While social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter have already shown their ability to improve the way we work, live and interact with one another, like any piece of technology, we can waste an exceptional amount of time if we’re not careful.
I’m hesitant to go on record admitting it, mostly because I believe the productivity argument against social tools is used by short-sighted business leaders who ban social networks and Web 2.0 tools at work. Overall, I believe social networking tools help productivity more than they hurt it, but there are signs that some of us need some balance.
The (over)use of social tools is more an issue of personal time-management that transcends the technology itself.
What got me on this topic? I read that an insightful Forrester analyst, Jeremiah Owyang, took 20 days off from Twitter (click here to read his blog on the matter). He had been averaging 30 tweets a day (a tweet is a short message, 140 characters or less, posted to the micro blogging service). He certainly had an excuse — he consults with clients on social media and utilizing these tools for marketing and technology initiatives. He needs to be on Twitter and engage with it.
But he “realized that we’re not as dependent on these tools as you may think. I can’t step away from Twitter forever, as my clients are there, and this is a tool that I cover as an analyst, but I encourage you to try stepping away, refresh your mind, and come back more focused, I sure did.”
Social networking and Web 2.0 tools help us connect with people who have the same expertise and interests. These tools keep us out of e-mail hell, while helping us collaborate in transparent, open workspaces (think wikis, for instance). We can discover information serendipitously when someone shares something with us we weren’t expecting. So for the time we do waste, I believe it’s made up many times over.
But we still need to be disciplined about it.
Before the holidays, I was writing a long feature piece about the superconnected members of LinkedIn. I like to do my writing in the morning while I’m fresh (with coffee). I opened up the document at 10 a.m., but figured I’d first quickly answer some tweets, IM some colleagues about ongoing projects and confirm some new friends on Facebook. Did I say quickly? Well, the next time I looked at the clock it was noon and I hadn’t written more than a paragraph.
I immediately shut off my Twitter updates, Facebook e-mail notifications (“Jane wants to be your friend on Facebook”) and (of course) my instant messenger. In a mere half-hour, I finally had the first page of my story done, but I did have to work late that night to compensate.
So was I wasting time that whole morning? Yes and no. Without those tools, I might have not had the same experts and colleagues at my disposal who offer me some of the best insights on technology, media, journalism and life — all things that make me a productive and (I hope) intellectually curious individual.
But to do the basic thing that sustains me (write), I had to block it all out.
If you’ve run into social tool fatigue, as Owyang and I both have, I’d be curious to hear your strategy for dealing with it.