The Wisdom of the Twitter-sphere

February 27, 2011
Twitter chat, courtesy of Guy Kawasaki

Image courtesy of Guy Kawasaki

As I’ve been describing on my social media reflection blog, I recently discovered live Twitter chats.  As explained by blogger Lisa Barone,

a Twitter chat is a guided conversation where users interested in a particular topic hop onto the service to chat. The chat is given a hashtag, which makes it easy for anyone looking in to identify the chat and participate. It’s similar to a chat room in that it’s a topic-driven conversation happening in real time; it just happens to be housed on Twitter.

Twitter chats are a wonderful way to engage directly with experts on any topic under the sun right from your desktop.  It moves quickly, but it’s a wild and enjoyable ride–and a unique learning experience.

I recently caught a Twitter chat on time management for freelance writers under the hashtag #wclw, coordinated by Michelle Rafter of the WordCount blog.  I reasoned that I could learn a lot from this crowd because freelancers have perhaps the toughest time management challenge of all: being their own bosses.

Here is some of the great time management advice I picked up along the way:

  • Don’t get caught up with online distractions: Delete irrelevant e-mail without even reading it.  Limit the amount of time you spend on social networking and aimlessly surfing the Web, especially when you’re trying to meet a deadline.  And don’t leave your e-mail open all day.
  • Set specific time goals: Aim to get a particular task completed in a set amount of time and work your hardest to meet that goal.  Use a timer to help you reach your target time frame.  (It can also help freelancers keep track of billable hours.)
  • Stick to a to-do list: You may not be able to accomplish everything on your list, but it can be helpful to chart out your most important tasks for the day.  Be sure to celebrate the small victories by crossing things off the list as you complete them.  And there’s no shame in adding something to your list just for the satisfaction of crossing it off.  This will boost your confidence and help drive you toward meeting your other goals.
  • Tackle the tough stuff first: Instead of dreading those particularly challenging tasks all day, get them done and over with early.  They’ll go more smoothly with a (good) night of sleep and a cup of morning joe on your side.  Plus you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, you’ll be less stressed, and you’re more likely to be productive the rest of the day.
  • It’s ok to ask for help: One chat participant hired a virtual assistant a few hours a month to cover her administrative tasks.  This support frees her up to focus on her writing.

As a self-professed overachiever and control freak, that last one is probably the hardest one for me.  But I’m working on getting better at delegating things to other people.  I recently requested an intern for my department at work because I was feeling so overwhelmed.  My fellow graduate student Rachelle Pavelko has been a very valuable addition to our communications team.  Having her in the office 12 hours a week has helped me focus on urgent communication needs while she tackles those items that are important but don’t always make the top priority list.  This experience has also given me my first run as a supervisor.  It may be to find good help, but thankfully I did.

So whether it’s a housekeeper, a co-worker, a friend or family member, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I am working on accepting the fact that there is no shame in admitting you can’t do everything by yourself.

What time management advice would you add to the list above?

Special thanks to the #wclw chat participants for sharing your insights and experience.  Follow these wise writers on Twitter: @michellerafter, @leslieajoy, @urbanmusewriter, @nancygoll, @saralancaster, @nicoleindenver. @lowrha, @jenwillis, @susie, @lvanderkam, @thoughtshappen, @susanweiner, @sakurachica, and @ajdigitalfocus.

Chat coordinator Michelle Rafter wrote an excellent and very thorough summary of the discussion on her blog.

Above image courtesy of Guy Kawasaki


The Dreaded Smartphone

February 21, 2011

I have resisted getting a smartphone for a long time.  I know that I’m in the minority of my generation, but I’ve always considered time away from my computer to be a welcome respite from the demands of my nagging, overloaded e-mail inbox(es).  My doesn’t-do-anything-but-call-and-text cell phone has served me very well for a number of years.

Enter: the BlackBerry.  (I’d take a picture of it for you, but the camera is inside the device.  Not sure how that would work.  It looks a lot like this one.)  My employer recently gave me a company-issued BlackBerry so that I could monitor and respond to urgent communication and PR situations.  Unfortunately our director of corporate communications is out on medical leave for a while, so I recognize the business need for a backup emergency contact, but that doesn’t make me any happier about my new toy.

I’ve had good reason to resist jumping on the smartphone bandwagon.  In her study on technology, sociology professor Noelle Chesley found that frequent computer, Internet and cell phone use leads to feelings of increased work load and an accelerated pace of life.  As the wise man Ferris Bueller taught us, life moved pretty fast way back in 1986, before we were all weighed down with mobile devices.  Why would I want to make my life move even faster still?

Technology consultant Dr. Sam Ladner discovered through her study of interactive agency workers that devices like BlackBerries have created a “new norm of continuous availability” and the “expectation of hyper-responsivity to work. . . . Mobile technologies complicate the ability of workers to act as autonomous selves in their private lives.”  (Cue the Carrie Bradshaw voiceover) I couldn’t help but wonder: Between work, school, and personal obligations, wasn’t my life complicated enough without technology invading every single moment of my private existence?

A friend of mine once referred to her BlackBerry as a wireless dog leash.  Sometimes the flashing red light on the front of my BlackBerry, which indicates that I have a new message in my inbox, feels like something tugging on my neck, pulling me away from whatever else I’m engaged in. 

Andrew Flanagin, Katy Pearce, and Beverly Bondad-Brown examined the dangers of communication technology use, including the downside of technology distractions.  They cited findings that:

  • 70 percent of all e-mails are answered with 6 seconds
  • 81 percent of people have their e-mail open at all times during the workday
  • 55 percent of people open new messages immediately, regardless of what they are working on
  • People lose as much as 20 percent of their workday dealing with distractions like incoming e-mail 

I practice a number of these unproductive habits too (being an overachiever by nature, my tendency is to want to respond to e-mail as quickly as possible), but I certainly can’t afford to lose one-fifth of my worktime to disruptive technology distractions.  Here are some helpful tips (some of which are adapted from the work of Pervin Shaikh) for not letting your mobile device run your life:

  • Carve out a set amount of time for checking and responding to e-mail.  Be sure to distinguish what’s urgent from what’s important.
  • Resist the urge to respond to e-mails immediately on your personal time unless there is a real emergency
  • Don’t check your e-mail right before you go to sleep, especially on the weekend.  This could interfere with your ability to achieve restful sleep.
  • Take some time each day away from your mobile device, whether that means turning it off for a little while or leaving it in the other room while you spend time with family and friends.
  • And seriously, take a break from texting and e-mail while driving!  It’s common sense, but it might just save a life.  And that’s way more important than anything you might find in your inbox.

Smartphone users: How do you balance the expectation of an immediate response with your need for time away from technology?

(Special thanks to Dr. Kris Markman of the University of Memphis communications department for introducing me to the three studies referenced above.)

Welcome to my blog

February 14, 2011


Hello.  My name is Amara, and I am overachiever

I want to grow up and be Superwoman.  Sometimes I forget that I am not already her. 

I want the ability to do 12 hours of flawless work in a 7.5-hour workday.  And earn a master’s degree at the same time.  And be an attentive wife.  And do interesting freelance work on the side.  And put a good home-cooked meal on the table every night.  And use enough coupons to buy $100 worth of groceries for $1.75.  And regularly entertain friends and family at home.  And say yes to every volunteer opportunity that comes my way.  And (someday) raise intelligent, well-adjusted children with good hearts.  All, of course, while getting eight hours of sleep a night and staying caught up on my favorite TV shows.  See where I’m going here? 

I have always been this way and don’t anticipate that changing much any time soon, so I’m learning to embrace it.  But instead of letting it stress me out too much, I’m trying to better manage my time so that I can continue to do as many of these things (and others) as I can without completely losing my mind.  

Writing a blog is a serious time commitment, as I am quickly discovering in the social media course I am taking this semester with Dr. Carrie Brown-Smith.  It’s not something I would have started on my own, but thankfully this class is pushing me to make more effective use of social media.  So I figured I would use my “beat blog” for the class to explore the time management balancing act we all perform every day.

In the coming weeks I will blog about the trials and tribulations of working full-time and attending graduate school at night, while at the same time juggling all of life’s other commitments.  I am no expert at time management, but I have learned a few things trying to make it all work over the last 2.5 years that I look forward to sharing with you.

What are your tried-and-true tricks for making the most of your time when you’re at your busiest?