Thanks to the rapidly, if not exponentially, expanding world of social media tools, those of us who are ‘plugged in’ all day at work have an unmanageable amount of options for making our work day more efficient. But, by having so many tools at our disposal, is our work day actually becoming less efficient?

This isn’t a new question. It’s come up when technology is introduced to anything, but especially social media

. There are so many tools already that we have to start categorizing them by utility to keep track! Smart people, like Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas, have even created charts, graphs, and this conversation prism as a way to separate and approach the vast world of social media. 

A Comparison
Let’s take a moment to consider a standard ‘work day’ and then add in some of the social media tools that many are using (or trying to juggle):

An average day (at least in my opinion):

  • Get up, shower, eat breakfast, commute (one way or another) to the office/school/library/coffeeshop
  • Review plans for the day, correspondences from previous evening, identify priority items, meeting with department/team/staff
  • Work on mix of programmatic, organizational, and strategic projects
  • Break for lunch
  • Return to working on mix of projects, meeting with potential or established partners/funders/researchers/etc.
  • Take note of priorities for next day, commute home

Seems standard enough, at least for our application here.  So, now let’s brainstorm some of the tools in use by many people already:

  • Twitter: If you use Twitter, then you have either followed or seen the folks who report every waking detail including the cereal of choice, the type of milk, and how many bites to finish the bowl. But, thankfully, they are a small population on Twitter. Many people do use the micro-blogging tool extensively in their day both for messages out, conversations with friends/colleagues, and for questions, ideas and even lunch dates. You can use it from a browser, a desktop application, or your phone.
  • Flickr: Gone are the days of clipart thanks to Creative Commons licensed photos in Flickr. There are groups and conversations, oh, and photos. People even upload pictures from their phones of the protest downtown on their way to work.
  • Blogs: Many organizations now have one or more blogs connected to the website (a news blog, issues blog, CEO or even volunteer’s blog). These are often maintained by the same person or team; and usually these are people that blog personally as well. Whether it’s Blogger, Wordpress, Moveable Type or even Posterous, people are telling their stories from work (and from their iPhones, Blackberries, laptops and homes).
  • IRC, IM, Skype & Email:  We Instant Message a coworker down the hall to schedule a face-to-face meeting, connect with team members in and out of the office together via an IRC channel, and have a meeting from our desk with partners in another country via Skype. Of course, all of these conversations have emails both before and after, sometimes even during.  Emails are the glue of most of work day, for better or worse.
  • Online Collaboration: Many people use at least one online workspace for collaboration, if not many, for specific projects or teams; it might be a wiki, Basecamp, Huddle, or I Did Work. We are sending emails about the collaboration space, reminding people to use it, logging in and sending emails out from the collaboration space, and then reporting all of our work, to-dos, ideas and process.
  • Widgets & Applications: There’s the application you install on your phone or laptop that reports minute-to-minute updates on your public transportation or roadways, the widget for weather reports, and your synced calendar with reminders. Of course, there’s also all of the applications to use any and all of the previously mentioned social media tools via your phone or laptop without visiting the specific web site. And that’s only naming a few.

A Test
So, now that we are applying this list of tools to the outline of the day, what happens to those big chunks of ‘work’ time? Or, are we just switching how we do work to account for all the new social media tools? I’m curious, how many people feel that they are more efficient when they are hyper-connected? 

I gave it a shot just to see what it was like, disconnecting from everything that I could, for one day. I survived, believe it or not. I only used the internet/browser for submitting specific pieces of work that needed to be delivered, used email only to gather a list of priorities for the day and then to report back at the end of the day on status, and sent one message to Twitter to update my family and friends about our moving status/situation. That was it. And I got a lot done! Though, it was still quite tempting to sign on, log in, etc. and just check in on the internet, make sure everything was as it should be. But I didn’t. I stayed on task and got my work done in less time than I budgeted for. At least for one day, it worked, but it made me question why I use all of the social media tools that I do if they are actually not necessary.

Maybe this means the question isn’t if we are working more efficiently, but more effectively. Although I completed the ‘work’ I needed to while being disconnected, I wasn’t able to connect with people that are working with me on the overall projects. I wasn’t able to make myself available to team members or community members who might have had questions or ideas. I was out of the loop as far as what was going on outside of specific deliverables, and I don’t really like that. I think I’ve learned my lesson: effectiveness is more important than efficiency.

Where do you stand? Social media tools: love ‘em or leave ‘em? 

imageAmy Sample Ward’s passion for nonprofit technology has lead her to involvement with NTEN, NetSquared, and a host of other organizations. She shares many of her thoughts on nonprofit technology news and evolutions on her blog.