments and feed reading used to take up most of my day. Really, these things can fill up as much time as you give them. Instead, I’ve given myself about an hour. Some days it’s a little more, but I try to keep it down. I respond to everything at once, trying to clear my inbox if possible. I also cut my feeds down to 10, and only read the best 6 posts each day from those 10 feeds. It’s been a huge reduction in time, but I still respond to everyone if I can, and it hasn’t hurt my blog.
  • Cut out the rest as much as possible. I used to check stats, Technorati, ad earnings, etc. all day long. It was counterproductive, and in truth, it didn’t do much except feed my addiction. I decided it’s not worth it. I still check those things most days, but it’s much less than before. The fact is, these things don’t help your readers at all, and they’re not essential.
  • The results of this minimalist blogging? My readership has continued to increase. Perhaps not at the rate it did in the first few months, but in the last three months I’ve gained 8,000 subscribers.
  • An even better result? My focus on content has reminded me what’s important, and allowed me to write some of my best posts. Perhaps not every single post I write is stellar, but I think some of my favorite posts I’ve every written have come in the last month or so. That’s because I’ve focused on the essential, and let the other stuff be minimized.
About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Koen says:

    Wow, that’s much steps you’ve had there. I guess your tip for writing all the posts on 1 day is great, for most blogs. I might try to experiment with that soon. Thanks for the tip.

    Your site indeed looks minimalistic, and not cluttered. Very great. I was trying to declutter my blog today too, so your tips might come in handy.

    Thanks!

  2. That was a really long post and was very helpful. Thanks Leo!

  3. John says:

    Very nice post! Thanks for the tips. I’m also going to give that tip – write all posts in one day – a try.

  4. Ben Evert says:

    This is great !!! Another blogger learning that there is more to life than blogging and stats. I downsized my posting 15 months ago and basically quite looking at stats 4 months ago and life is so much better.

    Continue to spread the word.

  5. Laura says:

    Thanks Leo for the post. Right now, I’m still working on organizing and writing ahead on my posts into twice a week from the current 6 days during the week. I’m going to write a few posts today and a few posts tomorrow. I appreciate the advice and look forward to reading your blog from now on!

  6. I’d +1 this myself. I used to feel compelled to write everyday. I now write maybe twice a week at most. Subscribers have gone through the roof. Traffic stays relatively high and feedback from readers is that when I actually *do* write, they sit up and take notice.

  7. mariam says:

    I like the minimalist approach too. As a reader, it scares me to read long posts. The fact is, most topics have been blogged to death and few are worth my time to read. Only a few blogs can be the authority of a subject matter and I know I’m not one of them. So, I just save everyone’s time and keep my posts short but at a regular schedule.

  8. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for the great tips! I’ve been inspired. I also like to take the minimalistic approach when it comes to my blog; however, it is still a new blog that is growing slowly.

    One problem I’m dealing with in my writing schedule is the frequency of writing the posts. I write whenever something is occurring in my house, so sometimes I write a lot, sometimes I don’t. But, I’m trying to post at regular intervals. It’s a balance I’m still trying to keep.

    Your ideas have really made me think and have given me a starting point to improve my posting frequency. Thanks, again!

  9. Stephanie says:

    I remember when I discovered that I didn’t need to check stats so often. I allow myself to do that once a week, unless there’s something I need to check on. It really helps.

  10. thanks for the tips, especially on design matter.

  11. Blog Bloke says:

    Good post Darren. Funny, but I just went through a posting spurt and gained a whole bunch of new subscribers. Go figure ;-)

    When you already have a successful blog that has a momentum going like yours does you can probably get away with taking it easier as you say. But as for newer bloggers starting out… blood sweat and tears would more likely be in order.

    I think your writing has improved immensely btw. There is a certain vulnerability that comes across in your communication that is very appealing.

    Keep up the good work bro. Cheers!

    P.s.: Is there any way you can implement a preview option before hitting the submit button for comments? That would be a nice feature to add. Just a thought.

    …BB

  12. Blog Bloke says:

    Oops. I meant good post Leo (with egg on my face :)

  13. Jaffer says:

    Psst… Blog Bloke ! This post was by Leo !

    I agree with you about a preview option for the comments too.
    Sometimes, I regret discovering a mistake after hitting “submit”.

  14. Seanabc says:

    I’m still hooked on checking my stats. I take your point though. There are more productive things I could be doing.

  15. All I can say “WOW”. I guess that you can actually achieve more by doing less. I need to implement this philosophy into my blog and websites. Thank you for an eye opening post. I’m going over to your site and sign up for future posts.

  16. Simonne says:

    I would say this article is inspirational: make it big, then you’ll be able to relax and still gain momentum.

    @Jaffer: there is a WordPress plugin which enables readers to edit their own comments: http://www.raproject.com/wordpress/wp-ajax-edit-comments/

  17. SusieJ says:

    I have been pondering the same issue — and wasn’t sure how to implement this in my blog. First, thank you for showing us how you did it, and the results. I will definitely take your tips to heart as I try to re-evaluate my blog’s “work flow.”

  18. Kathy says:

    One thing I’ve learned fairly quickly is to avoid posting on weekends. The tiny readership I have now drops off even more precipitously on Sat/Sun, so I try not to waste any good stuff in the “dead zone.”

  19. Msterilinn says:

    What a great post! No wonder you have such a loyal and growing readership Leo. Congratulations on your success… keep up the good work. I will keep your view on minimizing in mind. ;)

    Teri
    ~

  20. Leo says:

    Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone! I don’t have any claims to perfection, but I think it’s always good to remind yourself every now and then what’s important. That helps bring your focus to where it should be.

  21. Leo, you are a machine man, I love your blog and the fact you can write such clean, easy to read content. You are an inspiration!

  22. Thank you Leo. I’ve been trying to figure out how much to post, and this really helped me. Great article with great applications.

  23. Brian Clark says:

    Bravo! I had my best month ever at Copyblogger by the 20th of September with only 12 posts (that includes guest writers). Still got a week left to make the numbers grow, but I agree wholeheartedly–the key is to post less and better.

  24. Firewalker says:

    I’m having a trouble with ‘good and useful content’ because my blog only focused on my personal achievement.

  25. Firewalker says:

    One thing about minimalist that I favor is:

    “Comfortable”

    Why comfortable?

    Actually this is personal reason, because I am currently in developing the habit of reading. I only read things that I like. But if you present me with simple articles and provide me with relevant links, I would gladly to read it. This is the most ‘comfortable’ reading style that I prefer.

  26. I love the tip about writing all of your posts for the week in one day. I’ve thought about doing this before but second guess myself and think that it might be an easy way to get burnt out. I feel like I’ve taken a fairly minimal approach to my blog currently, but I’m sure there are still things I could tidy up a bit.

    Good tip for the one our a day to check email, comments, etc. too. Seems right now I’m doing all these things at random times throughout the day. I need to really get in a habit of setting a time aside easy evening to do these things and only do it for one hour.

  27. Blog Bloke says:

    I forgot to mention that I already touched on this in my post “Shattering 7 Blog Myths“. Shameless self promotion is OK … right?

  28. Brad V. says:

    There’s that old saying that “less is more”, and you certainly showed that in your post. Blogging in general used to be very minimalist in the early days, but things started getting complex as blogging caught on and more and more people started making money at it.

    Great post and excellent tips! Thank you!

  29. Adam Singer says:

    Great stuff as usual Darren. I wish I could put in the time you do to really garner a readership and following with my blog. I just need a better topic to write on (music just doesn’t work). I’m keeping notes of all your tips for when I find something I’m happy writing about on a daily basis, you’re a font of information.

  30. Rene says:

    Great suggestions, thank you. As our blog grows, I’m finding that it’s taking a huge amount of time away from our having fun, which is what our journey is all about. I will definitely follow your tips, especially about writing once a week. Thanks!

  31. Gisele says:

    Thanks for the idea of the guest blogger or writer. I would never have thought of that one and I will actually actively prospect other blogs that might welcome an article from me.

    Thanks again,

    Gisele
    http://www.mybeautymatch.com

  32. Great tips and the reminder that the content is what matters most. I love writing my blog every morning and it takes about an hour. That routine works for me. I feel inspired in the morning and if I am very relaxed and just let the fingers do the work and inspiration flows. I like your minimalist approach because it seems you are aligned with what works best for you.

    Joseph in the low of inspiration at http://www.explorelifeblog.com

  33. Bengt says:

    Leo writes “That’s probably 20% of the time I used to spend blogging just a few months ago”. In other words, this is an excellent example of Pareto’s principle or the 80/20 rule. It says that 20% of your work gives 80% of the result.

    I try to do this minimalist thing too but with slow progress at present.

  34. Peter says:

    I like this guy’s approach. Lots of random, cool content http://www.mofata.com