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Brighton (Sussex)/ London UK

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Digital Strategies for Better Time Management

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Broadband, 3G networks and social media are changing the way we work, and the way we communicate. But the pervasive nature of these digital technologies and our increasingly ‘always connected’ culture can result in digital overload, leaving less time to get things done, and to make an impact with our business. In this guest article, Sinead Mac Manus from social enterprise 8fold looks at how we can use digital strategies and tools to improve our time management.

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Thinking back 15 years ago, the distractions we had at work were limited to being interrupted by phone calls, long meetings, or our annoying colleague rattling on about his weekend.

Today things are very different. The pervasive nature of digital technologies means an ever-growing stream of communication during our working day. We are bombarded by calls, voice messages, texts, emails, tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, news feeds, instant messages… And that’s before we get to the tantalizing content on the Internet – which can distract us from the task in hand, and fragment our productivity.

I propose that we can work with digital technologies and harness their power to create those all-important pockets of focus, in our day. In this article I’m going to focus on three digital strategies that you can implement for better time management.

1. Managing Your Email

If you ask any busy person what is the one thing they wish they could change, they would probably say their email Inbox. Email as a method of communication has transformed the way we do business and interact. However, it leaves many people feeling overwhelmed and out of control.

For busy clients, I always recommend a switch to Google’s Gmail as its growing list of easy-to-use features and shortcuts mean that you can whiz through your Inbox in minutes. With Gmail you can use filters to automatically label incoming emails. You can forward them instantly to a colleague, or automatically delete them – useful if you’ve asked to unsubscribe from lists and are being ignored.

With threaded conversations, your Inbox stays uncluttered, and with the clever use of gadgets such as ‘Send and Archive’, you can save time filing your emails. Gmail’s search functionality is second to none, which can save you time hunting for that important email. I use the ‘Add Star’ and ‘Archive’ for emails that don’t need action, but that I will read at a later date. These leaves the few emails in my Inbox as actionable items to either transfer to a ‘To Do’ list for actioning another day, or just work through to zero each day.

With a clever use of Gmail’s features, soon you’ll be in full control of your Inbox on a daily basis.

2. Information Overload

We all suffer from information overload. The daily deluge of blog posts, email newsletters and useful links. You know the scenario where you take a short digital break from your work. One interesting blog post leads to another, and before you know it, two hours have past and you’ve wasted your morning. Sounds familiar?

But how do you keep track of information that might be useful in the future without getting sidetracked in your day-to-day work? Enter Evernote. Evernote’s CEO, Phil Libin likens Evernote to having an external brain – it remembers things so you don’t have to. Essentially Evernote is an information capturing and organization system .You can use it to type a text note, to clip a web page, snap a photograph of something, or record some audio.

Evernote is cloud-based. So the information that you add from the web, or from your smartphone is automatically synched to your desktop. So you can capture information on the go, as well as at your desk.

An excellent addition to Evernote is the Google Chrome Evernote Web clipper, which can save entire web pages to Evernote, or just highlighted sections. Evernote can also integrate with your Twitter account, so you can save tweets of interest for reading at a later stage. Registration on Evernote takes minutes. It’s free, and you can watch a short, and funny, video explaining how to get started.

The groundbreaking thing about Evernote is its search functionality. Not only does Evernote search for text within text notes, it also has character recognition software, so it will search for characters or text within an image, such as a JPEG or a PDF. This means finding that photograph, or business card, or a blog post, is instantaneous, and can save you a lot of time.

3. Social Media Time Management

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the Holy Trinity of social media, and the ones that I recommend to most clients to focus on for their business. TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) is a web, desktop and smartphone application that syncs between all three, and can be used as your social media hub for your business. I’ve tried most Twitter applications, and TweetDeck consistently beats all the others due to its integration with other social media, and also its ability to sync between your desktop and your phone.

Setting up TweetDeck is easy, it takes a few minutes. You can add different social media accounts and manage everything from the one area. So for example you can add any number of Twitter accounts that you are managing, you can add your LinkedIn account, you can add your Facebook account, and you can also add any Facebook pages that you are an admin of.

This social media integration means that you can post the same message one time to a number of different social media avenues. For example you might want to post a tweet about an event that you are running, to your LinkedIn profile, and to your Facebook page as well. A note of caution though – do be aware that you might have different audiences on each network. So do choose where to send your updates, wisely. Does your LinkedIn network really want to know what you’re having for lunch?

Use TweetDeck to set up different columns for the different information that you’re going to manage. Essential columns to add are one for your Direct Messages, one for ‘Mentions’, one for ‘@replies – and also if you’re using them – one for your LinkedIn network updates, and one for your Facebook updates. These will keep both of these out of your Inbox, and keep your Inbox clean.

A second strategy is setting up different groups of followers. So for example if you’re following a lot of people who work in social media, you could set up a ‘Social Media’ group. If you’re following people who work in the arts, you could follow an ‘Arts’ group. This means that you can scan vertically through your groups everyday, and get through a lot of tweets in a short space of time.

Another strategy I use, particularly when I’m looking at TweetDeck on the iPhone, is having a ‘Top Tweets’ column. Some people call this their ‘A List’, and these are my 10-15 favourite friends – these are people that I’m following that give me the best content. So on a daily basis, if I don’t have enough time to look at all of my groups on a busy day, I can glance at this list, perhaps do a Retweet or two, or post something.

Using a social media hub such as TweetDeck can really save you time on a busy day, keeping your email Inbox clean of different updates, and keeping all your social media activity in one place – both receiving and sending out as well. I view TweetDeck in a similar vein to using email, something to be dipped into once or twice a day – not to be opened constantly in the background.

If you use this strategy for both your email and TweetDeck, you will free up a lot of your time for concentrating on the great work you need to do to move your business forward.

Sinead Mac Manus is Founder of 8fold, a social enterprise that helps people and organisations use digital technologies to be more effective – at work, in business and, in life. www.eightfold.org

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