Critical steps to get things done when you clearly lack focus

We live in a wondrous technological age that also makes it harder to get things done. This is a challenge when you have a lot of things to do. Obviously.

Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to be more productive. Here is my list for tomorrow morning.

Step 1: Silence reminders

I love that I can set, snooze and gaze fondly at reminders on my phone. I also really like how Google Calendar can help me schedule time to achieve goals such as learning Hebrew, how to code in Python and do my weekly reviews.

It’s all great.

The problem is that these reminders tend to chime at the same time when I am in the middle of some or other task. That is mostly my fault because I don’t really think through the timing for my reminders when I set them.

My first step is going to be clearer about when I need to block off time to finish a task. With that done (possibly by blocking off the time in my calendar), I can set my reminders for “unreserved” times.

Step 2: Email should know its place

I know better than to keep checking email throughout my morning whenever my phone informs me that I have received more email. Sadly, I have forgotten the importance of batching this sort of stuff.

Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or "How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity")

My next step is to remind myself to keep my email tabs closed until I reach my designated time slots dedicated to checking my email and other batch-able tasks.

Step 3: Be antisocial

I should have paid attention to Catherine Jenkin’s Facebook/Twitter hiatus. She clearly had the right idea.

Although I am tempted to take an extended break from social media, I probably won’t. What I can, and must, do is severely limit how much time I spend on social when I need to focus on my work.

I am also going to keep WhatsApp and Skype closed. Yes, people contact me through those apps and some of those conversations are even work-related. But do I need to keep the apps open all the time and check them obsessively? Probably not.

I can batch this stuff too.

So, step 3 is resisting the idiotic urge to open Facebook/Twitter/Google+ (yes, it is an equal opportunity, time-wasting urge) when I should be focused on the task at hand. That goes for WhatsApp and Skype too.

Step 4: Quiet, you beast!

One of the biggest culprits is my phone. It notifies me about everything. My phone finds everything just so exciting that it has to tell me immediately.

Lacking discipline and willpower, I pull my attention away from what I am working on and check my screen far too often. Each time I do that, I break whatever flow I’ve managed to cultivate and cost me additional time restoring my focus on what I was doing in the first place.

This sort of thing does not constitute “winning” when you need to get things done.

Fortunately, my phone has a handy “Do Not Disturb” mode that silences notifications from anyone outside my family members. It also silences incoming phone calls, which can be a challenge in itself, but the benefits may outweigh the downsides.

Step 4 is going to be to switch my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and cut out most of those little interruptions that pour in throughout the day.

Note to self (2017-04-26): Create an exception for event notifications so you don’t inadvertently miss the important, scheduled events you need to attend!

Right, so that is the plan for tomorrow and, quite possibly, all the other work days that follow.

I hear that it can be pretty rewarding when you actually get things done when you mean to.

Featured image credit: Veri Ivanova

RTFBP is RTFM for blog posts

How often do you find yourself responding to a tweet or Facebook update linking to blog posts only to realise, after responding, that the answer you seek or point you make is contained in the blog posts you were in too much of a hurry to read?

TL;DR your blog posts but, hey, I commented!

I seem to do this often. Given the low click through rates I see in my social media analytics, I suspect the majority of people who respond to these social shares do it too.

After all, it is so much easier to just reply to a tweet or comment on a Facebook post and have your say than it is to click on the link, load the site and read the article that was shared.

As someone who shares stuff on Twitter and Facebook fairly often, it’s certainly my hope that people will click through and read my posts but that happens relatively infrequently compared to the “engagement” that takes place within Twitter’s and Facebook’s walls.

What is Twitter good for?

Twitter, in particular, is supposed to be this terrific platform for sharing stuff with people. What I realized is that when Twitter and Facebook talk about how their platforms are so effective as engagement drivers, they’re really talking about engagement on their platforms. This certainly comes across clearly on Twitter where you have analytics about your tweets available.

This isn’t surprising. Social networks make money from people using their services, not clicking away and going elsewhere. Still, many of us still suffer from this delusion that sharing our stuff on social networks will, necessarily, send more visitors to our sites.

Introducing a new acronym: RTFBP

So, assuming that this trend is only going to continue and relatively few people will actually click on those links we share and visit our sites to read our blog posts, I have come up with a snappy acronym: RTFBP. It stands for “Read The F$&king Blog Post” and it has the benefits of being short and easily hashtag-able.

RTFBP is intended for content marketers who find themselves answering questions and responding to seemingly insightful comments made by people like me who took the TL;DR approach to social media shares. As silly as that is, considering that I know that the point of social shares with links is to direct me to the blog posts that contain the information I seek, if only I RTFBP before tapping “reply” or “comment”.

So, as a self-confessed lazy follower, I both apologise and offer my newly minted acronym to all the marketers whose eyes I cause to roll, yet again. I am working on clicking through more often and reading before I trot out some pithy response. Promise.

Featured image credit: Pixabay

The fundamental problem with @Twitter

The fundamental problem with Twitter is that it doesn’t give victims of abuse effective tools to fight the trolls. Sure, it is still trying to work out how to persuade people to sign up and help them understand what to do with Twitter but the lack of effective tools to fight abuse is eroding the service from within.

You probably heard about the troll who was banned from Twitter after leading vicious and vindictive attacks on Leslie Jones. She left Twitter for a short while and tweeted this:

This morning I was going through my Twitter feed and I saw these tweets from Jessica Valenti. Same issue:

“Leaving social media” has become a euphemism for “stop using Twitter because I don’t have an effective way to fight trolls and monsters who use it to terrorise me”. As a relatively unknown man, I haven’t been exposed to the bile that high profile women are often exposed to.

I believe that Twitter is important to protect free expression but that free expression must be deserving of protection. Gleeful and malicious attacks on women and threats of violence to children are not forms of expression that deserve protection.

Mike Elgan, Jeff Jarvis, Stacey Higginbotham and Leo Laporte discussed this issue on This Week in Google recently and Elgan had a suggestion for how Twitter could help stop trolls. It is an interesting discussion. This video should pick up a few minutes into the discussion (about 45 minutes and 20 seconds):

Protecting free expression is difficult because when you create tools to protect activists, you also enable trolls to take advantage of those tools. I don’t know what the solution is but every time a person “takes a break from social media” because the abuse was just too much, Twitter has failed profoundly.

Journalism as a service

I just read Jeff Jarvis’ Medium post titled “Returning Scarcity to News” and especially appreciated his argument for journalism as a service, rather than as a commodity content business:

Only when we reconceive of journalism as a service rather than as a factory that churns out a commodity we call content, only when we measure our value not by attention to what we make but instead by the positive impact we have in lives and communities, and only when we create business models that reward quality and value will we build that quality and value.

News and entertainment publishers are increasingly looking to major platforms like Google and Facebook for wider distribution of their content and alternative revenue options. It’s easy to understand why: these platforms have far greater reach than any single publisher and with ad blocking increasingly hurting publishers, they need to do something. And soon.

I’m cautiously optimistic that ad blocking will prove to be a positive trend that forces publishers to focus on better content and improve the overall ecosystem. I think we will have to wait a couple years for business models to settle and the dust to settle before we can draw any conclusions.

Still, I am hopeful that good quality content will win.

I recommend reading the rest of Prof Jarvis’ post on Medium:

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Image credit: kaboompics

Do fewer people trust bloggers?

Om Malik asked why fewer people trust bloggers that has been bugging me lately:

That question made me wonder: how much of our social media has become marketing that people actually question something for which you profess your love. I admit, sometimes I have asked myself — so what is that guy selling? I read Medium posts, and one in three are selling something. They are a variation of – my startup flamed, I am amazing, hire me as a consultant. Or look at how amazing my growth hacking idea was for me, so hire me. The “Medium post as a resume replacement” is part of the larger trend – social media as a marketing platform. It isn’t social when you have to question the motives behind “social objects” be shares.

I write for myself and I am employed as a marketing writer so I spend my day moving from one side to the other; between focusing on writing that feels right to me and then writing stuff that promotes my employer and its products.

There are days when the stuff I write as part of my day job is not the sort of thing I’d publish here and that is where the difference between being a blogger/writer and a professional marketing writer. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I write marketing text, my goal is to speak in my employer’s voice. When I write for myself, I use my voice. They don’t have to be the same and they usually aren’t.

At the same time, it should be clear from the context when I am writing with which voice but with so much emphasis on writing to increase exposure and attract more attention; writing just for the sake of expressing yourself often takes a back seat.

This blog is my space and I write about the things I am interested in. I don’t write for some form of remuneration, for the most part. When I am compensated for something I write here (and I haven’t been for several years) I am careful to disclose that so you can decide for yourself how much credence to give what I write.

As Malik pointed out, not everyone makes those disclosures so it becomes difficult to draw a distinction between self-expression and self-promotion. This just leads to more cynicism. I wonder, is this growing cynicism diminishing how much people trust bloggers, generally speaking? Is it something most people wonder about or is it generally accepted that most bloggers are pitching for someone or something?

Read Om Malik’s post titled “Social media is making us all skeptics & that’s not good”.

Social media is making us all skeptics & that’s not good 

Image credit: Pixabay

Time to update your social media buttons?

Time_to_update_social_iconsI noticed that Fin24 is still using very old social media buttons on its site in its sidebar. It isn’t the only site doing this. If you also happen to be using old social media buttons on your site, you should update them in line with the services’ brand guidelines/requirements.

On the one hand, using old icons probably violates the services’ brand use rules but, more importantly, using old icons undermines any attempt to seem web-savvy. I mean, those icons are so 2010-ish!

Here are the brand use guidelines for –

Most of these services have great sets of guidelines for publishers to help them understand how best to use brand assets like logos and buttons. Using old icons is really more a sign of laziness than a lack of adequate resources (which there isn’t). In addition, you’ll often find statements like this which introduce a contractual compliance angle:

By using the Twitter marks, you agree to follow this policy as well as our Terms of Service and all Twitter rules and policies.

So, if you are still using those ancient logos, it’s time to update and be one of the cool kids again.

“We’re a generation of smartphones and dumb people”

One was to describe the world we live in today is as a “contradiction”. We have so many ways to connect with each other and share our lives and yet the primary ways we do that also isolate us from meaningful human contact. The instrument of our isolation is also the device we use to connect to each other: our smartphones.

How often do you find yourself in a room with friends or family and they are more focused on the screen in their hands and interested in a conversation with people somewhere else than they are in the moments they could share with you in person? The challenge with social media is using it to share moments and not isolate yourself from meaningful connections with each other.

Gary Turk published a terrific video about this titled “Look Up” which says it nicely:

I like his characterization of what many of us have become:

We are a generation of smartphone and dumb people

I also really enjoyed this interview with Louis CK on Team Coco about his take on Twitter: