A recent study reported that the majority of Americans are spend 34% of total media time online, watching three hours less television per day in favor of an extra three hours online. But, what is everyone missing out on? Of course, we can't add hour to the day, but I can offer a few tips to help you make the best use of your online time.
1) Manage Disruptions - The key to managing interruptions is setting daily priorities. It sounds simple, but it isn’t always. Maintain a To-Do List. Choose three things that you have to get done today, and focus relentlessly on those three things and only those three things. (My secret weapon: Break big projects down into smaller pieces so daily goals are always be tied to larger goals.) Only a true emergency should stand in your way.
Realistically, unexpected things happen all the time. The phone rings, a really funny email pops up...someone knocks at your door. Document new tasks as they come in so you can deal with then later. Give yourself permission to forget all about new items until they pop up on the To-Do List. If you have to address something else now, be sure to make a note of what you were working on so you can come back to it quickly.
2) Control Information Overload - Stop trying to be everywhere. Just stop. You are one person. In social media, all information is yours to manage. Pick two to four sites you like to visit regularly and, unless your JOB is to figure out the next big thing, it's OK to stick with what works for you. Adopt new online tools and strategies only when you have a compelling reason to do so – like a new job, class, friend or other specific need.
Subscribe to blogs you read, and unsubscribe from those you don’t. Delete email that you know you won’t be responding to (be honest now), and never use your inbox as a daily To-Do List. Also, turn off the Instant Messaging (IM) feature when you’re trying to work on something.
3) Leverage Your Tools - Use a desktop tool like TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop, CoTweet or HootSuite to streamline your Twitter use. Better yet, forget Twitter. It’s really worth everyone's time (but maybe that’s just me). If you blog, use a fluid tool like WordPress or Blogger that has a suite of plugins to make your life easier.
4) Annotate and Share - If you don’t have one already, start a De.licio.us.com account and use it for all your bookmarks. Bookmark freely! Even if you never get back to reading a certain page, if you need something later for reference, you’ll be so happy you placed it in De.licio.us. If you need to find anything, it’s easier to go to your notes than to search all over again. Bookmarks and links are valuable resources. Send your friends tags on all topics of mutual interest. (They will appreciate it!)
Use sites like Slideshare.net to share presentations, and to get ideas for new projects. Try Flickr Creative Commons for sourcing images and sharing pictures. Get to know and love the collaborative power of Google Docs or Zoho, so you don’t have to send everything via email. Leverage your intranet tools and share information. The less time you spend looking for stuff, the more time you have to DO stuff.
5) Manage Tasks - When you’re processing email or items in your social media inboxes, every time something pops up, you need to make a determination. Delete, reply or save? There are programs to help with this - even that simple task list available in Microsoft Outlook. If you’re overwhelmed by what you need to get done in a day (or by the sheer volume of material in an inbox), just process one item at a time. Ask if each item requires action, and add notes to your running To-Do List. If you tag all the items on your daily list that are doable in less than five minutes, you can plow through a handful every day and gain momentum – not to mention that great feeling of accomplishment.
6) Communicate Expectations - You don’t have to answer everyone. Sometimes, you don’t have the time. Perhaps at some point, you will. Honesty and humility go a long way toward helping manage expectations about your responsiveness – at work and especially online. It’s OK to send a super-short note to say that you’d love to respond or provide information, but you need a week to do it.
7) Establish Routines - If you have regular tasks to focus on, carve out the time. For example, set a time for blogging, for reviewing and responding to email, for monitoring news and information, and for checking in on your networks – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Forums and the communities you manage or belong to. Once you set a specific hour in the day, turn off all distractions. (Yes, close your email.) Put your phone on Do Not Disturb or let it go to voicemail. Thirty minutes of focused time spent on a single task, on a regular basis, will ramp up your productivity.
8) Unplug - Please. Get offline. Go outside. Soak in the tub. Play with the dog. Go see a movie. Attend a Meet-Up (you can find one at Meetup.com). Volunteer. There is nothing that can derail your social media effort more than never walking away from it. The unplugged view gives you perspective and allows you to focus on your priorities. After all, everyone needs time to just think.
Productivity isn’t always about how much you can juggle. Sometimes, it’s about carefully editing how you do – and don’t – spend your time.