By Day 2 I had observed in the “notes” section of the page where I track my daily to-do’s and activities: Problem with Twitter: I don’t know what I’m doing here. WHAT AM I DOING?!
By Week 2 I felt highly distracted, overloaded, poked at, and, well… mildly insane. Despite being warmly welcomed back and a few lovely conversations that reminded me of the awesomeness that Twitter was in 2009, on the whole, I was not. having. fun. And my productivity was plummeting. All of which reminded of why I went on hiatus in the first place. I almost resumed it again.
But. Now isn’t then. And social media has the potential to dovetail nicely with my current goals. So before I chucked it all, I gave myself the opportunity to answer that question: what am I doing here? and craft a system for engaging with Twitter.
Because that was my first mistake: diving back in without being intentional about it. Arguably, I needed to see what it felt like to wade back into the stream to be able to answer that question. But I didn’t even do that purposely, I just picked up where I left off without thinking – and I know better.
Crafting a system always begins with naming why you are doing something. Understanding its purpose. The problems it prevents or solves. The goals it will help you achieve. The values it supports. What it generates. Is it worthy of your time, energy and attention? Does it even deserve a system in the first place?
My initial answer to the Question of Why: connection. Which sounds good on the surface, but in reality it’s non-specific bullsh*t. My Inner Rusty knew I was trying to con him.
IR: Let’s try this again: What do you want?
ME: To be seen, understood and available. Also to be inspired.
IR: Better. Be more specific. Seen as what? Available for what? Inspired how?
ME: Seen as: in-biz, human, funny, generous. I want my values and differences to be visible. And available for: “open office hours,” small talk, questions, play. Inspired by: what engages my curiosity and creativity.
IR: Okay, now we’re getting somewhere…
Then I explored what I find draining and energizing about hanging out on Twitter (because that’s the next step of crafting an effective system that actually gets used). And that naturally led to a list of everything I’m not doing on social media – which is when I really started to get some traction.
Because answering the question What am I NOT doing? is the best way to answer the question of WHAT AM I DOING?! – especially when you are feeling distracted, overloaded, poked at, and mildly insane.
- I’m not expecting Twitter to feel like it did in 2009 (although this makes me a little sad).
- I am not apologizing for being in business (as in: yes, I am going to tell people I have things for sale).
- I am not committing to posting and replying to everything immediately in real time.
- I am not using Twitter to meet people (although it’s great if that happens), but to get to know people I’ve met elsewhere better.
- Twitter is not my feed reader. Got one of those.
- I am not here for cheerleading (sappy live-your-best-life stuff or the go-big stuff) – that’s not inspiring.
- I’m not using Twitter for marketing research (it’s at best eavesdropping and at worst creepy lurking – and it doesn’t work for me).
- I don’t need to know every move anyone who might be construed as my competition makes (key to avoiding the devil that is comparison).
- I don’t need to stay up to date on every potential useful tool or resource (I’m not that kind of maven).
- I don’t have to follow someone just because they bought something from me in the past.
- I don’t have to use Twitter the way my followers do.
- I don’t have to use Twitter the way the people I follow do.
The more I explored what I found draining, the more I expanded on my list of what I was not doing, the more I came up against my unspoken rules that needed breaking – some more easily broken than others.
The problem was not so much about the outgoing. I had already thought through what kinds of things I want to say on Twitter. Mostly I ask questions. It’s something that will always be evolving, but I do have a system for it. Rather, it was increasingly clear the insanity was being created by the incoming information, what was flowing through my stream – which made perfect sense given that I hadn’t edited it in more than three years. So I began unfollowing people.
I started with the strangers: people I had no recollection of nor any context for. Gone.
Then I unfollowed the people I could place, but no longer felt relevant to my current life and work. (This took several iterations and I had to keep reminding myself it was not a judgment of each individual’s awesomeness, it was about bringing my stream into the present.)
Then I unfollowed the people I could place and felt relevant, but were no longer active on Twitter (many have departed to Instagram and Facebook – if they’re still on social media at all).
Phew. Much better. That helped with the information and decision-making overload a lot. But I wanted to pare it down even further.
Which meant creating a little system – a flow chart in this case – for how I get to know people online in general…
[ click to download/print ]
Then I put everyone left through that decision-making matrix. 22 people made the cut. It’s not that I want to limit myself to interacting with just 22 people! Not at all! But it is a much improved clean slate to start from – and now I know what I’m doing going forward.
And while this little flow chart makes me really happy about my incoming stream, it gave me a serious twinge about my outgoing stream. Could my own content pass such a test? Hmmm. Like I said: the overall system will always be evolving. Mostly I’m thinking about how each social media platform is its own unique medium. Each can do things the others can’t. So how do I want to make the most of that?
In my recent Less-Is-More Birthday Survey (thank you SO MUCH for your responses! so helpful!), I asked: What are your most frustrating time management/productivity problems right now? And your #1 answer was: not enough energy. By a big margin. Twice as big a problem as not having enough time.
I also asked: What are you so over right now? (e.g.,”I need another private Facebook group like I need a poke in the eye.”). Yet 70% of those who agreed with that example or cited other dissatisfactions with social media still used it. And when I asked: Which social networking sites do you visit most often/most enjoy? only one person checked: I don’t use social media – which surprised me.
So. Let’s start dealing with that energy deficit by dealing with social media.
Setting aside the incredible time-suck social media can be, I want you to think about what a giant Hoover vacuum it can be when it comes to your draining your energy.
On a day-to-day basis, your ability to make decisions, solve problems, digest information, and exercise self-control all come from the same well of limited cognitive resources. Once that well is empty, the only thing that will refill it is a good night’s sleep. And social media can empty that well in moments.
The average social media stream requires you to make dozens (maybe hundreds?) of decisions in a single visit about what to read, listen, view or click, then like/favorite, reply or share. Many you follow are likely skilled at posting compelling “calls to action” that require bigger decisions about subscribing, downloading, participating and purchasing that are hard to resist. Yet resist you must because once you’ve done what you came to do, you need to leave and get back to work rather than open more tabs and go farther down the internet rabbit hole. It doesn’t matter if you like what you’re discovering, your cognitive resources are being depleted all the same.
A ten-minute break to check social media seems innocuous, but it can burn through the energy you need to engage in your creative work and keep your business running smoothly – all before you’ve finished your morning coffee.
Social media can result in warm fuzzy feelings of genuine connection and belonging. But it also has a dark side that results in voyeurism, comparison, conformity, narcissism, and a house-of-mirrors unreality. It can fuel your fears of missing out and the-grass-is-surely-greener-over-there, and keep you on a dopamine high of random rewards that never satisfy. In short, it can leave you feeling like sh*t about yourself and your work – again, all before you’ve finished your morning coffee.
With your cognitive well empty and doubting yourself and your work, it’s unlikely you’re in a place where you feel connected to your sense of purpose and that Something larger than ourselves. Your back to things flowing from you rather than through you. And that’s not sustainable.
Your depleted cognitive resources and self-confidence aren’t doing anything for your bottom line either. Besides lacking the full capacity to make decisions, solve problems, synthesize information and exercise willpower that’s needed to complete creative projects and run a business effectively, you’re second-guessing your every move while presenting yourself with an endless stream of other Bright Shiny possibilities (some of which cost a lot of moolah). You can’t make money if you can’t focus.
Lastly, social media probably isn’t depleting your physical energy. Unless you can’t put it down when it’s time to go to bed. Or you’re using breaks to check Facebook when you would be better served by ten minutes of stretching or a walk around the block. Or all the other ways it can keep you in your head and out of your body for extended periods…
So, how do you shift social media from being draining to energizing?
Curate the hell out of it.
Follow my lead and ask yourself: WHY. Then get crystal clear on what you’re NOT doing. And then stop doing it.
This will require you to break some unspoken rules. That may be uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier, trust me.
And one of those rules might be the one that says you have to be on social media at all. My hiatus was one of the best things I ever did for myself and my business. And there are plenty of people with very successful and satisfying lives – professionally and personally – who never bother with it. (Alexandra Franzen has written very sensible things about that here, here and here.)
Experiment. Figure out what’s right for you and stick to it. Your increased energy reserves will thank you for it.
• • • • •
And please tell me about your results! I’d love to hear about what you’re no longer doing on social media and what happened when you stopped. Please share your experience in the comments below or send me at note at hello [at] thirdhandworks [dot] com.
peace and love,
P.S. The Less-Is-More Birthday Survey is still open. Everyone’s input has been SO helpful and I’d love to hear from you if you haven’t already shared your thoughts. The prize drawing ends this Wednesday, June 1, and the survey itself will close Thursday, June 9.
P.P.S. When I asked members what the S4D is best at helping them to do, systems-crafting – often of the kind illustrated in this missive – was at the top of everyone’s list.
“Organically creating and tweaking systems that honor (and often expand) my capacity.”
“Giving me a home base that makes it possible for me to create and revive systems and get sh*t done.”
“Keeping my systems at the forefront: refining and using them!”
Crafting systems – custom-designed to how you like to think and work best – is how you build and sustain the energy to follow through on what you’ve started – and I’d love for you to share in that experience.