Read Gillian Shaw’s story about my social media methodology in the Vancouver Sun.

Is social media something you have to cope with? Or is social media something that can help you cope?

In my talk today at the Northern Voice blogging conference, I made my best case for social media as a coping mechanism. Yes, social media can be overwhelming and crazy-making. But I was crazy long before social media came along, so I can hardly blame Twitter and Facebook for my feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

Nonetheless, social media sometimes leaves me feeling crazier than ever. So many people blogging more often I do! So many people twittering about conferences I’m not attending, parties I’m not invited to, accomplishments I’m not accomplishing. The only way to cope with the insanity of social media is to use social media to make yourself more sane.

And as it turns out,the strategies that harness social media to making yourself saner also make social media itself a hell of a lot more manageable.

Today I shared some of my greatest weaknesses, and the ways I use social media to address them.

    1. Cure anxiety with Twitter lists. I’m sure there were parties I wasn’t invited to ten years ago, but thanks to Twitter, I now know exactly which parties I’m missing. It’s easy to obsess over all that missing out — and to get so caught up in the accomplishments of the people who fill you with envy that you miss the news from people who fill you with love.  If I were a better person, I’d stop feeling so damn envious, but until I achieve that level of equanimity, I solve the problem by using Tweetdeck‘s columns to view only the tweets from a relatively small number of people I love or feel inspired by. I’ve documented this approach in a blog post about using groups in Nambu; I now use Tweetdeck and Twitter lists, but the basic approach is the same.

      The happy result: I’m less neurotic, and feel closer to the friends in my “love” list.

    2. Treat forgetfulness with Facebook lists. I meet a lot of people, and a lot of them go on to friend me on Facebook. I’m not shy about ignoring Facebook friend requests from people I’ve never heard of, but I often get friend requests from people I know I know, but can’t remember how I know. I recently created a new Facebook list to deal with the problem: if I get a friend request from someone and I can’t remember who the fuck they are, they go on my WTF list.

      And I’ve developed a related discipline for all the people I can place, but don’t necessarily want to track on an hour-by-hour basis. Twitter is my professional community; I want to use Facebook for my personal relationships. But as a social media professional I still need to be accessible and visible on Facebook, so I can’t just unfriend people. What I can do is take control of my news feed, so it only shows me news from my close friends and family. If news pops up from a colleague or someone I don’t know well, I hide them from my news feed — permanently.

      The happy result: I love Facebook again! It’s a great way to keep up on the news from the people I love moth.

    3. Stop listening with iGoogle. I like talking a lot more than I like listening. And as much as I love reading, the part of social media that most renews me is not all the reading of blog posts and tweets — it’s my own writing. So my Google Reader account is usually stuffed to the brim with unread posts, and I miss key news stories that can be downright embarrassing not to know about.

      Instead of trying to keep up with my reader and suffering from information overload, I use iGoogle as a very streamlined RSS reader. It has three columns: one for searches on me (so I know if people have blogged or tweeted about me), one for mainstream news stories, and one for professional news. It’s my browser’s default homepage so I load this page many many times every day. As a result, I’m on top of the headlines, and can read more about anything that looks important. I can also read and respond to any blog posts about my work.

      The happy result: Less listening online has produced more conversation offline, because what I do follow are those stories that are most likely to pop up at meetings or over dinner.

    4. Cure messy handwriting with Evernote. I have the world’s most terrible handwriting, which is why I made the life-changing switch to taking all my notes on my computer. And not just on my computer, but in a single program so that I can find everything in one place. That program is Evernote, which stays in sync across a Macbook Pro, a netbook, an iPad and an iPhone. I use it to take notes in every meeting and every phone call, and to keep a running file of blogging ideas and half-written blog posts. For more ideas on how to use Evernote, read my overview of Evernote here and my recent interview with Evernote CEO Phil Libin for HBR.

      The happy result: I blog more because I always have a story idea ready to go…and the more I write, the saner and happier I feel.

  1. Cure Beta Addiction Disorder with Gmail filters. I can’t resist a beta signup. What if it’s the beta for The Web App That Will Solve All My Problems?Unfortunately, the signups have become a problem in their own right. A year ago I had 2,500 emails in my inbox, many of them confirmations, notifications, updates or newsletters from one of the hundreds (thousands?) of sites I’ve now joined. Thanks to the healing powers of Gmail labels and filters, I fought my way down to an empty inbox, and over the past year, I’ve been able to get to inbox zero every 2-4 weeks. You can read my blog post about how I got there, or jump straight to the 10 steps that can get your e-mail inbox to zero.

    The happy result: The same discipline that gets me to finally answer the last handful of emails every month has also helped me become a more decisive person, on-and offline.

You can find more resources on how to cope with social media on my blog’s productivity page.

You can find more resources on how to use social media as a coping mechanism in a crazy world on my blog’s soul page.

And for more on the big picture of coping with social media, check out this recent interview with me on the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast.

What are your best tricks for coping with — and through — social media? I’d love to hear them.