I’ve been getting into a lot recently of being connected to systems, while at the same time really being as disconnected as possible from them. I starting thinking about that while reading Tim Ferriss‘s book, the 4 Hour Work Week. Tim gives examples of businesses that he’s set up, which require very little interaction from him anymore; check the email once a week, attend meetings rarely, etc… I think there’s a lesson there that can be applied to social media which will help people change their perspectives on how involved they need to be in the different conversations happening on a personal level (as apposed to representing a business), and on traits of being an active versus a passive participator.
Social Media Is Not For You
Social media is not for you to spend a copious amount of time on. Social media is there for you to use as a tool. Productive people don’t use social networks like Facebook by being on them for hours of a day, doing constant monitoring and updating. They use social network effectively as tools by managing their time, adding value, and by participating in discussions with others, each of which can be done in surprisingly very little time.
Most of the messages on social networks aren’t going to be directed at you, help you with your problems, or have anything to do with you. Hardly ever will those messages be urgent or important. And that’s absolutely fine. The only thing that you need to learn from that is to behave in response to that appropriately. Watching the stream can be a nice way to fill in your work hours, or feel connected with the few people on twitter that you really care about staying updated with, but it’s habit forming and it’s an almost 100% unproductive use of time.
Chances are you’ll never get an @reply or a DM on Twitter where if you don’t reply in 5 minutes, anyone will notice. If you cut down your social media usage to a few times or only once a day you might come in on the late end of the conversations that occur, but that’s actually a benefit. You might want to be the first person who replies or comments to the initial question, “What is it About TweetDeck, Web 2.0’s Bloomberg Terminal?” and follow that discussion and it develops. On the other hand, you could save yourself from the distraction, staying focused on doing productive work, and join the discussion at a later time and reap the benefits of joining a discussion that has already matured, either into something relevant and interesting that’s worth your time participating, or into a superficial or shallow discussion, in which case you’ve saved yourself time.
Social Media As A Distraction
People underestimate how much of a distraction checking different social networks and pulling up their clients is. Enabling notifications for twitter clients I’ve noticed was one of the worst productivity decisions I could have made 8 months ago, and it was only two days ago that I learned the trick to increasing my focus, being more productive, and saving time.
For all the talk that’s out there, not multitasking seems to be an idea that’s pretty well known by now. Wrong. People still have the same problem of standing up from a three hour computer session, looking up, and then trying to figure out what it was they just did for the past three hours.
“I opened up Word, while that was loading I checked Gmail and Twitter, then spent a few minutes organizing my resources before writing. After starting to write for a few minutes I saw a notification of Will asking me about a website, sent him a quick message, then decided to check Facebook before getting back to work…”
Since upfront the barrier to participate in social networks is so low, and there’s still some value to be taken by just checking-in on your friends, people think it doesn’t count as multi-tasking. That’s a bad habit that should be stopped in the name of getting anything done.
David Allen, Tim Ferris, and so many others have all repeated the key to being productive: Focus. Let’s create a new definition for what a distraction is, after all, distractions are the enemy of focus:
Anything that takes your eyes’ attention is a distraction.
This definition is really dangerous in the sense that it automatically creates hundreds of distractions for us in our environment. Not only are notifications distractions now, but our work environment is now filled and cluttered with distractions. Now, even our desktop environments and office tools are out to get us.
A Social Media Diet
A social media diet is not to remove social media from your lifestyle or habits, but to remove it from your hourly or to-the-minute habits.
1. Turn General Notifications Off
Turn them all off if possible. If you find it to difficult to cut yourself off completely, only enable notifications for messages directed at you personally, @replies and direct messages. Everything else can wait.
2. Batch It
If you can manage it, check and correspond on social networking sites at specific times of day: Morning, before lunch, mid-afternoon, early evening. This rule is the hardest for me.
3. Reduce Your Inboxes
This is the same rule that applies to emails, and tasks. Either combine the streams, or choose to not follow some. There are tools that make doing this much easier. Two that I’ve used in the pass include the Flock Browser, Zenbe, and Digsby.
4. Focus on Sharing
A more productive way to participate on social networks is to give yourself a goal of sharing great quality content with your followers. Find some great articles, and share them using the FriendFeed bookmarklet. This gives you the opportunity to participate, and is also one of the fastest ways build credit and credibility with your followers through the network.
5. Use TweetDeck
TweetDeck is the “fire hose” of information streams, it’s a bad idea to stick your face in front of it all day, but it’s great to the big picture with only a glance. You can use whatever twitter client you prefer, but I find that to get all the information I need at the fastest speed, TweetDeck wins hands down.
Here’s another great post by Leo Babauta on tips to use Twitter productively: A Minimalist’s Guide to Using Twitter Simply, Productively, and Funly
How many times have you checked Twitter while reading this article?