Guest post: Timesaver Tips for computer use by Deborah Nam-Krane

Read in MS Word instead: How to waste less time on your computer v2 but remember the copyright belongs to Deborah!

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I have an AMAZING guest post for you today! I read it on my phone and knew it was too good to wait. It’s long, yes, yes, it is but totally worth your time.

dnkHow to waste less time on your computer
Reams of virtual ink have been spent on the topic of how much time we waste on social media, but anyone who remembers the 1990s knows that even unconnected computer users have always found distractions when they wanted one. (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Solitaire). The tools may be a more varied now, but the effect is the same: one more application to keep us from what we wanted a computer for in the first place: our writing.
I’m here to tell you that you can start using your electronic time more wisely. Here are the strategies that worked for me.

  • Figure out how much time you have for what you want to do. Even if the most sophisticated piece of technology you own is an analog radio, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and hopefully you’re sleeping for eight of them. Whether paid or unpaid, most of us work (I homeschool three of my children), so there’s at least another eight to ten hours right there. That leaves about six to eight hours, but some of that is probably filled with meals, socializing and/or family time, community obligations and whatever else you might have going on. So it’s not unfair to say that you might have two to four hours to squeeze in something like writing.
  • Ask yourself three questions: What else do you want to work on, What, if anything, can you let go of and Where is your free time?
  • Schedule your time based on your priorities. Make the thing that’s most important to you the first thing you do with whatever free time you’ve identified. If writing is at the top of your list, make that the first thing you do with your free time.
  • Think in ten, twenty and thirty minute increments. As a writer, it can be painful to think about such a short amount of time; sometimes it can that long to get on a roll, but once you’re on it you don’t want to stop. ISmartestGirlFinalf that’s you, schedule specific things to do in those small chunks of time: maybe it’s working on the kinks in one of your characters, maybe it’s working on a scene that’s been bothering you for a while.
  • Consider making one of those short sessions a planning session in which you map out what you want to do over the next few days. It doesn’t have to be a formal outline; just a few notes might do it for many writers. But give yourself some direction so you can use your limited time wisely rather than pining for a non-existent lifestyle in which you have hours at a time to write.

That’s all well and good, but once you open up your internet browser, it’s easy for distractions to literally come flying at you out of your screen. Let’s see what we can do with that.

  • First and foremost, clean out your inbox! Despite all of the applications out there, if you’re like most people, you’re probably still spending a lot of time in your email. It’s very easy to let your messages pile up, but don’t. It’s easy to lose sight of what needs your attention when it’s buried in thousands of other emails.

If you have a backlog of messages, schedule some time to go through them. Delete what’s irrelevant (do you really need the message from 2008 about your child’s field trip?) and sort what you want to keep. Use labels and/or folders- whatever your mail program offers.
If you find a lot of junk email (it’s almost as bad as junk paper mail), unsubscribe to the offending lists and/or services.
I know this is time consuming. I spent a weekend sorting and deleting over 11,000 messages. The payoff was huge though: there’s something about looking at an empty inbox that makes you feel lighter and more organized.

  • Use your calendar to schedule writing/blogging and any other appointments. Make your writing something as important as your annual doctor’s visit. In your spanking clean inbox, you can see requests for scheduling more easily. As soon as something comes up, put it in your calendar. Do the same for any other appointments you make offline. Once you’ve scheduled everything, you can get an even better sense of where your time is going.
  • Use your task list to remind you of tasks you need to get done but don’t have a specific time period for. Most calendaring applications have a companion task list because they recognize that these kinds of obligations exist. Make it a habit (or put in your calendar) to check your task list on a regular basis and see what, if anything, you have firmer information for so you can move it onto your calendar- or just get it done.

What you’ll find after a week if not a few days is that these tips will find you needing to spend less time in your email. This is a good thing. So now you can use other sites without as much of a nagging feeling that there’s something else you should be doing.

  • As you move away from your email, remember this: Keep only one tab open at a time- and preferably just one application (!). It is all too easy to tell yourself you’re only going to check Twitter for a few minutes, but as you wait those extra few seconds for it to load, you decide to check on your blog reader. Don’t do that. You’ll spend less time on both sites if you systematically go through them one at a time.

One of the benefits of the internet is the ability to connect and find useful information in your field of interest or expertise. Many of us use blogs to find some of that information, but there are now so many that we’d spend a lot of time if we went to each one individually. On top of that, not every blog updates on a regular schedule, so we might be visiting a site with no new updates.

  • It’s best to use a blog reader like Feedly to manage your blog feeds. You’ll be able to stay up-to-date on all of the blogs you visit, and usually within minutes. In addition, if you want to share the information, Feedly (and most other blog readers) have buttons to share to popular social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

Alright- you’ve checked your email, scheduled your appointments, moved tasks onto and off of your task list and gone through your blog reader. Now you’re ready to move onto the social network part of social media.
If you’re like me, you use social media in part to get news, whether from mainstream outlets like The New York Times or non-traditional ones, some of which may be blogs. Twitter, in my experience, has the best bang for your news buck of all of the social media apps. An embarrassment of riches- and too many for me to go through in one sitting.

  • Use the Read Later button from Instapaper to save stories- and schedule a time to read those stories. Once in Instapaper, create folders so you can store your articles, then go through each one. Since I’m interested in climate science- and those events are usually time-sensitive- I read those first. Stories about the economy I might read later; things don’t change that quickly in that area.

I confess: I use Pinterest. Some of it is professional- I’ve put cast lists for my books there, as well as boards that relate to certain themes I use- some of it is purely research, mostly about homeschooling, food and frugality. I also have boards for the environment and political topics.

  • If you use Pinterest, use the Pin It! button on your bookmarks bar. Whether you’re doing a web search or you’ve come across something in my social media travels, that’s the easiest way to add something to your boards. That way, you don’t have to jump to Pinterest every time you want to pin something- and you won’t risk being distracted by all of the pretty, shiny things that people you follow have Pinned.
  • Use Lists on social media wherever you can. I have almost 600 Facebook Friends and I follow about 2600 people on Twitter. I’m also building up my lists on Google Plus. If I were going to use those applications without any filters, I’d either spend a lot of time on each site or I’d get so frustrated I wouldn’t use it- and therefore miss out on a lot of valuable information.

Twitter’s list functionality, in my opinion, is the most reliable. Of the people in my Twitter network, I religiously follow about 45 of them via my Media List. Some of them are outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, but I also include independent journalists, bloggers and individuals who lead me to other sources. I’m looking to grow this list, but I don’t see this getting past 100.
Facebook lists, frankly, don’t work that well. They work better if they are smaller and if you choose fewer options; I’ve opted to see only status updates, not photos or things my friends “Like”. However, even with those limitations, using Facebook lists and groups has been the biggest timesaver I’ve employed on social media; I’ve easily cut my time on that site by 60%.
Thus far, Google Plus seems to be most useful for “niche” topics and seems to be sending people in the direction of interest-based Communities. In addition, they offer the option to create Circles (their word for Lists). Every person you associate with has to be put into a Circle, which you can make as specialized as you want. As of right now, because my interactions on Google Plus are more limited, I don’t use the Circle functionality as much, but as my list grows I expect to specialize more.

  • Don’t feel that you can’t participate in social media without a smartphone. The biggest time suck of all may be your smartphone. Several years ago, I was a Blackberry power user. However, after I realized that checking my phone was the first thing I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night, I made the decision to switch back to a conventional phone. In addition to saving hundreds of dollars per year, I can also still use it for limited social media interaction, particularly via Twitter, which I’ve set up to feed my Facebook network.
  • Create organized bookmarks- and use them. I saved my best tip for last. It might not get any more Old School than that, but using bookmarks has been the thing that has allowed me to get the most use out of my time on the internet.

I spent about two hours going through all of the bookmarks, and what was most frustrating was that there were a lot of duplicates. (This was almost as frustrating as finding a lot of dead links.) But when I was done I had a neat, clean set of bookmarks that I could use quickly and efficiently.

  • Organize them by person if you share a computer.  I have little need to see my husband’s legal sites, and he doesn’t need to see my publishing links. By the same token, neither of us have much use for our daughter’s research into summer internships.
  • Prioritize your bookmarks by what you want- or need- to visit first. If you’re like most people, you’re email is going to be at the top of the list. Next should come your primary vocation- or avocation. In my case, that’s Publishing, which refers to my sales reports as well as my reviews (those I’ve received and those I’ve written). After that put your Social Media links, then your Interest links. (Or vice versa, depending on which sees the most turnover.) Finally, include a space for your Administrative tasks- things you have to do regularly but not every day. In my case, that includes Billing, Banking and Research.
  • For those sites that don’t fit into a neat category but that you use constantly, keep standalone or uncategorized bookmarks. In my case, those are the Pin It and Read Later buttons from Pinterest and Instapaper, respectively, and the MBTA, Massachusetts’ public transportation system. Those are right up on the bookmark bar so I have easy access to them. Within my personal bookmarks, I have a link for the Boston Public Library and Instapaper because those don’t fit into neat categories (the library is so much more than research or education for us). However, if I found myself with more than five standalone bookmarks, I’d look harder to find a category for them.

Truthfully, it can be a lot of work to set this up, but the results are very satisfying. You will find within a few weeks that your “lost time” is made up for by the amount of time you have left over efficiently going through your sites as opposed to haphazardly going down an electronic rabbit hole. What you do with all of that saved time is up to you, but I’ll make one suggestion: write more.

Deborah Nam-Krane came up with the kernel of The New Pioneers series when she was barely a teenager. It only took 27 years, but she’s finally ready to let the world read it. The Smartest Girl in the Room was released in late March of 2013 and The Family You Choose was released exactly six months later in September of 2013. The China Doll will be released (fingers crossed) by the end of December.

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3 thoughts on “Guest post: Timesaver Tips for computer use by Deborah Nam-Krane”

  1. I’m definitely taking notes on this. Some of your advice I already do (deleting emails is practically a past time of mine), but some I should really consider. Thanks for this!

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