How to avoid losing great gobs of time to X (formerly Twitter)

Word count: 685 words

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Should you tweet? Yes! It’s a great way to connect with new people, meet with potential customers and learn new information. Should it take your full day? No!….

I’ve just spent the last three hours reading tweets, looking at Twitter sites and reading about Twitter. Rest assured –- even though I’m normally an active tweeter –- or should that be a twit? — this is NOT how I usually spend my time.

Thing is, I was giving a speech about Twitter (to the annual conference of the Editors’ Association of Canada) and I needed to ready my notes. While preparing I re-discovered how intensely distracting Twitter can be. Useful information: Check! Funny comments: Double check! Links to great sites: Check like a maniac! (I particularly enjoyed stumbling across this link to a gleeful New Yorker article about hashtags written by Susan Orlean.)

I learned a lot but didn’t get much crossed off of my old-fashioned “to do” list. In fact, the three hours zipped by so speedily I was reminded why it’s necessary for writers to draw boxes around their time. If you don’t safeguard your writing time, it will just dribble away, like coffee from a Styrofoam cup with a pin-sized hole in the bottom of it.

I hope this doesn’t discourage you from using Twitter. That’s not my intent. But if you want to tweet (and I suggest you do) here are five ways to spend your time more fruitfully:

1) Don’t automatically follow everyone who follows you. I know I have an overwhelming desire to complete every project I start. I’m such a completion-monster that I will occasionally become annoyed when my husband tries to help me empty the dishwasher — because I want to be the one to finish what I start! Can you imagine how disastrous my life would be if I tried to follow 1,500 Twitter accounts? Unthinkable! That’s why I never follow more than 100 people. This less-is-more philosophy may not be to your taste, but know that it’s an option. If the fear of being overwhelmed has kept you from tweeting, realize that there are ways to limit the influx.

2) When choosing which people to follow, check out their biographies, first. How often do they post? (Generally speaking, I try to avoid people who post more than a dozen times a day.) Do they offer useful and interesting information or just idle backchat? If you use Tweetdeck (that’s my dashboard of choice) you can right-click on the Tweeter’s name and his or her profile will appear in the right-hand column. From there you can easily click on the link to the person’s Twitter page and scan the most recent posts. Like what you see? Follow away! Find them boring as a rerun of an old Law & Order episode? Run like the wind! I generally do this sort of checking no more than once a week.

3) Follow hashtags. When I have more time to spend on Twitter (evenings, weekends, reward time for doing a much-loathed project like bookkeeping), I have search columns set up for various hashtags. Hashtags are the # symbols often used in tweets and they are essentially a code allowing you to see every tweet that contains that symbol. Here are some of the hashtags I follow: #writetip #writer #productivity #pubtip #reading.

4) Schedule your tweets. I used to tweet through the day, as the spirit moved me. Now I tweet once a day (first thing in the morning) and I schedule my tweets for once an hour, using Buffer. Batching tasks is ferociously efficient and allows me to maintain my presence on Twitter, throughout the day, without boring my followers senseless. It also means I’m far less likely to be distracted by Twitter when I should be working.

5) Pick your subject and stick to it. Even though I have more than a casual interest in politics and I’m seriously interested in food and a small handful of very good TV shows, I tweet about none of those things. I’m a writer and editor so I tweet about words, books and quotes. That’s it! Every working day I see several dozen things that would make excellent tweets – but I put my head down and walk away. I’m not a Renaissance woman. I’m not trying to be all things to all people. I know my limits. (I may allow myself the occasional off-topic tweet, but only on weekends!)

Being good at Twitter is not just about being able to make pithy comments. It’s also about time management. Sure, I could let Twitter occupy my entire day. But I wouldn’t be a writer, then, would I?

P.S. If you want to follow me I’m at: @pubcoach

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