This column was supposed to appear a couple of days ago. I was late getting it completed, which is pretty ironic given the subject is attention and distraction. I know you don't get paid to read, and doing so is taking your time away from something else, so you're already multi-tasking.
Let me ask how many windows, browsers, and tabs you have open as you read this column? I bet it's more than one. Email, calendar, and Twitter at the very least.
I don't believe for a second that I have your undivided attention. Nor should I expect it.
To be Alive in the Year 2012 is to be Distracted
For those of us who earn a living online, it's even worse. The blurred line between our personal and professional lives is gone. I sleep with my iPhone nearby, apparently trying to multitask in my sleep. The nightlight has been replaced by warm blue glows of new emails and tweets.
Recently I took an inventory of the many social media type services I've created an account for, and I discovered I couldn't find them all. I don't think I'm alone here, and I believe this makes us less effective as content publicists/link builders. More on that in a moment.
I tried to remember all of my various accounts, but honestly have no idea how many I created since my first AOL and CompuServe accounts in 1993. I've got a:
- Twitter account.
- Google+ page.
- LinkedIn profile.
- Facebook page.
Those are the easy ones to remember. Most of us have those. Then again...I've got:
- A Pinterest site with multiple boards.
- A Quora profile page.
- A BusinessWeek (BX) profile page.
- One of those over at AMEX as well.
- A Google bookmarks account.
- A StumbleUpon account.
- Something at Yahoo.
- delicious? Ditto.
- Digg? Done.
- Yelp? Yup.
- YouTube? You bet.
I had a MySpace page, but I have no idea what happened to it. My GeoCities page is long gone too. I also have about eight author profile pages out there somewhere. I also publish a private linking newsletter specifically to help others understand all these damn things. It gets the largest chunk of my online time because that's where my bread is buttered.
That's about 26 different accounts/profiles/pages to manage that are just the ones I'm sure of. There are others. Some I've forgotten or long abandoned. Now add in anything I'm on only because I'm in a web related industry, (a phrase that's an oxymoron at this point), and how many of these accounts can I actually use effectively for myself or my clients?
Oh, and I almost forgot. I have a website. Sometimes I forget about it, and that's not a joke, it's one of the points of this column.
The reality as a content publicist (a.k.a., link builder) is that I think I need this messy social smorgasbord to do my job well. After all, I can't be an expert on that which I have not used, and used extensively. And what if the one social venue I ignore is the one Google decides really matters? Didn't Pinterest come out of nowhere?
Pinterest sent me over 1,000 pageviews in September. Here's why. Now that's irony.
I know I can't speak for all of us, but I can ask myself questions and in the process ask them of you as well. How much of our attention can we devote to all these services and still maintain passion for any single one of them? How can we be effective at all of these things simultaneously?
In an online world of drive-up windows, when do we sit down and eat a real meal?
Here's how I handle the distractions and potential distractions when I'm engaged in a client project.
- Block out a window of time at least two hours long for any task that involves doing online target site research and/or outreach. Why two hours? In my opinion you can't be effective by dabbling at linking for 10 or 20 minutes here and there as time permits all day long. You need to get into a zone. For me it's almost like a mode or a trance. Those of you who do this know what I'm talking about. Two hours sounds like a lot, but when you're really focused it feels like 10 minutes. It's also a fact that when doing this kind of work you will sooner or later end up with 20 tabs open, so you certainly don't need anything else vying for your attention. You are a doctor, your client is the patient. Linking is surgery. Treat it that way.
- Accept that there is no reason to have any window, tab, or tool open that does directly relate to the task at hand. I used to think I had to have Firefox, Chrome, and IE and my email client all open at the same time, because of various add-ons, plugins, etc., that I might need. This will lead to more anxiety and frustration, because you will inevitably not know which page is open in what browser, and it will never be the one you want it to be. For those who were link building before tabbed browsing came along, think back to when you'd have 16 Netscape windows open at once, and then your PC would crash. You'd have to dig through your history file to find the URLs again. Good times, right? Tabbed browsing and link openers are a blessing and a curse, though. It makes it easier to get lost down rabbit holes. So do yourself a favor and pick one browser. I use a tricked out Chrome.
- Shut down third party apps that are connected to the Internet in any way. Set Skype to offline. Turn off Tweetdeck. Close desktop news alerts. Close anything you have given the right to get your attention anywhere on your screen. I turn my office phone ringer off. One exception is that I keep my iPhone on vibrate face up on my desk (but a few feet away), because I have kids and it's possible the school might call, and I can see the caller I.D. that way. Life happens, even when linking.
Side note: I learned this the hard way. I used to try and take calls and do other things while I was "in the linking zone." Hopefully, the people on the other end of the line mistook my silent pauses as thoughtful reposes. But then I missed a set phone appointment while busy tweeting and the client, who was a follower on Twitter, was curious as to why I had the time to tweet but not remember our appointment.
Divided Attention is the New Normal
Because of links it's easy to feel you must sign up for every social network or anything new and remotely related to links. The abandoned accounts I can't even find now hold a lesson I'm still learning. There will always be something new. Somewhere better. Someplace cooler.
The must-have link get of today could be gone tomorrow. Remember that it's not the venue(s) that matter, but whether you have something of value to share in the first place.
I know things are more complex than can be cured by the three suggestions above, but they do help.