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Back in 2008, Tara Brabazon visited CERLIM to give a talk. If you’ve never seen Tara speak, I’d recommend it! I found her an intelligent, engaging, and entertaining speaker. I didn’t take notes – I just sat there and listened, absorbed in the talk. At the end of the talk, she told me that I was such a good listener, she wanted to take me back to Brighton.

Alas, I’m unlikely to gain any such approbation now. Despite knowing that speakers value attentive, smiling faces, you’re more likely to find me hunched over my keypad, frantically tweeting. This might be good for me, but…

Hang on – is this actually good for me? I’m generally a big fan of tweeting at conferences. I say it helps me to engage; gives me an online, searchable note archive; and helps others to experience the conference. It can also help the speaker to see what people have taken away from their talk. While I’m not doubting the value of these things, I’m starting to wonder if I’m really engaging in such a way as to give and others maximum value.

When I was in college, we were given a listening lesson. We all sat round in a circle, and closed our eyes while listening to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. The idea was that closing our eyes would help us to focus, help us to forget that we were in a grubby portacabin instead of Llareggub. Being one of those annoyingly ‘good’ people, I kept my eyes faithfully shut the whole time, and it did work. Not surprising, really – deny your primary sense, and others come bounding into play.

But it’s not really practical in everyday life. It may be all well and good to recline, yeux firmly fermé, and enjoy some Wagner, or a jolly good play on Radio 4, but it’s not quite so practical in a large conference hall. And besides, people are bound to think you’ve fallen asleep, and snigger at you during networking.

Nor would either of these methods go down very well at work. You may have noticed that in the opening sentence of this post I’ve very carefully not mentioned exactly what Tara Brabazon came to talk about. Why? Because I’ve forgotten. Oh, I’ve got a vague idea (something to do with undergrads and research), but I don’t know exactly – and I have no notes to refer to, to find out. And while speakers do value attentive faces, I’m sure they value what they say being taken away, remembered and used more.

So, note-taking wins out here. And using those notes to spread the learning, to enlighten and inform others, is an absolute must. But is twittering as I go along really the best way to do it?

I tend to choose tweeting events over blogging for a fairly simple reason: I don’t have time to go back after each event, revisit my notes, and write them up as a blog post. I wish I did! In an ideal world, of course, that’s what I’d do – read and digest my notes, to produce a blog post about each session that not only reports session content, but contains reflections and links, ideas and questions. But if I did that, I’d never have time to go to any other events…

Some talented people can live-blog events. I like to blame my inability to do this on my inability to touch-type, but I know it’s more than that – it’s the pace of my thoughts, as well as my typing, that’s holding me back. Something to aspire to, but for now? Out of the question.

Which brings us back to tweeting. I’ve got my conference tweeting method down: start off with the name of the presenter and title of talk. For all subsequent tweets, get the presenters initials and the hashtag ready written, then wait for a snippet. Tweet and repeat. This has worked for me quite well so far, but I’m not sure if it’s giving maximum value. While I tweet, I’m missing things. While I’m tweeting one point, another, more important one might come along. There might be important things that don’t – shock horror! – fit into 140 characters. What to do about this?

Well, here’s an interesting question: does tweeting from an event need to be live-tweeting? Would it be better to take notes, and then tweet selected highlights? This could be done during breaks and changeovers, or on the train home. It would give me a chance to go back through my notes, but in a less time-consuming way than reworking for a blog post. It would give those following on twitter a chance to read my selected highlights – what I think, after consideration, are the main points of the talk – not just what I manage to type.

Obviously, there are drawbacks: where there are other people tweeting from the event, my out-of-synch tweets might be confusing for followers. Fine in a digest-format, not so fine in a timeline. The less the difference in synchronisation, the better.

There’s also the issue of my time. I optimistically say ‘during breaks and changeovers’. Well, there’s other stuff I want to do during that time too. You know, like have a break. Drink some coffee. Chat to some people. Conferences don’t (currently) have tweeting/blogging breaks – maybe they should?

So what I’d need is a tool that makes tweeting from notes as quick and easy as possible. My ideal? A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text. with the addition of a pre-defined hashtag. So, if my blog is #blog, and I wanted to tweet that previous sentence, I could highlight it, select the ‘tweet with #’ option, and bam! my followers see ‘@bethanar: #blog A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text’.

I really hoped Evernote would do this (it seems to do everything else!) but, alas, its twitter integration seems to be purely in the other direction. Anyone know of anything that might do the job?

Ahh, the age-old topic of work/life balance. We’re always being told to take more time for ourselves, that we’ll regret working so hard. And it’s easy to argue that modern technology is making it easier than ever to overload on work. Left an important document in the office? No worries, you’ve probably got a copy in Dropbox. And now you have a smartphone (you do have a smartphone, don’t you darling?) it’s no longer just checking work emails from home, but on the bus, the train, the plane, the holiday cottage, that little bar in Tivoli with the wonderful wifi connection.

Now that’s not to say that working outside work hours is always a bad thing. It can be very productive – some people work best in the evenings, or without the distractions of colleagues – and for people with non-work professional commitments (committees, campaigns, mentoring etc) it can be the only way to get everything done.

But what if you don’t actively choose to work? What if you’re actually trying to have an evening off, without thinking about anything work-related? The prevalence of ‘push’ notifications often means you can’t escape. Work related items will be cropping up in your RSS feeds, your Facebook notifications, your Twitterstream. Sure, you can shut all these down too. But what if you don’t want to? After all, they form part of your social life online too.

This is something I’ve been trying to deal with for a while. I separated out my ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ RSS feeds quite a while ago – and then did nothing useful with the work ones, leading to me being weeks behind on blogs and news. I had brief moments of regret that I’d given out my personal email address for professional-related activities – not because I didn’t trust people or want them in that space, but because it meant it was very hard for me to tune out. It meant that while emailing a friend late at night, I might spot an email with an action in, or a question, leaving me telling myself ‘It’s ok. You can answer it tomorrow. It’s ok. No-one really expects an answer tonight. Don’t worry about it.’ But, of course, I did worry. Even when things don’t need acting on immediately, just knowing that they’re there and that there’s another thing you’ll have to think about tomorrow can be stressful.

So, this week I’m trying to take control. I’ve taken my unused professional google account, and set myself up with an iGoogle page with my work related reader feeds and my work emails. I’m forwarding a number of professional emails from my personal account to my professional one, and skipping the inbox in my personal account. I know I haven’t got all my filters set up correctly, so it will be an odd hybrid for now, but I’m persevering, and it’s already better. This means I have a place I can use as my social media/internet hub at work, and when I choose to work at home.

But there’s still one big challenge. Yes, it’s twitter. I really don’t want to class twitter as being purely work-related. I don’t want to filter it out of my personal life. The people I follow on twitter don’t – shock horror! – post on purely work-related stuff. They also tweet funny, interesting things about life, the universe, and everything. They’re my friends, and I don’t want to shut them out. But they are still professional contacts. they do still tweet about professional things – even in the evenings! And that’s not even counting the US-based tweeps I follow, who are hard at work just as I’m trying to relax.

So what do I do? I can bookmark articles and favourite tweets to come back to later, when I’m in work-mode, and sacrifice being part of the immediate discussion. That works to a certain extent. But it doesn’t quite help with the sense of guilt, or professional shame. Yes, that’s right. When I see people tweeting about the great blog posts, articles, campaigns etc they’ve been doing in their spare time, and I’m sat there with a glass of wine, a bag of toffees, and Swallows and Amazons, well… I feel a bit ashamed. And yes, yes, I know – I work hard, deserve some time off, no-one can work all the time etc. I know the shame and guilt are ridiculous and unjustified. I just don’t quite know how to avoid them. Besides getting a more positive self-image, can anyone suggest how to manage this?

It is – for once – a beautiful day in Manchester, and I came to work full of the joys of autumn (note: I am not known for loving Monday mornings. my text to John on the subject got the grumpy return ‘it’s Monday. before noon. are you ill?’).

The crisp autumn air, the sunshine – it inspired me to think ‘yeah! this is gonna be a good week! I’m gonna work so hard! I’m gonna kick some serious EAD ass!’ (apparently unexpected sunshine makes me american. and militant. who knew?)

It’s now 13:50, and I have yet to do anything that would seriously count as work. Sure, I’ve read my emails, answered a few queries, checked up on twitter, dabbled at a couple of things, but real, solid work? the kind you can tick off your to-do list with a great feeling of achievement and relief? nope.

So what happened? where did my oomph go? Well, I have a sneaking suspicion that it went on just those things listed in the last paragraph. I have a tendency – as I suspect many people do – to ease myself into the day with the non-threatening, mundane tasks: checking emails; sorting out calendar and to-do list for the week; making tea. And then I have queries to answer – very important, I’m not denying that, but it does all mean that I tend to start my day full of bittiness. I dabble here for twenty minutes; spend half an hour on this; ten minutes on that; and by the time it’s all done I’ve lost my drive. I’ve started my day with the comfort of small, fairly easy tasks, and that’s become my mindset. It’s surprisingly difficult to get stuck into a big, thought-provoking project which needs several hours of your undivided attention after you’ve been flitting.

So maybe I need to re-think how I structure my day (and yes, I know that I am very lucky to be able to choose the structure of my day without manning service points etc). maybe – and this seems like a huge step – maybe start with the big things. Even just an hour or so on a big piece of work could have me truly thinking for the rest of the day. Start with something to challenge me, beyond the ‘skim — delete — skim — delete’ that is my usual morning routine. And then once the challenge has been conquered, when I’ve achieved something substantial, then it’s onto the emails and the dabbling and the dallying. Maybe I’ll even get through them without losing my drive and my focus.

It’s going to take quite a change in mind-set, but I’ll give it a go! So please, people, don’t tweet anything interesting until about 11am from now on, ok? I might not be there to listen.

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