Monday, 26 December 2011

Clean all the (online) things for 2012

How much time do you have in a day? Out of the 24 hours, you spend 8 or so sleeping (or trying to sleep). Take out more hours for doing work, or looking for work, as well as commuting. Then there's the personal maintenance; showering, eating, going to the restroom, grooming. Household maintenance; paying bills, doing chores. Close relationship maintenance; talking to those you live with, for example.

Alice in Wonderland: White Rabbit - Who Killed Time?

It doesn't really leave much time, and in that spare or free time, there are plenty of things battling for your attention. Games, reading (get thee to a public library), the arts, sports, television, cinema, walking, thinking, talking, writing and so on. Especially, as I've mentioned before, writing, which consumes vast amounts of uninterrupted time.

Add to that list, the time that you spend online. Of which there is some - as you're reading this. Here's ten suggestions on how to make that online time more meaningful, less wasted. A couple of hours spent doing these may free up many hours or days in 2012 for you to do ... whatever you want or need to do.

Here we go; in this order for the best efficiency:

1. First. Unless your computer is pretty new, it will be slower than when you bought it. Clean out (properly) any software or apps or toolbars or games or anything else that you don't use. Update versions of software. Delete and/or backup old content, such as emails sent, or old reports that have been lying in folders for years, or old pictures.

When you've done all that, use a bit of legitimate software to clean out all your caches and tidy up the hard drive and registries. Do all that and, more times than not, your computer will be running a little faster, and a little quieter. Oh, also - if you have dozens or hundreds of icons on your desktop, most of them never used, then now (not "when I have time") is a good time to delete or file away all but the essential ones so you can stop playing "hunt the thing I need".

When deciding to delete software and apps, be honest. If you downloaded it several years ago, but haven't used it, then saying "But I might use it one day..." - no, it's not going to happen, is it? Delete.

2. Find and list all of the online services, social media and other websites where you have a "presence". The tricky ones - but the more important ones, arguably - are the old legacy ones that you haven't updated for several years. You may have forgotten a few and need to do a few vanity searches. Livejournal? MySpace? Bebo? Friends Reunited? Old blogs that you started in 2006, posted to once, then forgot about?

For each one, make a decision:

  1. Keep, but don't update.
  2. Keep, but update (either once, or regularly).
  3. Delete, but backing up or moving the content first.
  4. Delete without backing up anything.

...and carry out your decision. That may well leave you with fewer social networks, so you can move onto:

3. Update your profile across those social networks you still maintain. Do all of them at the same time for speed, and consistency. New or recent employer, change of location, relationship status - whatever you decide you want to make public, check it's all up to date. Related to this, and also best done at the same time - if you have your resume online, then update it as well, in conjunction with your social media profiles et al.

4. Unfollow disappointing people. Are there people whose updates, posts, status updates make you regularly say "meh"? Or worse, regularly disappoint you? If you aren't getting much or anything from them, then just ... unfollow. If you've been hanging onto them for odd reasons - maybe they are family, or there's some work connection, or in the hope that they will send out just one useful update - then ask yourself if it's worth it. You have no legal obligation to follow anyone. And another year reading pointless updates, even though it takes a few seconds each (add on another few seconds for the time spent being annoyed by each one), can add up.

This is the best time of year to have a prune of your various followees, friends, connections, whatever, across Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google+ or whatever else you use. Be honest to yourself. Three times I've had a major purge of people I follow on Twitter, and it has transformed my personal twitter stream; useful, interesting, fun, tweets now stand out more, and don't get lost amongst the dross. Less noise, more content.

You don't have to tell anyone why you unfollowed them, and most people won't notice, or even care, anyway. Interestingly, asking people why they don't unfollow a specific person whose tweets they don't like often returns the answer of "They might get upset" or "They might ask me why". Well, those aren't really valid reasons; why should you endlessly put up with reading "stuff" from other people that you don't want to, just to (possibly) avoid a situation of the other persons doing?

Unfollow. It's your time.

5. Block people who just won't leave you alone online. I've blocked a few of these this year. A good sign that they can't take a hint is if you block them on one particular media, and they switch to another to keep sending you stuff. Relentlessly. In these cases, it's best to unfollow and block them across all media, and also if it becomes a serious problem to have their email auto-deleted as soon as it arrives at your ISP or mailbox.

The older you get, the more you realise that time is valuable and finite; time spent on people who persistently annoy or disappoint or bore is time wasted that you can never get back.

6. Use copyright dates on any of your online websites or content? Update them all from (c) 2011 to (c) 2012. That way, at the least it looks like you keep your online "stuff" up to date.

7. Go through your online news sources. Websites, feeds, newspapers, mailing lists. Are they genuinely useful? Do they genuinely inform? Or do you use them (or they use to...) to reinforce your own particular political or social positions e.g. "I knew party X was corrupt, and this article in the online newspaper merely confirms it!"

Especially mailing lists.

The Passage of Time

Some of which are useful. Some of which are more akin to an online version of Speakers Corner.

These can be the worst. If you can't live without a particular mailing list for a genuine reason, but it's swamping your inbox, change the settings so you don't receive every posting when it happens, or it comes as a daily digest, or it goes to a different mailbox or folder.

8. On that last point; if you don't already, then use filters for incoming information. If you don't know how to, there's a billion online guides.

For twitter, filter out things you have no interest in. For Facebook, use lists and whatever the newest complication with information is. For email (essential) use filters to get rid of the junk, and shuffle the non-urgent into a place where you can read it ... well, non-urgently. For blogs, if you get lots of spam, change the settings or install a filter or plug-in to get rid of the bad stuff.

9. Look at your own online behavior, but be honest about it (otherwise, this exercise is a waste of time). Do you forward lots of emails, or third-party share lots of pictures on Facebook, or tweet a few hundred times a day? This may be having a negative effect; people will unfollow you, or think you're a bit of an online crazy, or not read your emails or posts or tweets any more. In addition, you're spending a significant amount of time pushing all this "stuff" out there.

Think it through. Maybe think in terms of the quality, rather than the quantity, of "stuff" you are thrusting onto other people (that's pretty much what you're doing). Tilt towards the quality side, and over time be known more for being wise, rather than giving the impression of being spammy or self-important.

10. Another aspect of online behavior. Something is wrong on the Internet. Yes; it is. And it doesn't take much looking to find many, many, things that you will find wrong, or incorrect, online.

Going to fix all these wrong things? Yes? Good luck with waving goodbye to that portion of your life. You cannot fight every battle. You cannot fix everything. You cannot wholly make the world a better place. You have to do other things as well to keep balance, sanity, and focus.

For example. If you find yourself reading the comments added to online newspaper articles, and spending several hours a day responding and retorting to them, you need to be honest with yourself. Is what you are doing effective? Many of the comments are venting anger, or sockpuppeting (how many of the commenter names are genuine? how many of the commenters are the same person?). In some cases - possibly most cases - whatever you say will not change their views. One. Single. Bit.

Unless it's your paid employment, spending several (or more) hours a day fighting all the online battles is not an effective use of time. You'll burn out. Or become permanently cynical. Or only have a future career as a lobbyist (that thing floating off into the sky is your soul). Or, one day, regret the massive amount of time spent doing that, when you could have spent far less and done other things; reading (for pleasure), eating, sports, games, sex, good company, peace and relaxation, whatever.

Rather than fighting every battle you found online until you couldn't stay awake any longer, then repeating the same the next day.

I'm not saying give up EVERY battle. Just choose your battles with care. Maybe choose to edit Wikipedia pages, but just those pages in a narrow, specific, subject field which interest you. If you care about libraries, instead of joining every campaign going, consider just joining one or two e.g. a national one, and a local one.

And as a side-point, an absolutely crucial point is to Learn how to say NO to people. This is an essential skill just to get through life, without being the dogsbody who takes on every cause asked of them. Seriously; if you have difficulty in saying "No" to people, then consider assertive training of some kind. This could be the one of the best, time saving, misery saving, things you've ever done for yourself, and it will have a massively positive effect on the rest of your life. A good, free and private starting point for this is to go to your local public library and borrow whatever books they have on assertiveness, of which there are many.

Time Selector

As with point 9, picking battles carefully comes down to a quality, not a quantity, issue. Focusing on a few things, rather than many things, means you can slow down, be more considered, contribute with more gravitas, receive more respect and personal satisfaction back. And still have more free time to do other things.

Wishing you a more efficient, productive, content and successful 2012.

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