Give yourself a break

By Helen Shen

You don't have to be Superman to juggle tweeting, blogging, writing, and living. The message of Saturday's panel session, “I tweet, I blog, but do I sleep?” was that it can be done, as long as you use social media selectively and remember to take breaks.

Left to right: Steve Silberman, Deborah Blum, Bora Zivkovic, Alan Boyle, and Cristine Russell (moderator)

Like many busy science writers, Bora Zivkovic of Scientific American uses Tweetdeck to manage the more than 7,000 Twitter users he follows. The 30 columns he's created represent his Twitter lists and selected search terms. In daily usage, Zivkovic keeps close tabs on only three or four columns. As a poster, he uses Twitter to support writers on the Scientific American blog network. Zivkovic does much of his own writing away from the computer, drafting in his head while walking the dogs or running errands.

For Steve Silberman of Wired, virtual life began when he realized that “keeping up with Twitter” was a fallacy. He prefers to think of Twitter as a river flowing past the window that he can choose to sample as he pleases. In practice, Silberman admits that deciding to log on can be less of a choice than a compulsion.

Now that he's working on a book, he's begun to set aside a few hours of forced “write or do nothing” time each day. The experiment is in its early stages, but Silberman says he's already enjoying tremendous productivity and an unexpected feeling of liberation from the barrage of outside information.

Author Deborah Blum also disconnects from the social media stream when she writes. When she does tweet and blog, Blum says she makes the most of her limited time by considering every post strategically. Her social media usage is highest in advance of a book release, when she reshapes her online profile by focusing on topics that are relevant to her upcoming book.

Like Blum, Alan Boyle of MSNBC.com tends to use Twitter as a business tool. He tweets to promote the “Cosmic Log” blog and various others of his projects. He also spends many hours responding to the blog's reader feedback. On the weekend, Boyle says he cuts back on social media, stepping off the “tiny treadmill” of his virtual life in order to enjoy a real life.

Saturday's panelists also touched on what social media means for large-scale time management. Boyle says tweeting and blogging accelerates journalism, sometimes at the cost of traditional reporting and due diligence. At the same time, Silberman says that the Twittersphere and blogosphere constitute a “rapid response immune system” that helps put down poor reporting as swiftly as it might arise. Zivkovic argues that social media, especially Twitter, can actually expedite solid reporting by connecting journalists to expert sources faster than ever.

You can learn more about the panelists' social media habits by following them or contacting them on Twitter: @BoraZ, @stevesilberman, @deborahblum, and @b0yle. Or, you can ask Superman how he does it all: @ClarkKentPlanet.

Oct. 17, 2011

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