Random thoughts about managing social media and the notification deluge
From email to messaging apps and social media, the omnipresence of these various digital tools and channels means that if we fail to manage how and when we interact with them, they will.
Below are some thoughts about my attempts to maintain control, with the overarching goal of preserving as much mental time to have long thoughts, to read books and long format articles, and to get ‘bored’ on purpose.
Facebook is the social network I mainly use for sharing personal updates. I have lived away from family and childhood friends for the last 17 years and the advent of Facebook allowed me to keep in touch by sharing personal updates/photos and checking out theirs. It makes me happy to keep in touch with that group of people, seeing their travel photos, kid pictures, etc.
To that end I strive to keep that network small otherwise this goal becomes unmanageable. If we have shared a genuine personal moment or spent time together on a vacation and we are likely to stay in touch and do it again then we’re probably FB friends. If we are acquaintances, you mostly share professional updates (or nothing at all) we’re probably not.
If we live in the same city but never get together, or when visiting each other’s city but never reach out, no reason to be friends on Facebook. If one of us gets a flat tire and we wouldn’t call each other for help then again, not FB friends material in my book.
I generally don’t accept new invitations to “friend” and in the last couple of years have had to migrate a couple of hundred contacts that fit better in the LinkedIn “soft connection” category.
My LinkedIn philosophy is if I would exchange a business card with a person, and there’s a chance we might be helpful to each other in the future, to accept their invitation to connect. So the same way you would not answer every communication or meeting request from people who you gave a business card to if they flood in after a conference I generally cannot/do not answer the majority of meeting requests, especially when ambiguous.
Unfortunately there are way too many and if I answered all requests to meet to talk to someone about “the ecosystem” or “discuss partnership opportunities” I would be doing that full time. I do answer ones that are very relevant and specific but those are a small minority.
LinkedIn Pros & Cons: To do some due diligence on people/companies. Good channel to distribute updates or news but by default making it a bad channel for article curation.
Thankfully unfollow exists, wish there was a way to unfollow everyone and then opt back in to some.
Might write a full post about this later.
After a couple of attempts to use Twitter when it first launched failed (did not understand it), I started using Twitter regularly in 2010 focusing mostly on following people who post moderately (Preferably once per day at the most) and are interesting thinkers/thought leaders in topics I am curious about.
I still use it the same way with an occasional tweet about something I find interesting or to harass a brand doing a terrible customer service job (with a high degree of success)
Twitter pros: Curate a list of people/organizations you want to hear from. Best way to discover interesting articles (better than Flipboard, etc in my experience) and great to interact with people who otherwise you would never encounter.
1- Trolls/spam, it is impossible to see a tweet by someone with a large following (Bill Gates, Elon Musk) without seeing stupid or inappropriate replies.
2- There are quite a few Twitter users who are very interesting but a pain to follow if they keep doing tweetstorms about the NBA or the NFL when there’s a game on. Would be amazing to have a smart classifier of tweet topics and an ability to filter out some topics. #FilterBubbleFTW
3- Twitter ads are in your face and never relevant.
I like the concept of Instagram as I love photography and was an early adopter of Flickr but unfortunately cannot but find myself wasting time when using it.
I Tried (still trying?) to use it to share travel photography and follow travel and tech photography accounts but it’s just too easy to open to jump from feed to feed and waste half an hour looking at random photos.
Status: App currently uninstalled
If we have worked together in a team or even closely enough you would probably know how obsessed I am about reducing my email traffic.
My email inbox at work is part of my todo list, for that to work a few tools are needed (some assume Gmail/Google Apps email):
- Ask everyone not to CC on future emails unless you are needed. This goes for intro emails but also all team emails that you don’t need to act on. Will sometimes feel awkward but pays off in freed time.
- Separate inbox for transaction emails: all my e-commerce purchases, statements, etc go to a separate inbox I check only on an occasional basis (and has no active notifications), I do not need to be notified if my bank sent me a monthly statement or Amazon sent me a purchase receipt.
- Boomerang (chrome extension for Gmail) : If you are not going to deal with an email now but have to work on it later, make it disappear from your inbox for a later date when you can focus on it. If you send someone an email you can have that conversation come back to your inbox if they do not reply. if it is in Boomerang you can remove it from your Brain’s memory freeing you up to focus on other things.
- Not stressing when there are emails in the inbox. Inbox zero is a methodology so we can manage email not the other way around.
- Not using any folders/labels: generally a waste of time unless they are paired with a rule to classify reference emails, skipping the inbox and going into a folder that you check once a month.
I don’t use Whatsapp, Snapchat, Kik, Viber, etc. The reason being that services such as Whatsapp reduce the friction for anyone to contact you at any time. That might be great, but the result means constant messages from random people who have your number and want to follow-up on something, and from people you know who are bored while sitting in a public bathroom. I like to be in touch with people but not to that extent.
(Almost forgot: I do use Slack but generally as a message board to share information with notifications disabled)
Notifications in general
On my phone, I only have notifications enabled for my personal email, sms and phone calls and a couple of apps such as Uber and Headspace, none of those notifications make any sounds.
All other applications have their notifications easily disabled by Android. We are becoming slaves to notifications reaching out to our phones like trained lab rats. I still reach out to my phone way too many times during the day (50 times maybe?)
On desktop browsers, there’s a terrible new trend of websites requesting to send you notifications. I block all. I can’t think of a website that has updates so important as to interrupt us.
Instead of opting in to international roaming by default, on most of my trips I don’t turn on data roaming forcing me to only connect when on Wifi in a cafe or back at the hotel. This impacts convenience, but with offline Google maps and a book this is mostly a blessing.
Further reading: A lot of resources on this topic ranging from articles about the benefits of boredom, long thoughts to the benefits of meditation.