It almost seems like magic the way that most social media juggernauts tweet, update Facebook, upload YouTube videos and respond to comments, seemingly nonstop, all while still managing to get work done. This is an issue that I have struggled with for quite some time. Recently, however, I have been exploring techniques to help myself better manage my time during the day, get more work done, and still remain engaged in social media.
Scheduling in time for social media
Once I began scrutinizing my daily work flow, one of the first things I discovered was that, while I was keeping a steady stream of engagement, the stream of engagement was chaotic and sporadic. In the social media world this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, if you are trying to get real work done it is actually a huge distraction.
Every time I broke my train of thought to answer a tweet or respond to a Facebook comment, I was breaking down my productivity and inevitably getting less work done. So I hit Google with a few quick searches, looking for some advice. I quickly realized that the main problem was in my lack of planning and scheduling. Maybe if I devoted a fixed amount of time to social media engagement I could keep from breaking my concentration multiple times an hour.
Image by Habatares
I decided to make a list of the most important social media interactions and execute them all within 10-15 minutes. My initial list looked something like this:
- Browse Dribble, bucket a few great pieces, follow a few great designers, comment on any good shots.
- Check Google Reader and add any worthwhile articles to Buffer (will talk more about this later)
- Respond to any @ replies on Twitter
- Respond to any interesting Tweets in my HootSuite feeds
- Browse StumbleUpon and find something worth sharing
- Reply to any comments on my blog
This list is in no way complete, nor is it a one size fits all. Your list might look completely different. Maybe you find the best engagement on Facebook. Maybe you’re more of a Forrst user. Maybe you’re an avid Yelper or Stack Overflow user. Your list should be tailored to your preferred networks and preferred level of engagement.
You’ve got the list, now use it. And if you can’t accomplish it in 10-20 minutes, keep working on it until you feel it can complete it within a reasonable amount of time. Now go through the list once in the morning, then put it away, focus, and get some work done.
Making the most of your time
Now that you have a simple strategy for social media engagement without wasting time, using different tools can really help you get the most out of these small windows of interaction:
An obvious problem with the 10-20 minute strategy is that you run the risk of flooding your streams with links and content in a really short period of time. Some of your followers/friends might not care for this as it feels spammy and can be kind of annoying.
Using a tool like Buffer can minimize this by scheduling your tweets to be shared at different times of the day. I’ve never been a huge fan of scheduling tweets but I have realized that, like most social media techniques, there’s a right and a wrong way to use it. Putting link shares on a schedule is fine because there’s no time factor. No one cares whether you actually shared an article right at this moment or shared it this morning and it’s just now showing up. However, any tweet which answers the question “What’s Happening?” should not be scheduled as it can be really misleading to your followers. I’m open to other opinions here, this is just how I’ve come to see it.
Social media dashboards
Social media dashboards can help you manage your social feeds and allow you to engage more quickly, efficiently and maintain a higher level of quality within your interactions. I’ve used a few social media dashboards here and there but the one I’ve settled on is HootSuite, mainly because it works well overall and is free. I also recommend Seesmic or TweetDeck, both of which are pretty solid and well vetted. If you know of any others which are worth mentioning, please share in the comments section below.
Practice makes perfect
The first time you employ the 10-20 minute engagement strategy, you may be left feeling like you haven’t done enough. This technique isn’t common and is pretty much the opposite of the way we are used to doing things. Just stick to it and you’ll start seeing the benefit within the first day. The more you work at it the better the engagement will become.
Social media apps and integration tools
In the past, social media apps and integration tools which cause mobile alerts and desktop notifications have led me to dramatic decreases in productivity. This might not be a huge distraction to everyone but, if you’re like me, when you see a growl notification, a red number on top of a dock icon, or hear your phone vibrate on your desk, you can’t help but check it.
If this sounds like you, the main advice I can give you is to examine your social media apps and tools and ask yourself if you really need them on during the day. Are they really worth the distraction and loss in productivity? If the answer is no, uninstall and stick with the 10-20 minute strategy we discussed earlier. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself at the end of the day when work has actually been done :)
Social web browsers
A social media web browser can be a great way to stay connected to your various networks during the day. Be careful though, as they can quickly become a hefty distraction. I don’t personally recommend using a social media browser while you are working but, during down time, they can be really useful and a great way to keep up with your networks.
An obvious contender here is RockMelt. I have a couple pals who use it and rave about it. RockMelt renders like Chrome, but as I mentioned above, I don’t recommend using it for development.
I haven’t come across many other decent social web browsers (aside from the now deadpooled Flock). Do you know of any other contenders? Let me know in the comments section below!
The best thing you can do to minimize social media distractions is to go dark. The goal here is to cut yourself off from the networks which are distracting you and taking attention away from your work. Pretty much anything which produces alerts, notifications or messages is a potential distraction.
This concept was tough to wrap my head around at first. Once I gave it a try, though, I saw immediate results. My time in the “zone” increased and I felt more accomplished at the end of the day. This might seem scary at first, but try it for an hour, then two hours, then three and you will see a notable increase in productivity.
If you want to get extreme, I recommend shutting off your phone and logging out of your email as well. It might not be wise to ride a blackout like this for too long, but a little time in the dark side will help you appreciate the light side even more!
Engaging in social media is one of the best things you can do for your digital self. Creating relationships and engaging others is extremely important. It only becomes a problem when social media engagement interferes with your other projects and tasks. Hopefully I have helped you come to realize that the solution comes down to scheduling, proper time management, and of course the occasional blackout :)
Do you have any other tips for keeping up with social media without losing productivity? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!