Raise your hand if you’ve ever wasted time on the Internet.
Unless you’re my grandma or you don’t have hands, your hand should be raised right now. Just the fact that you’re reading this blog post qualifies as wasting time on the Internet.
I’m on the Internet A LOT. Most of the time, it’s because it’s part of my job. But at home on my iPhone? That’s just for the sheer joy of it. My phone is like my third arm sometimes. And if I leave the house without it? I feel naked and will 9 times out of 10 turn around to go back and get it.
When I “check” my phone to see what’s going on, I look at several things. First, my email. Then Facebook, since some of my friends use the messaging feature as email. Then, Instagram followed by Twitter. And if I’m really killing time, I’ll check my Google Reader for blog posts. How long I spend on each depends on how many messages I have or how many updates there are. More friends = more updates = more time to go through them. To put it simply, it takes awhile. And though I’m pretty good about making sure it never interferes with the time I spend with my son, or when I’m out with friends, it still takes up a good chunk of time and I absolutely hate feeling like I’ve just wasted a bunch of time checking social media. But what I hate even more than that? Feeling disconnected and out of the loop.
I’ve seen several people make very public declarations about quitting Facebook or Twitter or blogging because it started interfering with their real life. It became a huge time suck that clearly caused them some sort of distress and just wasn’t worth the effort anymore. And even though I’m a self-proclaimed social media junkie, I get it. Social media IS a huge time suck. I’ve actually debated trying a little self-imposed ban for a week or a month and the idea of it is really quite…freeing. And refreshing. But I just can’t get over feeling out of the loop, so I never do it. Instead, I’ve had to find ways to scale back the amount of time I spend, so I’m still “in-the-know” but not overloaded. After months of tweaking, I think I’m finally in a good place and I ‘d like to share how I do it in case it’s helpful to you.
Email: I have three email accounts hooked up to my phone and they’re all on a “Pull” notification, meaning they don’t load my new email messages unless I open the email application. And if you don’t have three email accounts, or at least two email accounts (for those who don’t need work email), you should. And here’s why.
1. Work email: Self-explanatory. This email is for work purposes ONLY. I still get some spam sent to this account, but it’s work-related spam. Usually I can unsubscribe to whatever professional email list I’m on, or just send it directly to my junk mail. I get around 100 work emails a day but when I’m at work, I’m pretty good about keeping my inbox fairly clean.
2. Personal email: I ONLY give this email out to friends and family. I also have a blog email address that gets forwarded to my personal email, so it saves me from logging into another account. I don’t get a ton of comments usually but every comment is important to me so I want to make sure I read every single one, even if I don’t always respond.
3. Junk email: I call it my junk email but this is the email address I give out to retailers. It’s the address I use to sign up for various services, like all those BabyCenter emails, and it’s the address I use for all of my Amazon purchases and shipping notifications. I get somewhere between 30-40 emails here a day, and twice that gets caught in my spam filter. EVERY. DAY. While I check my first two emails multiple times a day (even on weekends), I only look at my junk email a couple of times a week. This saves me so much time because I’m not spending precious time each day deleting a bunch of eblasts and newsletters. Nor am I likely to miss a friend’s email because it’s buried under a sea of “Hurry now! Last chance for BOGO!” emails.
Facebook: When Facebook first started, I collected friends like a person collects stamps. Pretty soon, I had well over 500 friends and at any given moment, I could probably tell you EXACTLY how many friends I had. If the number suddenly dropped by one or two, I would scour the list to see if I could tell who unfriended me. (The AUDACITY!) I couldn’t, mostly because I couldn’t remember who I was even friends with anymore. Most of them were old high school classmates, friends of friends, or coworkers. One day, as I was scrolling through a bunch of status updates, it occurred to me that I really didn’t care about 90% of what I was seeing. Someone I haven’t talked to in 13 years just realized she put 5,000 miles on her car in one month? WHO CARES? Not me. Another person I haven’t talked to in about 6 years posts a picture of her dog in a funny sleeping position? That’s cute, but I’m no better for seeing it. So here’s what I did.
First, I unfriended a lot of people. Around 75 in one fell swoop. And as someone who takes unfriending personally, I was careful not to unfriend someone I thought would a) notice b) be offended by me unfriending them should they ever find out. Part of the unfriending spree was fueled by my desire to “cut the junk” but a big part of it was security. I have a family now and I post a lot of pictures of my son, our whereabouts at any given moment and where we live. If anyone on my friends list struck me as odd or slightly creepy, I hit the unfriend button. Just because we had a class together doesn’t mean I’d invite you into my home with my son. That’s what being part of my Facebook circle is like. Being in my home, with my family. I don’t want to share that with just anyone.
But even after unfriending a lot of folks, there were quite a few that made the cut because I just felt like I couldn’t unfriend them for other reasons, but I still don’t want to see their updates. For those folks, I just unsubscribed from their feeds. Out of sight, out of mind and no one is pissed off that I unfriended them. This trimmed things down considerably but I still wasn’t satisfied so I took it a step further and for another group of people, I changed my Facebook settings to only show “important” updates from those people. (To do this, you just hover over the friend’s name, then hover over the checked “Friends” box, then select “Settings” and change the selection from “Most Updates” to “Only Important”) I’m not sure how Facebook decides which updates are “important”, but I’m going to trust they know what they’re doing and that I won’t miss anything, um, important.
Warning: This does take some time to do, and I’m still tweaking things here and there, but for the most part I’m only seeing updates from people nearest and dearest to me now. I don’t need to “Like” every status update or photo posted and I don’t need to obsess over how many likes or comments I get on my posts. And best of all, if I don’t check Facebook for 24 hours, I’m not overwhelmed by the sheer volume of status updates in my newsfeed.
Twitter: Ok, so here’s where I admit a bit of defeat. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to keep up with Twitter. I follow a lot of people, yes, but that’s only part of the problem. The other problem is just the nature of Twitter itself. It’s a great outlet for all those random thoughts that pop into my head that aren’t quite Facebook worthy, yet I still feel compelled to share. It’s also great for bantering back and forth with folks, or “live tweeting” an event like the Super Bowl or the Oscars. On election night, I was glued to Twitter and actually heard that Obama had won before the broadcast news outlets were reporting it. But it’s terrible for sharing earth-shattering personal news and expecting all of your Twitter followers to see it. Still, there are ways to make your Twitter channel streamlined. I use JustUnfollow.com to see who I’m following that also doesn’t follow me back. That’s the easiest way for me to weed through everyone. I follow a ton of celebs, bloggers, news outlets, etc. so I don’t expect them to follow me back, but I always find a few random folks that for the life of me, I can’t remember why I started following them in the first place. And since they don’t follow me back, what’s the point? JustUnfollow also has a feature that pulls a list of inactive Twitter uses – i.e. users that haven’t posted a tweet in 1, 3 or 6 months – but this has less do with taking up space in my stream so I don’t use it all that often.
Instagram: By the time I started using Instagram, I was already feeling overwhelmed by Facebook and Twitter so I was very selective with who I started following from the get go. I don’t follow everyone I’m Facebook friends with, and I certainly don’t follow everyone I follow on Twitter. The folks I do follow are a mixture of close friends and favorite bloggers. I don’t follow random strangers, no matter how great their photos are, and I don’t follow back just out of courtesy.
Blogs: Google Reader is my BFF. If you don’t use an RSS feed of some sort, then you are missing out and wasting precious time checking your favorite blogs for updates. Either sign up for email updates or subscribe to their feed via RSS. I find that Google Reader is the easiest to use for me, but there are others such as Netvibes or Feedburner.
And even though I use an RSS feed to keep things organized, I still subscribe to a lot of blogs. Sometimes I’ll subscribe to a blog and over time, find that I’m just skimming over the posts or marking all as read more often than not. Once that starts happening, I know it’s time to unsubscribe. So about every 6 months, I’ll go through my feeds and hit unsubscribe for those sites instead of “mark as read”. There’s really no rhyme or reason as to who makes the cut and who doesn’t. Usually it’s just a case of boredom for me, but I have had to unsubscribe to someone before because their posts just made me angry. And considering my blog reading time is my “happy” time, I never want to feel unhappy or annoyed when I’m doing something that should be for pure enjoyment purposes. It’s the same reason I’ll stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it. Even if I’m already half-way in. Life is too short to surround yourself with things that don’t make you happy.
So what do you think? Is this helpful? Any other social media junkies out there feeling like they need a cleanse?