If you are business owner or manager, what’s the reasonable amount of time you should spend every day dealing with technology?
Twenty minutes? An hour? How about up to 12 hours a week?
I’m back on the track of charting how much time we spend on various activities and trying to figure out where we go overboard (see my column in this space on January 5). Time, after all, is our most precious commodity — made even more so by the fact that none of us knows for sure how much we have left.
So it’s reasonable that people spend a little time thinking about where their time goes. A few weeks ago, clicking through the 100 or so E-mails that come into my inbox every day, I came across a welcome entry — the weekly newsletter from the New Jersey Press Association, which compiles summaries of news stories, industry analyses, and commentary related to the media industry. One story on this day linked to a January 9 article from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, reporting on a survey by the American Society of News Editors.
Six of ten American newspaper editors said they were spending less time on their product — organizing news coverage, editing, etc. — and more time grappling with the technology needed to disseminate that coverage. Thirty percent of the editors reported they were devoting four to eight hours a week on technology. An additional 25 percent said that technology issues were consuming 9 to 12 hours or more per week.
About those 100 or so E-mails, a byproduct of all that technology that consumes so much of our time. I’m not mindless about E-mail: I have the spam filter working, E-mail from certain people and with certain words in the subject line is automatically rejected, and I have grown a callous ability to delete without a word of thanks messages sent by friends for my information only, thereby reducing the idle chatter.
Writers, of course, love E-mail because it’s a 24/7 open invitation to be distracted, a fairly benign replacement for the pack of cigarets or glass of scotch that sat on the desks of creative types back in the days of “Mad Men.” As I am writing this I take a 15-second break to check E-mail: There’s an invitation to become part of the LinkedIn network of “CuddleMe Diaper & Formula Bank.” As is the case with all offers to join LinkedIn, I delete it (but only after it’s consumed a few fleeting seconds of my life). I do the same with messages from Facebook, where I apparently am one of the 500 million people allegedly using that social medium.
Despite that tough love and determination, and the dedication of an hour a day to the electronic mailbox, certain E-mails can neither be immediately deleted nor resolved with a quick response. On Monday of this week I counted 40 E-mails that arrived over the weekend but were still in my inbox, which — incidentally — houses a grand total of 26,000 messages dating back to 2006.
Should I be ashamed of such clutter? Absolutely not. Back in U.S. 1’s December 8 issue, our Interchange section ran a piece by Graham Jones, a performance psychologist, titled “How Are You Under Pressure?” One attribute of those who do well, according to Jones: “Top performers are a testament to the ability to deal effectively with many potential distractions while maintaining focus on the things that really matter. This ability involves accepting that there are factors in the performance environment you cannot influence so that you can focus on the things you can control.”
In other words, to anyone I may have slighted, sorry about not acknowledging your E-mail or Facebook greeting (or possibly not even opening it). I just had other things to do at that moment.
That sounds a little anti-social, but it’s to be expected — because I am now switching rhetorical gears from E-mail to social media. As I have written before, I believe that we are now caught up in a bubble of enthusiasm for services such as Facebook and Twitter that rivals the bubble for Internet ventures back in 1999 and 2000. If people were investing as much money as they are time in the social media, the bubble would be greater than the mortgage bubble of the recent past. (Don’t worry about Goldman Sachs’ recent $1 billion-plus investment in Facebook — the government will bail the fat cats out if it implodes.)
Despite all my doubts, we at 12 Roszel Road are covering our social media bases: Twitter and Facebook operations for both U.S. 1 and our sister publication, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News. On top of that we have a blog, www.PrincetonDeals.biz, that aggregates (for free) all of the discounts, specials, and promotions that other media charge for.
To manage it all we have a grid that’s more complicated than a Super Bowl betting pool, with a half dozen different people scheduling tweets and posts at various times seven days a week.
Some of what we do online at U.S. 1 — and our various Internet sites — has been inspired by Jeff Jarvis and his book, “What Would Google Do” (see my May 12, 2010 column). PrincetonDeals.biz, for example, is a pure Jarvis-ian entity, giving away for free what other people are attempting to charge for. The several hours and $25 or so I spent on Jarvis’s book were entirely productive.
After seeing Jarvis in person I subscribed to the RSS feed of his tweets at twitter.com/jeffjarvis, enabling me to follow his tweets without actually being one of the 58,837 people listed as followers on Twitter, where he has posted over 18,000 tweets. I check in on Jarvis every month or so, hoping to see a passing train of thought going slow enough to allow me to jump on board.
So far no luck.
When I think of new technology, I often think of labor-saving or time-saving devices. Maybe it’s time to think again.