Your Mind on Twitter

What makes for a memorable book? Sometimes it’s a story; sometimes it’s just one line.

I resisted Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week for years for the same reason I generally and to a fault resist anything that feels over-hyped, like Coldplay or Downton Abby. But when I finally did succumb, there were sections I found compulsively readable and relateable. And one rule of thumb I’ve tried to live by since: Check your email as little as possible, and no more than 4 times a day.

Despite the nature of working in a communications job, I avoid living my life in email clutter. I want to spend my days with clear focus, and trying for creativity, invention – I’m an idealist – and by the status quo of what my business allows, that’s usually web-based or interactive or pitch/writing-intensive and requires breathing time away from the email barrage. I remember taking a vacation from a stressful job once and finding that entire chains would back and forth throughout the day that would eventually get answered, and could have been more easily achieved were there just one question and one response. I think we’ve all had “aha” moments like this, and we’re all culprits of causing them.

Seth Godin, who blogs short but great start-your-day-productively posts, recently concurred Ferriss’ point about email. Submerge yourself, or worse respond too quickly and reactively, and you are undermining valuable hours of your day.

To this he added that while he sees value in Twitter, it’s “not really me.” He gives a nice shout to Ferriss, who, at over 321,000 followers, it’s safe to say, rocks Twitter. One assumes Ferriss thinks more highly of Twitter in terms of reach and real-time accessibility than he does about email. I’ve come to agree. It’s not that I’ve gotten lazy about reading longform writing. It’s just that, when I need information before starting my day, I’d rather read with the widest breadth and variety, and when I disseminate information, I enjoy the challenge, as a wordy publishing person, of getting to the point in byte-size.

As I tweeted recently, I think Godin misses an audience in not devoting time to Twitter– (he clearly blogs, and concisely, without any problem). Twitter is still possibly the best social media device to expand readership, because you’re not just talking to book readers when you’re tweeting, and this is even more important for nonfiction writers whose interests are broadly applicable to real life and current affairs.

But I agree with Godin’s suggestion that you shouldn’t attempt Twitter haphazardly, without a messaging strategy, an ideal audience, and something you want to learn and gain. You should, in essence, set out to do it well. Look at the wasted time we’re spending on Twitter according to this recent (however subjective) report from HBR.

I think everyone, and not just authors, can benefit from making a good sport go at Twitter, and here’s how:

-challenge your brain to think in terms of time-efficiency (a la Ferriss): How fast can I convey relevant information?

-think with every tweet: am I navel-gazing here, or addressing something important? (Of course, allow yourself the once in a while joke that only you find funny, or the celebrity dish you covet. People want people on Twitter: not avatars.)

-shift your view to recognize the power of brevity: it can be a big benefit to both your general communication and your reading comprehension skills. What if corporate policy were limited to emails written in 140 characters? We might have to de-flower our language more (i.e. less bullshit).

-scan quickly for what’s most relevant to you via search; don’t just browse your homefeed endlessly, or distract yourself from work by Twitter stalking.

-consider yourself a bottomless news vessel. Twitter has personally made me feel more informed than any other internet device.

-if you think you’re spending too much time on Twitter, cap yourself. The median for those who tweet spend 30 minutes a day on it. So safely limit yourself to 25. 🙂

Have other opinions and tactics for Twitter? Agree with Seth Godin or Tim Ferris? We always want to hear from readers. See also:

Work Optional - Tanja Hester

Tanja Hester

"Ms. Hester gets you to think about how you might retire early, forc[ing] you to ponder how you could cut current spending and increase your income, savings and the rates they earn." — The New York Times