“How did it get so late so soon?” ― Dr. Seuss
You can’t thwart the social media bug. It’s an essential, not a nice-to have. But how do we reconcile two seemingly conflicting needs: Being constantly online and responsive, and actually getting our work done. Can we embrace social media while minimizing its cost to productivity?
Confession: I’ve been experimenting with a basic technique that treats minutes like calories, and integrates social media and Internet usage into a healthy and productive work environment.
The basic concept is to alternate periods of intense work with regularly defined breaks, an iterative approach promoted by the Pomodoro Technique. (To read more, see: http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/) The goal is to leverage social media and be available in real-time, without getting lost in cyberspace. Four steps:
1. Create Tasks
Question: How long can I really concentrate on a productive activity?
The idea is to think about the amount of time that you can successfully work on a given activity without allowing yourself the luxury of internal interruption such as social media, or external interruption such as incoming phone calls.
For me, 45 minutes to an hour is generally my maximum. I don’t try to fight that.
2. Schedule Breaks between Tasks
Question: How much time do I spend answering emails and surfing the Internet?
Scheduled breaks are crucial to the success of this system. The breaks are the “down time” for checking email and social media or surfing the Internet. Each break lasts about 15 minutes.
Anticipating a break frees of me of the constant, nagging feeling that I might be missing something online. I can work for up to an hour without stopping constantly to check email.
The breaks also provide a framework for being online and responsive throughout the day.
3. Make a List
Question: What do I expect to accomplish today?
It sounds dumb, but this has a vast impact on my productivity levels. On days when I bother to write down what I expect to accomplish, I tend to complete those tasks. On days when I start work without defining goals, I can easily end my day still half-way through task one – but having done plenty of things in between.
The trick to the to-do list is to make it reasonable. It’s likely that three or four tasks, each one taking no more than an hour, is the maximum one might practically expect to finish in a day.
4. Manage Interruptions
How can I get any work done if I’m constantly interrupted?
The most effective way to complete a task within a defined period is to disconnect. In extreme cases, I might turn off my phone or (gasp!) block my Internet connection.
Some tasks require browsing and do not allow me the luxury of disconnecting completely. In that case, I keep myself plugged in, but turn off social media outlets and email.
For those who are shocked at the mere thought, keep in mind that I don’t allow myself to remain disconnected for more than an hour, when I am entitled to a well-earned, scheduled break.
Time management used to fall into that same dreary category of unattainable habits as consistent bedtime routines for the kids, or daily homework habits − at least for me. But in 2013, I’ve come to the conclusion that time management on the Internet has become more significant.
Some of these techniques may be instinctive, but applying them to the work environment is a new, learned behavior. As our use of social media platforms continues to grow, an awareness of how we are integrating our time online with “regular” work can put extra hours back into the work day.