The Benefits of a Limited Social Media Fast

During the 40 days of Lent, I decided to fast from social media in a limited sort of way. While I know it’s probably more common to quit these things cold turkey, I didn’t think that 40 days separated from social media would actually provide the benefits I needed for the long term.

The Problem

I was using Twitter and Facebook as sources of constant distraction from my work, family, and spiritual life. I wanted to use social media as a tool to communicate with potential readers, to network with fellow writers, and to keep in touch with friends. Instead I checked them both an unseemly number of times in search of links, conversations, or anything that I could read.

I responded to any mention or post immediately. Links to interesting posts were pursued, and I left comments without thinking about the time they consumed.

Any time I hit a tough spot in my writing, I’d drop by Twitter or Facebook.

I needed to break my dependency on these tools, while learning how to use them in healthy ways. It wasn’t going to help me if I could quit cold turkey for 40 days, learn a few lessons, and then gradually forget them over the following months while rediscovering the lure of social media again.

I needed a practical way forward so that my personal, spiritual, and work times were equally guarded that would last beyond Lent.

The Plan

I settled on a plan to spend only 30 minutes each day on Twitter and Facebook. To be honest, that seems absurdly long, but in practice the time goes by quickly! I broke it into 3 ten-minute slots. This meant that I needed to make the most of my time online and if I really wanted to interact with people, I needed to space my time out.

This required a decent amount of discipline, since I wanted to think of interesting things to say, but I also wanted to read what other people were sharing. I didn’t have unlimited time to follow blog posts and links.

In addition, effectively tracking your friends on a tool like Tweetdeck, as I do, I needed to leave Tweetdeck open for a while before I could look at it. I hide my menu bar so as to limit the temptation, but I still knew it was there.

The Results

While I certainly missed my sources of distraction, I soon appreciated the limits of my fast. Sometimes I followed links and ended up reading them beyond my time limit, so I had to subtract time from my next 10-minute session. I probably interacted online a lot less to my detriment in some ways, but I also thought a lot more about effectively using my limited time, which is a real benefit.

I’m most grateful that I broke the habit of checking social media first thing in the morning. Instead I spend my early morning time writing fiction, drinking coffee, reading scripture, and praying. My mornings are SO much better without Twitter and Facebook.

Waiting until 11 AM or later for social media really helps me use my most productive times in the most effective ways—both for work and spiritual growth. I never catch myself thinking, “Damn, I wish I’d spent 30 minutes on Twitter this morning instead of praying or editing my novel!”

In addition, HubSpot marketing found that more people are willing to retweet something on Twitter around 11 AM, so I really have no reason to use Twitter before 11 AM. I can share my links and socialize at 11 AM just fine.

Perhaps my biggest problem was that I found new distractions such as checking my e-mail, but even that was a bit easier to resist since it’s much easier to convince myself that no new e-mails have arrived in the past 15 minutes. Twitter guarantees fresh content. In addition, an empty inbox isn’t all that distracting even on my worst day.

Here are some outcomes from my limited fast:

  • I now budget an extra 30 minutes for blog reading and networking.
  • I stick to the 3 ten-minute social media sessions on Tweetdeck and Facebook. I aim for 11 AM, 2 PM, and 5 PM.
  • I try to avoid social media at night. If I want to drop someone a note or need to send a message via Facebook, I can drop in, send the note, and then log off.
  • I allow myself to visit Twitter online if I want to post something, but I can’t do anything else.

How have you dealt with your bad habits in social media? Have you tried sometime different that worked? 

Tips on Blogging Frequency

Pending on your goals, a blog format may really work for a non-profit web site or your own personal home page. Yet the medium of blogs with dated content, can create pressure to keep things fresh. Many bloggers buckle under the pressure of posting daily updates, but this may no longer be necessary.
Eric Kintz says that daily blog posts can sometimes be a liability.

ProBlogger Darren Rowse adds some qualifiers.

The bottom line for me is that each blogger must determine the goal and audience of his/her blog. For example, a more specialized blog such as cooking, history, or theology may only require weekly posts. Tech, politics, and news may be a different story.


Review of Google Calendar

googlecalendarI just began using Google Calendar this week and have pratically driven my wife crazy with my excitement. The beauty of Google calendar is two-fold, but there are many other parts that are good-looking as well.

Nevertheless, the two best parts are: it can be accessed anywhere and it can send reminders to your gmail account. This is what makes it truly useful. I check my gmail often, but would not always think to pull up the calendar. Also, I’m on 2-3 different computers in the course of a day, so it’s essential to have the calendar online.

Google has cleverly set their accounts up so that a gmail account unlocks the door to all of the google services. This calendar is just another one of the nice tools you can use with gmail.

Another nice feature is “event sharing.” The Google Calendar site says,
“If your website mentions events – including reservations, appointments and shows – Google Calendar can help you stay on people’s radar. You can let people quickly add single events from your site to their calendars, or list public events you want people to be able to search for within Google Calendar.”

googlecalThey even have buttons that you can place on your site and program with the relevant information about the event. By simply clicking on the button, friends and family can add that event to their own Google calendars.

So I’m sold, though there surely are other worthy calendars out there. If you have not made the switch to gmail and want to give it a go, just post a comment and I’ll send you an invitation.

Posted in Web

Blog and Web Tools

Todd Heistand, who designed this site by the way, has a great list of tools at his site: What particularly caught my eye is a wordpress plug-in called “SimpleTags”. I sometimes tire of adding the Technorati Tags, so I may have to waste some time adding them here.

Todd also has the usual list of programs, including Bloglines and Firefox (two programs that I cannot imagine life without), but give his list a look. You may find a gem that has escaped your notice.

w.Bloggar: My New Toy

Though I downloaded it a while ago, I finally got into “w.Bloggar,” an offline blog editor. It essentially allows you to write up your blog posts in the exact format they will appear without actually having to be online.

While there are a number of reasons why this is a good thing, the number one reason for myself is that I’ll waste an entire morning reading the news at bloglines or from my google home page. The wireless card just sits on the table with a little sticky note stating the time I’m allowed to insert it. I can then post furiously without the temptation to read my mail, other blogs, or the news.

While many say that Ecto is the best program, Ecto also costs $20. While this is not steep for a program that does everything but write the post for you, I’m very satisfied with w.bloggar and have found that it is very easy to use.

The best part is that it keeps all of my blog passwords stored so I don’t ever have to log in. I should also note that it provides a lot features that basic blog editors simply do not have. Simple file uploads, font colors, various heading settings, and other font options make it really useful when customizing a post. It was a little tricky to set up WordPress with w.bloggar, but a quick visit to the forums at their web site cleared it all up.

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Articles on Web Applications

If you can persevere, Wired News has a series of articles on Web 2.0 and free applications that are well worth looking into. If you don’t know what Web 2.0 or 1.0 is for that matter, these articles are worth reading and applying.

Is Web 2.0 Caught Up in its Own Noise?

Web 2.0: A Pattern Library

Folksonomies, giving it all away

If you persevere through all 3 of these articles, you can read a very interesting list of quotes from Steve Jobs here.

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Directories are out. Tags are in.

I have my web sites listed in a number of online directories either for blogs or web pages. You can find them at the bottom of the right column. One of my frustrations has been with the difficulty of categorizing my web sites. Is this a writing site? yes. Non-profit site? yes. Photography, web tips, volunteer tips, administrative tips, Vermont news, open source tips? yes.

So I’m happy to hear about a new way of keeping track of web sites. Tagging has become the new way to go about this. By simply attaching a tag from a site such as Technorati, you can be found based on your content, and specific content can be accessed immediately.

An exampe of this system will be started by the directory: blogs4god. They explain the way it all works on their site. I look forward to seeing how this catches on. If you’re not tagging your blog posts or web site, look into it. It takes a few seconds and will make your site easier to find.

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21 Publish: Too Good to be True?

21pubIn uncharacteristic fashion, I gave in and clicked on an ad this morning. The company is called 21 Publish, and they offer free, hosted blogging for communities. In other words, you have a web portal or home page where you can post links or general content, and list all of the blogs in your community right there. The template can be customized and you can host it under your own domain name or it can be integrated into an existing web site.

It looks very attractive at this point, but I need to take it for a test drive first. You can get an idea of what it does by looking at some blogs they list: East Central Elementary School, Amnesty International USA, and Platform 27. Click here for a full list of Platform 27’s features.

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Collaboration & Management Tools

Since my focus is on helping non-profits on a shoe-string, I have been sampling two programs that help with project management and collaboration online. The nice part about using an online tool is that members/volunteers an organization without a central location can track with each other. Even if there is a central location for the non-profit, volunteers can be spread out and may need a central place to share ideas, post meeting dates, share minutes, and provide other information for the group to access.

This can be especially helpful when trying to plan an event. Typically the volunteers are all spread out. One person edits a document, passes it around, everyone else edits it, and then mayhem ensues. Who has the real document??? Online wiki’s and other content programs can provide a simple, no-cost solution.

There are plenty to check out, but I’m going to look at Basecampe and Jotspot today. Keep in mind that Basecamp has several versions that you must pay for. For more on content management systems, see Jordon Cooper’s blog.
Continue reading Collaboration & Management Tools

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Writely: Order Yours Today

You can guess pretty safely what the next big trend will be based on what Google is up to. Google recently purchased a company called Upstartle, the makers of a popular web-based, free word processing program known as Writely.

The concept of Writely is clever. Here’s the jist of it:

  • Share documents instantly & collaborate real-time: Pick exactly who can access your documents.
  • Edit your documents from anywhere: Nothing to download — your browser is all you need.
  • Store your documents securely online: Offsite storage plus data backup every 10 seconds.
  • Easy to use:Clean, uncluttered screens with a familiar, desktop feel.

Continue reading Writely: Order Yours Today

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