Facebook and Twitter can be distracting -- even without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But if used properly, social networking sites can help you save time and get organized.
by Beth Main
Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. Sharing news this way can take much less time than e-mail or phone calls. Everyone seems to be using it. But there’s a lot of, um, stuff to sift through. Why are people I barely know starting virtual pillow fights with me? Why would I want to grow imaginary soybeans in Farmville? Why do I need to know which character in Star Trek I would be? This is so not how I want to spend my time.
It’s easy to get sucked in to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and lose track of time. (In case you haven't heard, Twitter is Facebook for people with really short attention spans. Like me. You use it to send 140 character updates, called “Tweets”, about what’s on your mind. And you subscribe to, or “follow," other people’s tweets.) The ADHDer's tendency to hyperfocus makes us especially vulnerable. Asking yourself, “Is this really how I want to spend my time?” is helpful. The problem is, you have to remember to ask the question. Setting a timer can be helpful too, when you remember to do it.
Set an Automatic Time Limit for Distracting Websites. I just discovered a really cool browser add-in called LeechBlock that will let you set time limits for websites without having to remember a thing. You can set it up to block specific sites during a specific time period (e.g. between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.), after a certain time limit (e.g. you can tell it to only let you visit a site for 30 minutes every 12 hours), or a combination of the two. You can even block the entire Internet if you want. You can also set a password for access to the settings in case you’re tempted to go in and change them. Unfortunately, LeechBlock is only available for the Mozilla Firefox browser. If you know of anything like this for Internet Explorer, please let me know in a comment below. If you’re not using Firefox, and you’re spending too much time online, you might want to consider switching. You can get LeechBlock here for free.
Streamline Your Social Networking Experience. Tweetdeck is a desktop application that lets you control Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace from a single interface. You can filter the content and post to all four sites. Two features I really like are the ability to clear posts that you’ve already seen, and suppress those annoying “Dick and Jane are now friends” messages. It also shows you the full web address instead of a shortened URL so you can make educated decisions about whether it’s safe to click on a hyperlink.
Filter Your Facebook News Feed. Just as I was about to give up on Facebook and it's endless clutter, I found a way to block all those distracting applications. When one of them posts something on your wall, you can click on the name of the app, and then click "Block." Unfortunately, you have to block them one application at a time. You can also hide updates from friends that chatter incessantly about inconsequential stuff like what color they’re painting their toenails. Just click the “Hide” button that comes up when you mouse over a status update in your news feed. Note: You'll be asked whether you want to hide this one status update, or all future status updates from said person(s) in the future. Eventually, however, you'll be able to see only the stuff you care about.
Be Selective About Who You Chose to Follow on Twitter. Some people tweet 17 times a day about what they’re doing. Literally. Like, “Right now I’m doing laundry.” Why would I care? I un-follow people who use Twitter like that. But some people share real wisdom in bite-size pieces. If you don’t have time to keep up with your favorite blogs, Twitter is a great alternative.
Watch What You Click. Some of those Facebook applications and quizzes are cute, but they can contain viruses and spyware (Read: More time wasting!). So be careful.
Check Your Privacy Settings. Speaking of security, some social networking sites are open by default, meaning anyone in the world can see your updates. Check your privacy settings to be sure only friends have access. It’s bad enough when you say something embarrassing in person. You certainly don’t want to broadcast something embarrassing to the entire world -- including your boss, your next potential boss, or your grandmother. Think about who might one day see what you write before you click “send.” You also don’t want to give identity thieves access to any personally identifiable information. Think about that before you friend someone you don’t know. Or better yet, don’t put valuable information out there at all.
As for now, I'm still on Facebook (as ADHD Solutions) and Twitter. I use them to share micro-tips, links to blog posts and news articles, and event info. I’ll also be running occasional contests and promotions.
See you on Facebook?