I suspect that there’s a sort of orthodoxy emerging around social media and work: they’re powerful “novelty aggregators”, and they’re good at helping people make connections with others in their fields.
Probably because of the novelty-aggregator function, services like Twitter and Facebook aren’t associated with getting work done. Michael Sippey calls the experience of clicking around in your Facebook or Twitter feed “social surfing”, and notes how easily time slides away. Merlin Mann sums this view up well: “Joining a Facebook group about creative productivity is like buying a chair about jogging.”
It is possible, however, to use social media to support, rather than distract from, your work. Ironically, this strategy goes back to Mann’s own 2005 procrastination-beating strategy, the dash (also see this follow-up).
The core insight of the dash is that part of what’s so overwhelming about certain tasks--grading, say, or travel forms, or cleaning your office--is your instinctive recoil from the thought of having to do the whole thing. So you put it off. But that just makes the task even bigger and scarier, because it’s now more difficult to get it done. Instead of sitting down to do the whole task at once, then, what you might try is a short, self-delimited block of time. (“I’m going to grade for 20 minutes.”) Keeping the time short is key, as is making sure you reward yourself somehow. Mann suggests an hourlong regimen of 10 minutes of working, followed by a 2-minute break, as a way to bootstrap your way into a task.
What’s handy about the dash is that it gets you started on your work, without thinking that you have to do the whole thing at once. As Mann puts it, “the trick is to snap your mind out of the inert state that’s allowing procrastination to take over. You’re breaking down whatever resistance has made you not do what your brain knows needs to be done.”
The principle is the same: a group of Twitter friends all agree to do a dash or sprint at the same time, for an agreed-upon duration. Someone calls the start and the stop, and, at the end, everyone checks in with what they accomplished, and receives high-fives all around. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
The social networking piece of this helps in two ways: first, when you check in with others, you usually get praise, which probably will make you want to keep working. And, second, you know that other people are out there engaged in similar tasks. That can be a real help, especially when the hours get smaller faster than the metaphorical stack of papers. It turns out that, once you have enough friends on Twitter (or Facebook, or whatever), there’s *always* someone grading . . . and maybe you can keep each other going.
Next stop: checking out that chair that’ll help me jog.
Do you use social networking to power through your to-do lists? Let us know in comments!
Image by Flickr user Victor Bezrukov / Creative Commons licensed