How can we maintain focus when we head online?
Yes, we need to seek our own version of Walden Pond to find refuge from our hectic digital world, as I wrote about here. But realistically, if your work and lifestyle is anything like mine, you are going to be spending a lot of time immersed in the digital realm most days. So in addition to considering how to carve spaces and time away from things digital, we must also seek ways to maintain focus and creativity in the time we spend online. We also need to ensure we are using online tools to serve our goals, not frenetically reacting to every ping, tweet and text that comes our way. By doing so, we can leverage today’s tools to learn, connect and be productive. Done right, when we’re done our work in front of the screens, we shouldn’t feel frazzled. Here are 7 tips for focused and productive digital time; I’d love to hear your suggestions!
1) Know your purpose and set goals: What role do online tools play in your life? Is social media a key part of your work, or primarily for fun? Maybe like me finding and sharing recipes is a key part of your cooking plan, or you use it for some other serious hobby. If like many people online tools are at least in part serving some overarching purpose, as opposed to pure entertainment, set some goals for what you want to accomplish for your use of online tools. For instance, I want to gradually grow my influence to support goals I have for my Social Capital Inc. (SCI) work as well as increase readership on this blog and Cooking Chat. I allocate my online activities with an eye toward achieving those goals.
2) Have a plan: Go online with a plan of what you are there to do. Checking to see if you’ve had any mentions on Twitter to respond to? Sharing a photo from your walk on Facebook? Get that purpose in mind, and stick to that–or at least limit checking out other things while you are there. I sometimes write my priority on a post-it note by the keyboard as a reminder.
3) Set boundaries on email and social media time: Realistically, we’re not going to do just one thing each time we’re online. I believe setting boundaries or time budgets for our time is key, and linking those boundaries to our overall goals. I typically devote some time while eating breakfast and drinking my coffee to reading some online articles and scheduling tweets, but I have an end time in mind. I know there are a lot of “zero inbox” proponents out there that believe in clearing out one’s email at the end of the day. My approach, in keeping with the balance thing, is to say, “OK, I’ll spend the final 30 minutes of the day managing email.” In the spirit of proper balance, when I reach the time I set, I’m signing off to go home and cook my family dinner!
4) Realize what social media can’t do for you: Though social media does serve some broader goals I have, I need to remember growing my social media following is not the most important task on my plate. I’m not a full-time social media professional; rather, social media is in the mix of communication tools that help me accomplish my work goals. Social media definitely is helpful for our SCI goals, but it really is just a supplement to activities like targeted outreach to key partners and one-on-one contact with supporters. In fact, in the context of my work, social media is at its best when it’s well-integrated with the other planning and communication activities we are doing. For instance, in prepping for a meeting in a new community, I will see who has an active social presence in the community, engage with them and record their contact information in our customer relations management (CRM)–currently we’re using Insightly. Keeping in mind what social media can’t do for me, reminds me to peel away from it when my social media time is up and get on to other priorities.
5) Stay on your feet: Ever say, “I’ll just do this one thing online…” before logging off to read or do some other activity for the rest of the night…and then that one thing leads to another, and you’ve spent another hour online? One trick I’ve learned is to do that “one thing” while standing, rather than getting comfy on the couch. This is easy for me as I often have my laptop open on the counter while fixing dinner, to play some music, engage a bit with online foodie friends, and check/create recipes. So after dinner, I’ll often leave it in that spot and take care of that one thing. Being on my feet reminds me of my intention not to be online much longer, and I tend to stay focused and get into a good book sooner rather than later.
6) Organize for digital depth: The torrent of tweets and other data streams can be dizzying at times. While the serendipitous finds by dipping into this stream can be fun, I find it important to organize the inflow to allow for focus and depth. I’m a huge fan of Twitter lists for this purpose. I follow a lot of people, but have over 25 lists across my accounts to help me focus on topics of interest, ranging from Boston nonprofits for work to some of my favorite Cooking Chat friends. Another thing I like to do is “favorite” tweets that link to articles that sound like I’ll want to give them a closer read, to save them for a block of focused online reading time. In addition, I’ve worked on organizing feeds, using Feedly since Google Reader was sunset, from favorite blogs and news sources by topic, and check those several times a week if not daily. I find those feeds to be a great source for in-depth reading.
7) Consider Blogging Regularly: When I first began tweeting, my blogging frequency definitely slipped. It’s so much easier to compose 5 or 10 unrelated tweets then to string together paragraphs for a good blog post. But I find blogging regularly is a good way to go a little deeper on subjects and develop my own ideas and content. I do a combination of public blogging along with a private blog that serves more like a journal rounding up reading notes, quotes and reflections. I realize blogging isn’t for everyone, but if you are interested in developing your own personal brand, let along being anything approaching a thought leader, blogging merits serious consideration. It also is a great way to get the writing juices flowing.
OK, those are my tips…please share your ideas for staying focused and productive online!