Rules of (Digital) Engagement

If you are reading this right now, it’s likely that you engage digitally for business and/or pleasure. There is a big, bright, virtual world out there for you to explore; offering entertainment, inspiration, information and opportunity.

That said, if you don’t engage with purpose, all of those amazing benefits will turn to distraction, frustration and a black hole of mindless reacting. It is also easy to start measuring your self worth in terms of subscribers, followers, friends and word count. All of those things are meaningless.

Follow these rules for a more enjoyable, efficient, honest digital experience.

This is my favorite tool to connect with people for business and pleasure.

  • Don’t follow everyone that follows you or you will spend all of your Twitter time reacting.
  • Instead of asking for retweets, share something that people feel compelled to share.
  • Set a time limit when you go to twitter.
  • Share something helpful.
  • Ask questions and answer questions.
  • Have a conversation. With people.
  • Don’t watch for updates or for people to mention you.
  • When 20 minutes are up, sign out.

I have a personal Facebook account with fewer than 50 friends. My close friends and family are on this list and no one else. For a while I connected with more people, but knew there was a problem when I was looking at a “friend’s” vacation pictures who I hadn’t talked to in more than 20 years, while my vacation pictures were still on an SD card.

  • don’t answer the question “what’s on your mind”. Somethings are better left unsaid.
  • set a time limit. 20 minutes is usually enough.
  • thoughtfully engage.
  • Have conversations. With people.

This is an awesome tool to chat via video or audio. It’s free for Skype to Skype calls and very inexpensive to use as a phone line to call land lines or mobile phones.

  • Don’t assume that because someone is “on Skype” they want to talk.
  • Send a text chat through Skype and ask “is this a good time?” Even better, set an appointment. That shows you value your time and theirs.
  • Set your status to “away” or “invisible” if you are on another call or otherwise engaged.

If you currently receive an email when someone unsubscribes from your mailing list, or twitter feed, or facebook page, stop that. Pay attention to the overall trend of the numbers, but not the individual unsubscribes. When you are following someone that isn’t adding value to your life or digital experience, unfollow.

Unless you are transporting organs for transplants, you don’t need immediate notifications about anything. You can find what you need to know on your own time. When it matters. If it matters. Notifications are distractions.

  • Turn off notifications. All of them.
  • Your phone shouldn’t remind you that you have email.
  • The first thing you see when you open your computer doesn’t have to be an announcement of who is on or off Skype.
  • You don’t need an email to tell you who subscribed and who unsubscribed from anything.
  • Birds don’t need to chirp when someone mentions you on Twitter.

Blog Reading
There is some amazing information being written and recorded and shared, but you don’t need to consume all of it.

  • Instead of scanning 30 blog posts a day, thoughtfully read 5 a week.
  • Engage, comment, or share something special that you read instead of catching up or keeping up with 100’s of posts in your blog reader.
  • Most reading material is not time sensitive. Set aside an hour each week to read your favorite blogs, instead of squeezing them in between tasks.

If you’ve ever spent a work day sending and receiving email and wondering why nothing got done, these rules will help.

  • Follow my 5 rules for email sanity.
  • Don’t check email first thing in the morning. Do the things that mean most to you first, instead of reacting to what is important to everyone else.
  • Limit email engagement to a few times a day instead of checking every few minutes to see if you have mail.

These are the rules I follow. They aren’t the rules. Make them your own and modify them to work better for you. The point is that you are thoughtfully engaging. Understand that everytime you tweet, or post or hit publish, you are asking for someone’s attention. If you value people, and their attention, you’ll begin to share meaningful information and to share less.

Always keep in mind that followers, readers, friends, and stangers who email you are people. Clients, prospects and leads are people. Treat them like people.  If you want to develop personal friendships online, think of other people when you share information. If you want to be successful in business, think less about strategy and more about people.

Last, but not least, please don’t follow any of these rules in your car. The most important thing you can do when you’re driving is drive. Turn your phone off when you get in your car. (unless you transport organs for transplants)

If you scanned through this post and missed most of the rules above, just follow these  3 rules of engagement:
Be kind. Solve problems. Make someone smile.

I’ve started a new weekly note. It’s free. Learn more here if you’re interested.



  1. says

    This really gives me some food for thought. I can easily waste a ton of time on the computer without even realizing it. I just came across your blog and I am really enjoying it-very inspiring. I love the mini-missions. I am easily overwhelmed, but even I can handle these mini missions. Thank you.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Eileen, I’m glad you like the mini-missions. Some of the changes we make to live a simpler life take time, but some can be done in just a few minutes. As much as I appreciate slow, deliberate change, I also really love immediate gratification.

  2. says

    A good list. One I’m always trying to balance is blog reading. I really like Instapaper for this. If you see a post you want to read, but you don’t really have time to read it now, you can click a “read later” button in your browser. Then you can go back to your saved articles when you have some downtime.

  3. says

    Since reading your e-book, I have my email response time down to 30 minutes a day. I try to only check it twice a day, but that is still hard for me! I only check FB once a day, 5 minutes on average a day! And, I use Twitter to share what inspires me or what I find useful. I’m not sure how to have a conversation on Twitter? And, I’ve been calling people more than emailing them.

    • says

      P.S. Savor a few blogs instead of partaking in the whole buffet works for me! I don’t want to leave anyone out, but it comes down to what is feeding me. If I want to connect with the people I’ve met through blogging, there are other ways besides reading all of their blogs!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Marci a conversation on Twitter is just responding to someone’s question or comment, or inviting people to respond to you.

  4. says

    So so true!!!

    I love all these tips and have taken a few years to realise some myself, like turn off all notifications!!! Liberating!

    I’ll be sharing this on facebook so many people would have a better day, month, year if they started doing these!

    Thanks again, loving your blog!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks Fiona, I only recently turned off Skype notifications. They were built in so until I was really annoyed, it didn’t occur to me to turn them off. Now opening my computer is much more peaceful.

  5. Bill M says

    I have my own method, do not use Twitter, it is not secure; I do not skype, waste; Facebook!? it’s even more unsecure than Twitter. I have email accounts set for various kinds of email. That way I know what to check when. Some accounts get checke early morning and later at night. Others get checked only when I have the time. Makes zapping old and unneeded email easy. Anything can be a waste of time. I find the first 3 the biggest time wasters.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Bill, They can all be huge time wasters unless you engage mindfully. When you do, they can be great tools for connecting personally and for business. I haven’t had any trouble with security issues on FB or Twitter and hope that continues to be the case.

      I love your thoughtful email management.

  6. says

    The email tip is great! Doing something I enjoy first thing in the morning other than email sounds like a good idea! I don’t use Twitter and I’ll admit I don’t understand it fully, but following someone on Twitter seems like alot of work.

  7. says

    Very clear and concise rules. I like them alot. Lately I’ve been getting on the internet to email and facebook no more than twice a day and not at all from my phone. I’ve adopted the idea that I get online with a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is to goof off but mostly its to catch up on a few blogs, do my banking, and get email out of the way, and not let it fester.

  8. says

    I received a link to this post from a friend, as I was bemoaning how much of my time seemed to be vaporizing into thin air trying “keep up” digitally – This is some of the best and most sound advice I read about the subject. Thank you so much for a great post! I sincerely thought to myself – “Wow! She gets it! She knows exactly what I’m struggling with.” I especially liked the comment about immediate notifications. It seems the entire planet now also expects an immediate response! I am an outdoor communicator – and frankly having to respond to every immediate notification completely defeats my reason for spending as much time out of doors as I can. Most of the time when I am afield my phone is off – there is no such thing as a “duck call emergency” folks. I’ll get back to you at the end of the day or tomorrow. Our societies ever increasing need for immediacy wears on me.

  9. says

    Thanks I really needed this blog post. I have my own blog so with my blog, twitter, Facebook (personal and fan) page, my youtube, and 2 email accounts sometimes I feel as though all I do is think about and check accounts. I am going to take your advice and limit the time I spend on social networks, limit fb friends, and take a day or two off per week.

  10. says

    Great ideas. It is so easy to spend hours on the computer without realizing it. There are lots of good things out there to read, but it can take up time that needs to be spent living instead!

  11. says

    Until very recently, I subscribed to dozens of newsletters. I’d say about half of that was in the minimalist community and the other half in Internet Marketing or How to Blog genre. At the beginning of this year I un-sub’d everything and now I have to make a conscious decision to go out and read something, like I did with this article.

    Two weird things about this…one, it’s been several weeks and I still catch myself hitting refresh on my email account for my iPhone and nothing pops up…still hoping something pops through I guess.

    And the second thing is the amount of extra money I seem to have in my account now. With a couple dozen newsletters, there were several enticements to buy. This is more so true in the Internet marketing world where every email is a solicitation. But still, it all adds up.

    – Charlie

  12. says

    It is so interesting to find that once I stopped being obsessed with it, things started to grow the way I had hoped they would.

    Now it is fun to open up stats here and there and go, wow! Instead of checking daily or even more than once a day on how it’s all going :) I really like engaging more as well instead of thinking of it as strategy, I’ve actually met some very cool people and found inspiration through them as well.

    I don’t even keep the ringer on most of the time on my phone anymore. Just because it rings does not mean I need to stop what I’m doing and answer it, though I think it is important to get back to people. It is also important to pay attention to who I am with in the moment or where my attention is in the moment.

    Love your rules. I continue to fill my mind with this type of thing and keep myself on a clearer path. At least for myself.


  13. Bryan says

    I really enjoyed this. I’ve been trying to make adjustments to the time I spend on all of the social networks and am slowly, incrementally improving. This was a great reminder.

  14. says

    Hello Courtney.
    I really found interesting information here. specially about Twitter. I like your 20 minutes rule on twitter.

    I have been told that it is good to engage with other users (They always say the more you interact in twitter the more you get response). It was true but… on the last two days I was overwhelmed with the amount of time and effort spent on Twitter to make engagement with around 5-10 people which costs me around 5 hours for onlyy two days.

    Yet, I’m wondering when it comes to your website traffic… do you think twitter is good source to get traffic? or is it better to spend time on creating quality content and leave the rest of the work for Mr. Google search?

    Thanks :)

    • Courtney Carver says

      I do think Twitter delivers great website traffic AND there is far better connection compared to search engine visitors. People you connect with will spend more time and typically resonate more with your message vs. search. Hope that makes sense.


  1. […] – Some of you have asked how I spread my message online without letting social media take over my life. My friend Courtney wrote a great post on this topic and it happens to be a wonderful summary of my online policy too. Read: Rules of (Digital) Engagement. […]