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When Social Media Becomes a Time-Suck

There are a lot of professionals telling writers—particularly those interested in publication—that they need to use social media. From personal experience, I can attest to the benefit of having a large web presence. (See these posts: Can an Online Presence Make a BestsellerThe Snowball Effect of Social Media.)

But, I can also attest to the huge time-suck that social media can become.

Of course everyone is different, in various life stages, with unique work or family situations. But I’d venture to say that the vast majority of writers, like me, are juggling multiple responsibilities—and a writing career is just one of them.

The bottom line is that we don’t have unlimited time to devote to our writing, much less to social media.

Many of us find ourselves in the dilemma of trying to stay consistent and active within our social media circles, but on our very limited time. And as our web presence grows and our connections increase, it becomes increasingly harder to maintain the relationships we’re forming without taking even more time away from other things.

Four months after the release of my debut book, not only have my writing responsibilities gradually increased, but my social media circles have widened too.

For example, last week (an average week) I had over 400 emails (personal and professional accounts combined, not including spam). Over the course of five days, I had a total of 168 blog comments and 165 retweets of blog posts on twitter. I have two facebook accounts (one personal and one for readers/writers) and I get comments and messages there. And I have over 3500 followers on Twitter and interact there too.

You get my point. Social media plays a huge role in my writing career and thus has the potential to be a huge time-suck.

I hesitate to share statistics like this, because I truly do love hearing from people. When others share how busy they are and how many emails they get and so on, I always feel bad when I need to email them—like I’m bothering them. So, please don’t feel that way. No one is ever a bother to me. I really do love personal emails and messages!

My intention in sharing the statistics is not to discourage people from communicating with me, but rather to give a picture of just how big social media can become. And I know many of you are in the same situation with very similar statistics.

So what do we do? Go crazy?

Seriously. Here are a few ways I’m handling the social media time-suck:

1. Set personal boundaries.

Over the past months, I decided that when I’m in mom or teacher-mode, I won’t let social media encroach on that. So, during my busy days, I try to give my other responsibilities my focused attention. I save responding to emails, tweets, etc. for breaks, or for the time that I specifically set aside for it.

2. Prioritize interactions.

Since I can’t possibly personally respond to every single correspondence without it becoming a full time job, I’ve mentally ranked which communications get my most immediate attention and which get the leftover. I always respond within a day or two to personal emails and messages. I try to answer questions within posts. But I can only jump into blog discussions or respond to comments as I have the time.

3. Realize the world will go on fine without us.

As much as I try to be consistent with my social media efforts (see this post: 5 Ways to Develop Consistency in Writing & Blogging), I also realize that the cyberworld will go on fine without my presence. It’s rather egotistical of me to think that I’m needed or even important. I want to keep a humble attitude about my place in the scope of cyberland.

4. Give ourselves permission NOT to keep up.

This was a hard one for me, especially with visiting and following other blogs. For a while I tried to continue as I always had, but with the growing responsibilities of writing under contract, I finally had to give myself permission to let go of the pressure to keep up with everything.

5. Pick one place to interact more personally.

Instead of trying to be super active in all places at all times, I use Twitter the most. The 140 character limit forces brevity. I can hop in and off in a quick minute. And I can interact personally with a lot of people in a short amount of time.

6. Have a deeper, inner circle of relationships.

Be genuinely friendly with those in our widening spheres, but realize we can’t pull everyone into our inner circle. I’m not an advocate of cliques. And the boundaries of my inner circle are always open. But we do need deeper, like-minded friendships to sustain us, and that just can’t happen with everyone we meet.

Have you ever gotten your feelings hurt because you interacted with someone on a social media site and didn’t get a response back? When many of us are struggling with the social media time suck, how can we keep from unintentionally hurting the feelings of those who take the time and effort to comment or communicate with us? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

50 comments:

  1. Lots to think about. I've been pretty good with setting boundaries, but I can how that gets even harder after publishing. I think at the point you're at, people are pretty forgiving and realize you don't have time. And I refuse to think of social media as middle school and refuse to go back! If someone ignore me - that's fine, I'm not that 13 year old girl anymore.

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  2. For me it's about getting perspective. We simply can't do everything all the time. And no one expects us to (although we tell ourselves somthing different at tiems). I like your comment about realizing that the cyberworld will go on without you and that we must give ourselves permission not to keep up. But on the other hand, jump in when we do have the time and keep our relationship circles open. Excellent words today, Jody!

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  3. Great post, and very relevant to a lot of us. So
    far I don't have a strategy to work with social
    media without letting it become a time suck.
    But I know I might need one soon, and your
    post helps.

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  4. I just got on the social media bandwagon shortly before the end of the year and I needed to hear this, particularly the part about making boundaries for family time. Twitter is way too much fun, and sometimes I catch myself checking the lastest tweets on my phone as I'm eating breakfast with my wife. Not exactly the best way to be prioritizing my time.
    Loved the post. Keep up the good work.

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  5. Great advice, Jody. I've been struggling with this balance, and as you know, my life will take some twists and turns with my sister here soon. So I have a feeling I won't keep up very well in the coming weeks.

    Hope you have a great weekend!

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  6. There is so much advice for writers that says we need to be involved in social media. I've taken that advice. While I'm certainly not to the point that you are, I still struggle with allocating time or using it as an excuse not to write. I think the number of blog posts on how to manage media time are catching up with the number of posts telling us to become media savvy.

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  7. Hi Jody,
    I continue to struggle with the whole thing of building my blog traffic before book one is released. Sometimes I wonder if it's really worth the time suck and other times I enjoy it. BUT as you know it's important to turn out an excellent product and without that no one will care about the blogging. I wonder how much difference it makes if you blog less than 3 times a week? Love your blog kiddo!

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  8. I've found that my Droid (and before that, my BlackBerry) were integral to keeping up with the social media thing. Sometimes I wonder what I did before the advent of Smartphones ...

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  9. Totally with you on this. I've given up reading the news for visiting other blogs. I might have that in reverse.

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  10. The big one for me is setting time boundaries. I have off-limit computer time or I literally would have no life. We can let it gobble up every free moment, but we shouldn't.

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  11. Even though my commitments are small in comparison, this post is very helpful. After reading this, I feel better about not keeping up with everything/everybody. Thanks for giving me permission. :)

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  12. I, too, have tried to give my full attention to the important areas of my life, like parenting,and not allow social media to creep in. I admit, it's hard!

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  13. I've let go of all my social media activities except blogging and facebook. And I rarely post anything on facebook. But I'm not a young writer trying to make a successful career. I'm an older woman who loves to write and hopes her words touch others. I think each of needs to find our own way in this social media morass. I came to very similar conclusions to you, Jody. This is a very wise and thoughtful post.
    Karen

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  14. Excellent post, Jody, and solid advice! We simply cannot do it all, do it well, and keep ourselves from being really, really cranky. *grin*

    I think Dr. Seuss said it well:
    "So be sure when you step,
    Step with care and great tact,
    And remember that Life’s
    A Great Balancing Act."

    Juggling with you, my friend!

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  15. I've hated not getting here as often as I'd like to or used to.

    I've. Missed. You.

    Or getting around to other blogs.

    Only. So. Much. Time.

    @stickyJesus had a great post on how to maximize online time. Tip #6 was especially helpful to me.

    http://stickyjesus.com/2011/01/7-ways-to-maximize-your-time-online/

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  16. Great post! Hats off to you, I can't imagine doing social media as much as what you described. I love Twitter, but don't have a FaceBook account (tried it, wasn't for me) and blog only once a week. That is my limit, I'm doing as much as I can. Maybe I'll get better at social media (faster) if and when the time comes. But I still want it to be fun.

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  17. I follow some established author blogs where comments are turned off or only very rarely activated for a specific post. It's clear that this is because the author simply no longer has the time to respond to all of her traffic, and is trying to save time to write. This may happen to you, but it's a good thing. In the end you have to choose between being a successful novelist and a successful blogger! (Or make so much money that you can hire your husband as your assistant, à la Jen Lancaster :D)

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  18. It is incredibly hard to please everyone all the time - and that is a hard fact to swallow if you're a people pleaser *raises hand*. This is all fantastic advice. I've already realized #3, but I think I could definitely work on the rest! ;) Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go retweet this! Hugs!

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  19. If you use Google Chrome as your Web Browser, there's an extension for it called "Stay Focused" that allows you to limit how much surfing time you have in a day.

    Here:
    https://chrome.google.com/extensions/detail/laankejkbhbdhmipfmgcngdelahlfoji

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  20. You've said what we're all feeling, and I admit I go through spurts of wishing I could go back to my pre-social media days...when I had so much more time to write. It's very easy to sit down to read a few blogs and find that an hour has passed! You offer some good points. Balance is key.

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  21. Wow, Jody. I think it would be amazing if you did just a fraction of what you do. I'm so impress that you can homeschool and do ANYTHING else.

    I've let a lot go these past few months. I felt like I needed to write more and network less. It's been great for my writing, but I do miss my online friends and I do worry about offending people. But it's true, we don't have unlimited time.

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  22. Excellent advice, Jody. I have no doubt this is an area we could all manage a bit better than we do. :-)

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  23. Jody, this is the nicest, most well-considered post on the topic EVER. I especially like your comment about the difference between cliques and inner circles. We all need close friends, but I agree that we should also welcome new people into our lives as much as possible and be warm. The world needs more loving welcomes, and fewer proud cliques.

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  24. Thanks so much for posting this (and for tweeting the link!) -- it's just what I needed to read today, as I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed and unable to keep up with my social media accounts as I'd like. Add in feeling under the weather the past few days and it's really gotten away from me! I'll rethink my boundaries and reduce my stress over this.

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  25. Great points. I definitely agree that social media is a time sucker.

    I've realized that the blogs I should mostly visit are the ones who comment on my blog most frequently and the ones that I comment on frequently. Like you mentioned, the circle of deeper relationships shouldn't be closed off, but I agree that there needs to be that bond with only a few people that you keep up with so you won't be overwhelmed.

    Thanks for posting this. =)

    Tessa

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  26. Number 4 is the hardest, but I have to do it or nothing else gets done. You stats are great but I see how they would feel overwhelming at times.

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  27. Friend, you have a gift with your posts. They're always so timely and resonate with me.

    Trying to increase my web presence is a huge challenge for me as I focus on juggling a writing career, a full-time job, family, and other life obligations. One bit at a time.

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  28. Hey everyone! The social media time-suck is one I keep having to come back to. I think as we move through different stages of our writing careers, we'll need to stop and re-evaluate how much time and effort to put forward. It's going to be different for each of us at different times. The important thing, I think, is to be intentional with what we're doing.

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  29. Social media is so fun, though:) I can appreciate this post Jody, because I've had to make some hard decisions about my time since I added a third baby into my life. Blogging is still my favorite social avenue but Twitter is becoming more my chatting home. It is faster and because I can tweet from my phone, a quicker tool.

    Cutting down my blog hopping is the most painful. I've had to narrow down the blogs that mean the most to me for information, relationships, and enjoyment to only a few favorites. Ouch:)

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  30. Once again, Jody, I'm in awe of how you manage to keep all the balls in the air. Thanks for sharing your stats with us; personally, I found it very useful and interesting information. How do you do it?! I know I work full time, but you've got 2.5 times as many kids as me and you home school and that IS a full time job. I've had to give myself permission to not keep up and not always comments on all the blogs that I'd like to because I simply can't do it all and still write at the volume that I do. I always read the posts, but there are only so many hours in the day. Until we figure out how to clone ourselves. Then we'll be able to do it all! ;)

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  31. Jody,
    I totally agree with everything you said. I can't imagine how you do what you do now!
    I have cut back my post to sometimes only once a week just so I can go around and visit some people I want to stay in touch with. I also have a close circle of writing friends that I know, no matter how long time goes between, they are only an email away if I need them or they need me.

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  32. You're so right Jody, it can be a huge time suck, and if you don't manage it, you won't get anything else done. I have the most difficulty with #3. I admire people who have the confidence to drop out of the blogosphere for a week or month, whatever, and then pick back up where they left off.

    I've had to cut back to just three days per week, period.

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  33. I think this is something on a lot of minds lately (especially the minds of those of us who juggle the mom hat and the writer hat). I think I've read at least 5 posts on it just this week. I keep meaning to make my own post responding to the very good time management advice in all of them, but alas, the irony- I haven't had time.

    Good thoughts as always.

    And I rarely have my feelings hurt for lack of reply. I presume others have lives just as busy as mine if not more. And if I can't extend grace to others who are just doing their best, I can't expect grace for myself- so it's a go and do likewise kind of thing for me.

    Thanks Jody. Love your blog.

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  34. The only way I manage to survive with my social media is by separating my identities. I filter people by whether they know me personally or just as a writer/web designer. That helps a little bit.

    I try to prioritize, things that need an immediate response get one. :)

    Debra

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  35. At times I wonder how you do everything you have to without collapsing! You must be very diligent in your prioritizing but even then, I'm glad to see your #3 and #4. It's important to be considerate of yourself, too.

    I never feel hurt if someone doesn't respond to a comment of mine. The comment may not have evoked a response, or the person may be busy writing or dealing with family situations. I also realize that not every person I approach will feel a connection to me and want to build the relationship by continuing the conversation. I don't see it as an insult, just a reality.

    The flip side, I suppose, is that I don't fret over whether I can answer every comment individually, or have to use a collective response. E-mails and direct messages always get a reply, but I figure people will understand if they don't always get a personal reply to a blog comment as long as I've made it evident that I've read and appreciated every single message.

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  36. I used to feel tense when I couldn't keep up, but now I just do the best I can and don't worry about the rest. I take care of my writing duties first before hopping on social media. Otherwise I'd get nothing done!

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  37. As always, you hit the nail right on the head. Great advice, Jody

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  38. This post is very relevant to me. I've been slowly building my social media presence over the past year. I realized a few months ago that I needed to set boundaries or it would consume my life. I had excellent advice from a great author's book, and I implemented it. I also made a schedule. Now I'm not juggling what you're juggling, but I am trying to get my balls properly aligned now so I can handle the responsibilities with less difficulty.

    I made a schedule to manage the time better. It's helped me a lot.

    I also love Twitter. It is very easy to manage and pop in and out of it. I've strengthened a few friendships that way and made new friends. I thought it was going to be hard, but it is the least time consuming for me to keep up with as far as social media is concerned.

    Your blog is a fabulous resource. And no, my feelings are not going to get hurt if you don't reply :-)

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  39. When I first got involved in blogging, I quickly realized the time involved if I returned to a post to reply to each comment. I put a header on my comment section that explains I cannot respond unless your comment is connected to an e-mail address. I don't feel the need to further explain. (If I were getting 400 a day, I couldn't do even that!) People should understand that most of us don't have that kind of time to spend online. Especially if there are publishing deadlines to meet!

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  40. Hi Jody -

    While I love blogging, the time pressures get to me. By scheduling posts in advance, I'm not scrambling the night before for a topic.

    My biggest challenge is visiting other blogs 2-3 times per week and commenting. Recent family situations required my attention, so I've slowed down.

    I hope people understand I'm not snubbing them. If possible, I'd visit the immediate world.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  41. I just don't worry if someone who usually "follows" me doesn't respond to a blog post. I've discovered in my short time blogging what you say here--we can't possibly respond to everyone as our following increases. And it IS true that Bloggerland WILL survive without us!! I haven't yet jumped into Twitter but may as my book will be out probably within the month. I've resisted this, partly because I'm still boggled by it. Blogger took me months to figure out! And this is supposed to be one of the user friendly social mediums. Sigh. Maybe it's my age, but I can't even figure out how to change my profile picture on MyYahoo. You have an incredibly beautiful blog here. I gather you hired someone to help you with it? Any recommendations?

    I'm looking forward to reading your second novel. As I once told you, I loved the first one. I'm about to re-read it (it's the print version, which I prefer over ebooks). I don't retain a lot that I read the first time around, but I only re-read books I REALLY like.

    And I think as I've said before, family is FIRST. In my view, first over everything, including writing. But it sounds like you do a marvelous job juggling both (with the help of a great husband).

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  42. Last week when I kept thinking 'did I so this/did i answer so and so/did I send that/did I . . . et cetera . . . I realized I need to set those boundaries, too.

    It's becoming so much to remember and to do, and somewhere in there I have a deadline for the next book: that should be my priority.

    WOnderful post, as usual.

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  43. Great points. I think early on I may have gotten my feelings hurt of someone didn't respond to me, but I think I'm past that. It is hard to keep up with everything, you have to give yourself a break somewhere. I don't have a huge social network at this time, so it is easier for me. At times though, I still feel overwhelmed by it all.

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  44. Hi Ann,

    I think most people can tell the difference between a professionally developed website and one that's put together by the author (unless the author is talented at web-designing). But I also don't think it's necessary to invest a lot into a website until a writer is contracted with a publisher. At that point, I think hiring out for a designer is a great investment. And of course, I love my designer (PulsePoint) and highly recommend them! :-)

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  45. It is hard to juggle social networking with writing. I have settled for FaceBook to interact with my writer friends. I belong to a poetry group, so I am still creating when I am there.

    I got caught up in the platform building trap for a few months. So much so I forgot to write.

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  46. Your last comment and question caught my attention because I've been in situations where correspondence has not been reciprocated as fervently as mine (ie. blog comments, facebook posts)and my feelings have gotten hurt to the point that I had to ask myself whether or not it was worth pursuing some relationships when there's no response or interest. Many times I had to let it go and not interact with someone who doesn't "comment" back, because of the emotional energy it takes to sustain these online relationships. There's no easy answer and as I venture back out into the blog community,I'm a little fearful that my efforts to reach out and increase my online presence and community will be dismissed. Then my next question will be, when is it time to shake off the dust and move on??

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  47. So glad you addressed this topic. Sometimes it seems like this is the "elephant in the room" that no one wants to acknowledge.

    I've been feeling overwhelmed for the last year with my perceptions of what I needed to do to keep up. I keep thinking, when the dust settles, I'll restructure my priorities. You know what, the dust never settles! :) Only I can make the necessary decisions and get the balance back, and then stick with it. These are great points to help us manage things. I appreciate your thoughts.
    Blessings,
    Karen

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  48. Hi Jody, great post it is informative and concise thanks for sharing these tips. Social media indeed suck our time if we only allow it. We often forget our priorities to do work when we are having fun like visiting social media. Here is how I manage activities that suck time personally with self discipline to avoid temptation and being distracted while at work and online tools that helps me manage time like this tool that I use. This way I can visit social media without spending too much of my time and at the same time I can do my task.

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  49. Hi Trevor,
    I agree. We really do need to prioritize and cultivate self-discipline! Thanks for stopping by!

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