Personal Scalability

Digital Me Creation and consumption of all this social media is time consuming. I am someone who uses Twitter regularly, who uses Facebook and blogs and videoblogs and everything else. I’m making multiple types of media every single day, and this is on top of my day job, which involves creating a big professional conference, which entails hundreds of emails and a half dozen or more phone meetings a day.

When I talk to businesses about using social media and social networking tools, I’ll tell you that most of them hear the premise behind Twitter and Facebook and videoblogging and immediately tell me that it’s a waste of time. And yet, it’s all these tools that have brought me into a community of amazing people, brilliant minds, and forward-thinking business types, so there’s certainly some amount of “there” there (as my boss often says). But this all brings to bear a question about personal scalability: how can I keep this all up? What will give? I’ve been giving this some thought.

Side note: Some of this thinking stemmed from Julien Smith ordering me to re-read Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour work Week, which I dutifully did last Friday. I highly recommend it. It’s also a current favorite of friend, David Eckoff.

Strategy Behind the Madness

First off, I’m using all these social media tools for two reasons: first, so that I can learn and understand them and incorporate them into my own personal strategy for building conversations and community. Second, so that I can teach YOU how to use these tools in different ways and show you how to build them into drivers for your business. To that end, I can’t exactly walk away from social media technology, even though this does consume a lot of time. However, there are ways one can think about these tools that help you use them more wisely.

Personal Communication

Here are some thoughts and lessons learned on communicating that have helped me lately:

  • Close loops fast– “Loops” means open conversation threads, such as a multi-email volley on where to go for lunch. If it goes past 4 messages (two from each side), call. Phones make that faster.
  • Make email brief– One subject per mail. One short, tight message per mail. Make it as close to a “closing loops” email as you can.
  • Encourage SMS and Email over Voicemail– Until I can replace my voicemail with Jott, it’s easier for me to read your message. I’ve changed my voice mail greeting to reflect this.
  • Cut back on IM– For whatever reason, Instant Messager almost always nets me people who are bored at work and just wanted to say hi. I dunno why, but that’s the main constituent reaching out to me in IM. Only use IM if you’re working on something closely with someone (wherein IM becomes so cool and useful).
  • Throttle back email – This was/is the hardest. Ferriss, in his book, says we’re obsessive about email. He’s totally right. I learned just how obsessive this past weekend. But if I do this one thing better, I will get back more hours in my day. I have a theory here. I think the more I answer email, the bigger the pile. This will become a whole post in and of itself, but just know that there’s something to this.

Media Consumption

First thing I did happened a few weeks back when I culled a bit of my Twitter stream. I found about 280 people who weren’t really contributing much to the conversation. Now, if I were truly merciless, I would cull back even further, because when I look at a fairly large contingent of my high-traffic Twitter friends, their average stream is essentially a chat room patter that is fun to read, but not especially enriching. I don’t do this, however, because i consider reading Twitter to be part of a “water cooler” moment, and so I just remind myself to take a few minutes, engage, and then get back out.

I just cut my blog feed reading back about 50 or more feeds, so that my count right now is just under 100. That’s partly because I have great human aggregators in that 96, like Robert Scoble, who often finds me the good stuff, and it’s also because Twitter has given me my dose of random blogs to read, so I can keep my list focused on my favorites.

With audio podcasts and videoblogs, I still make time for both of these media types, and just try to overlay other tasks with them where appropriate.

Media Creation

I try to have a fresh new blog post out every day. And if I’m really motivated, I’ll put up two or three as things land in my head. Why? Partly because I’m wired that way. Partly because I’m tempting you to think about these things more than once a day. I blog fairly fast and simply, so I don’t see this as eating up a lot of my day. Further, my blog is my platform, where you’ve come to be part of a community of conversations, and to that end, I like to keep it vibrant by encouraging YOU to come give it your best.

My videoblog is infrequent. My Facebook efforts are still tentative. I like the platform, but don’t use it to its fullest. I Twitter incessantly, and think it’s a great tool for reaching people and adding texture and flavor to your other media. Think of it as the Director’s Commentary on your other work. (Really think about that one a moment, because I feel I’ve stumbled into something by saying that). And the other media I create becomes more and more like syndication back to the mother ship of ideas which is my site, so I do that when I think there’s a value in crossing modes.

What Has to Give

I’ve started learning where my pressure points are with regards to time. I learned that I have to use Twitter differently (drive more meaningful conversation, help promote other people’s great work, and talk occasionally about what I’m doing, while keeping my eye out for gems in the clutter). This is tricky, because I want to stay a conversationalist and not a bullhorn, but I have to revisit the use here.

I have to cut back on email. I’m trying to follow Ferriss’s ideas here, but they’re tough. I’m learning how not to look at my BlackBerry all day. I’m learning how to use filters and tagging in my mail to at least prioritize what gets responded to when. (For instance, I’ve built all my bacn filters, so I’m only going through that stuff every three days instead of every time I get new mail.

I’m learning how to structure meetings and conversations such that people drive right towards their point, and explain to me as quickly as possible how I can be helpful. Not because I’m trying to be curt or rude. I’m just trying to discover if the conversation is of any value for either of us before we have it. (Too much here to go into, but maybe in another post).

Similar but different, I’m learning how to smell just what someone needs ahead of time sometimes, and direct them to the source of what they need for self-service. It’s really easy to accidentally loop yourself into the conversation chain. Be deathly wary of this and stop doing it.

Areas for Improvement

I need to get better at email management. I need to learn more about automating various tasks that seem scriptable (I’m not that deep-level, but I hope to ask people to help me). I need to discover ways to better select which conferences and events might be interesting versus ones where I might build business relationships.

Biggest one: I need to say NO better.

If you want one giant take-away from this rambling post’s attempt to tell you about how you might get back some of your time to learn how to be ready for bigger and better things, the one giant takeaway is this: Say no better. That’s it. If you do that better, you’ll learn how to have space and breadth and bandwidth to handle bigger things, more challenging projects, more rewarding work. That’s the goal. That’s where I need to grow.

Your Thoughts?

How are you coping with your building chaos? What are you doing to find ways to accept the larger and larger workload and challenges to your time? Share with the team, and let’s rip this open in discussions. How would you improve your own scalability, or mine, or others who come here to connect? What’s your take?

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