Like an RPG character, I have a finite number of resource buckets available to me, during my working day. They generally begin at a high level and deplete as the day goes on.
Sometimes, they deplete very, very quickly. Social media, like Twitter, is the single biggest source of depletion. Here are my resource buckets…
Time: I work about eight hours a day. Because I work from home, there is very little time wasted in meetings or company BS. But if I am not careful, my time can be wasted on just reading and viewing stuff on the Internet, especially as the line between what is useful to my work, and what is not, is blurry.
Energy: I find that after writing about 2,000 words, my desire to write drops significantly. So, if I write a bunch of Twitter updates, or comments, those are words I might be writing more usefully.
Focus: My best work comes out of directing my attention wholly to one story, one subject. I can write about a bunch of different stuff, but the general quality dips. The more fragmented my day, the worse my output. Online dramas are, almost always, a waste of focus.
Balance: If I am angry, confused or depressed, I find it difficult to work. Although my own idiotic actions are often responsible for negative emotions, the single biggest source of negativity, honestly, are people behaving badly online. If I want to invite negativity into my life, the single easiest way to do that is to spend time on social media or Internet comment threads.
Intelligence: I’m a reporter so I need to be connected to outside events. I can’t afford to disconnect from the outside world. I have to be plugged into RSS feeds, social media and other information pipes. This is the one resource that can and does go up as the day goes on. I have to manage it, so that it does not become overfilled. I have to filter that which is relevant and disregard that which is not.
I’ve taken a few steps to help me manage these resources.
1. Silence the Drama. Filter out people online who are liable to attract drama. They may be smart, entertaining and relevant. And, of course, it’s their business how they interact with the universe. But they are not going to bring me much that I can’t find elsewhere. Generally, they are to be found talking about the awfulness of other people and engaging in some form of ego-centric hostility. I can live without it.
2. Avoid Irrelevance. Filter out feeds that, while agreeable and friendly, are focused on issues that are not relevant to my work. Goodbye beloved soccer pundits, jokesters, pals-who-like-weird-stuff. Also distant acquaintances who, while always a pleasure to see from time-to-time, I do not need to engage with every day. I’ll catch up with them online at the weekend, or while I’m on the couch, not watching True Blood on the telly.
3. Expunge Time-wasters. Delete media outlets that overshare and retweet aggressively. Most of the feeds I watch are media outlets that cover the same issues as one another. The ones that do it briefly, that don’t waste my time with self-promotions, are the ones that last.
4. Keep it Close. My opinions on most issues are not that interesting, and are quite happy inhabiting the space in between my ears, or floating around in my house, boring my poor family. Sharing them to a wider audience takes time and effort and invites tedious conversations. These days, if I want to talk about Aston Villa, the Middle East, the best meatball sandwich in town or whether or not I enjoyed Movie X, I can usually find someone in the vicinity of real life.
5. Limit Open Conversations. Given a choice between talking to someone in a place that is public or private I will always choose the latter. It astonishes me how much people are prepared to share about themselves in open, permanent forums. I think that turning these conversations into a performance elongates them and takes up more time than necessary.
Twitter is powerful, useful and entertaining. It’s also a pain in the arse. Figuring out how to get the good out of it, and lose the bad, has made my life a lot easier, and more productive. Obviously, everyone is different. I am sure that many people gain sustenance and creativity from exactly the things that drain my resources. This is just what works for me.