Social Media and Simplicity, Part 3: Time
Muhammad Saleem is a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.
This post is part 3 of 10 in our groundbreaking series on how freelancers can use social media and the principles of simplicity to build their business.
Day 3 – The Third Law of Simplicity: Time
Savings in time feel like simplicity.
Time is of the essence. Time is money. And for a freelancers, it is doubly important. The faster you accomplish what you set out to do, the more free time you have to do multiple things and the more you can branch out and diversify. Today we’re going to prove what Douglas Adams said, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” Time is what you make of it, so let’s try to make the most of our time.
Every minute you spend reading this article (and this series in general) will translate to hours saved and spent elsewhere in the future, without compromising on the quality of the work you’re doing already.
Understand and Embrace Time
Time for freelancers doesn’t work the same way it does for more traditional jobs. Freelancers, often working from home, usually end up working many more hours than people who work 9 to 5 jobs in an office. Moreover, because we work from home, our ‘jobs’ often get merged with the rest of our lives.
While this is mostly a good thing (because we can make our own hours, work in a more comfortable setting, etc.) it can also be incredibly stressful and inefficient for the same reasons. Making our own hours often means being irregular, overworking or working on weekends, and working from a comfortable space often leads to distractions.
Today’s key to be effective and efficient in social media (and even more generally on any web-based career) is simplicity through effective time management, and the first step towards that is understanding time. While a lot of your work on the web depends on where you live versus where your work is based out of (for example, I live in Chicago but I work on west-coast time), regardless of what you’re doing on the web, the internet largely works in a cyclical fashion.
Most importantly, you should know what the maximum impact time is for you. Unlike 9 to 5 jobs, if you work on the web it is not nearly as important for you to work in the morning. For example, based on my experiences I’ve realized that if I’m submitting something to a social news site, or publishing a piece on my site, the best times for me to be online are from 1 pm to 8 pm. Therefore, if I want, I can sleep in, and be ready when people in my niche are starting to get active. I can start sharing the blog post I’ve published, start talking to people on Twitter, and participating in my favorite social communities.
As a content producer or a social news submitter, it helps to know what the general news-cycle/publishing cycle is, and work with it. As a blogger, I use Have a Mint to see what times most of my readers visit my site so that I can publish accordingly, and as a social news submitter, I keep track of when other bloggers are publishing so I know when to share a story on StumbleUpon, Digg, or Propeller (it also helps to know what time these communities are most actively surfing these sites).
The best thing about working with the web is that there are hundreds of tools that help you streamline your workflow to the point where you only have to do half the work. For example, why visit a site to read its content when you can have it delivered to you via RSS or email? Similarly, why bother scouring the web for ideas to write on when you can create keyword feeds and have the ideas delivered to you? Or, in the case of blogging, why bother to learn coding when you can use a WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get) to do 90% of the work for you? (This tip probably doesn’t apply to web designers and developers — Ed)
Remember, looking for these tools is a one-time investment that will save you time whenever you have to perform related tasks in the future. Here are some ideas to get you started
1. Use special operators. Using these operators when performing searches can get you more relevant results and get them to you faster.
3. Have ideas delivered to you. You can visit any social news site, use a search string or tags and rip a feed for all the latest results for that query. For example, simply visit digg.com/search, search for the word ‘freelancing’ and click the rss button to have all the submissions matching that keyword delivered to you.
4. Remove redundancy. The problem with having a large number of RSS feeds in your reader is that although most of the time these feeds provide great, unique content, they can often get clogged up with redundant content.
For example, imagine you are a tech blogger trying to keep up with the latest coverage from Macworld. You are likely to get bombarded with a hundred blogs writing largely similar content. What do you do? There are two ways of going about this. First, you can simply perform a keyword search from your feed reader and mark all redundant-looking content as read — but you will have to do this every time. Second, you can use Yahoo! Pipes, which allow you to input multiple feeds, set parameters, and get an output feed. You can actually enter 100 feeds, tell Yahoo! Pipes to eliminate redundancy based on titles. Just subscribe to the resulting feed and you’re ready to go.
5. Power through. Let’s say you’re a power user on a social news site. Don’t make yourself go through the laborious process of going back and forth between a link you want to submit and share and the page for the site you’re sharing it on. For example, a tool that has probably saved me many days already, is the Firefox contextual menu plugin Digg This. By using this plugin, I can go to any page, highlight a section of text and click “Digg This!” by right clicking on the page. The plugin automatically enters the url, title, and summary into the Digg submission page. Then all I have to do is select a category, enter the CAPTCHA and click submit.
6. Use social proof. As a ‘coolhunter’, don’t always rely on feeds for cool content to share with your friends. Use one social news site to find content that you can then share with the community on another site. The first community already does most of the work for you and all you have to do is cross-pollinate.
The Web 2.0 technologies are all about streamlining our processes. If you look hard enough (and you don’t even have to look that hard either) you can easily find tools that will help you not only streamline your workflow but also help you cut the time spent on mechanical tasks in half by simply automating them.
Time to Get Away
The reason why we want to understand time is so that we can have time work for us not against us. Similarly, we want to take advantage of all the tools out there so that once we understand how time applies to each of our unique circumstances, we can use that time more efficiently. Ultimately, however, as freelancers and as web workers, we want to take these steps so that we can accomplish all our primary goals (or deliverables) and do more within the same amount of time. One of the ways to do this is to have multiple tasks overlap, or time shift tasks.
For example, you we’re up late last night working on a blog post? Don’t worry about getting up early the next day to publish it. Just save the draft, change the time stamp on it, and automate the publishing process. Similarly, if you made some submissions to a social news site, don’t obsess over your submissions by compulsively checking your submissions page to keep up with them, rather, use a tool like Digg Alerter to be automatically alerted when a story of yours is promoted.
By automating all the parts you can, and being alerted about the parts that you can’t automate, you can let the machines do the work while you take care of other things. Remember, working on the web is great, and you can get a lot more done (in a wide variety of areas) if you’re not confined to the cubicle.
At the same time, if you don’t keep it simple, you risk losing your sanity.
For simplifying the rest of your life, check out John Maeda’s Blog.