Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sticking to a System (or Not)

I'm a big fan of Getting Things Done. It lays out a pretty good system for dealing with tasks that need to be done. I find it helps to know the workflow and follow it by habit so that I can quickly burn through my to-do list and not get too stressed about new tasks or requests coming in. It's a pretty good system and it works for me.
There's always exceptions.
Today I set out to do a fairly small task on my list. Probably a 10-15 minute task all-in-all, involving setting up a small informational page on our company intranet. As I got into it, I realized that the page would be way better if it was part of a broader site containing related information, with the page I was setting up one of several sub-pages. It's the kind of organizational thing I really like setting up, and something I honestly thought would make a big difference where I work.
So I just did it.
Or most of it anyway. The point is, I completely waivered from what I was doing and spent about an hour and a half on this new task. The idea and the creativity hit me and I acted on it. If I had strictly followed the GTD system, I would have had to stop and add it to my to-do list, made an outline of what I wanted to do, and then get to work on it. If I'd done that, I would have completely lost that creative drive I was on. I would have had the task or outline sitting there the next day, not be as excited about it anymore, and probably not have done it.
I'm not saying there's not a time and place for that kind of planning and brainstorming, and I'm not even saying that GTD gives you a strict set of rules to follow. My point is that I had a system that worked, but I knew when I neeed to break from it, and came up with some great output as a result.
I've seen quite a few project managers who have their PMP certifications who follow every project exactly according to the methodologies laid out by the Project Management Institute, only to have their projects languish or fail. They spent so much time making sure their project was being done to 'code' that they weren't able to adapt to the project's unique situation or stakeholders. The PMI, like GTD, has some great methodologies, but I think it's important to understand when they need to be used and when they can be forgotten if a proejct is going to have any real success.
In a broader sense, I think this can be a problem with other 'systems'. From ones as small as diets to more important ones like religion, ideology, and even laws. You can follow a diet, but you'll drive yourself crazy if you never have a chocolate bar ever again. There are those who choose to interpret everything in the Bible literally (snake handling, subjugation of women), and those who just follow the important stuff (love, compassion, forgiveness.) Who are the people you'd rather hang out with?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Twitter Follower Breakdown

So I just realized my Twitter account has 96 followers. I've never really cared that much about getting a bunch of followers. Mostly I just use Twitter to rant about stuff, spread propaganda about my own beliefs, or follow people of interest.

But 96 seemed like a lot of people. I started wondering who all these people were. I knew I had some friends that I exchanged tweets with, and I know I get 'X is now following you' emails every now and then but I rarely follow back or pay much attention. So I did what any good nerd would do. I exported my followers to a spreadsheet, categorized them and made a chart:

Here's how I broke it down:

Bacon - 27%
The biggest category by far. By 'bacon' I mean stuff that's not technically spam, but that is some company or website that I don't care about in the least who is following me to build their follower list or profile, hope that I'll follow back, and generally market their business. All the best to them, but I almost never follow these people back.

No idea - 23%
People who seem like good people who have decided to follow me for whatever reason. I have no idea what lead them to me, have no connection to them whatsoever, and I rarely follow back. I know that's not good Twitter etiquette, but so be it. I try to keep my following list down to a manageable level of interesting people, so there's just not room for these people.

Friend - 14%
A person I actually know in real life who updates regularly and that I frequently exchange with. I wish this was the largest category, but I fear it never will be.

Friend who never updates - 14%
A friend who signed up, scanned their address books for contacts, followed me, posted once, and never updated again.

Spam - 9%
This is surprisingly smaller than I thought it would be. I really assumed that 99% of the follows I was getting was spam. But even 9% is too high I think. Especially annoying is a lot of these followers have been around for a while and haven't been banned yet. If there was a 'report abuse' button I'd use it, and these jerks might go away.

Company/celebrity I follow - 7%
Self explanatory. I follow a few 'celebrities' (mostly noted tech writers) and some of them are cool enough to follow me back. Also in this list are companies that I want updates on (like @Tweetdeck, @Boxee) that decide to follow me back. Good job to everyone on this list. You know who your fans are, and you engage with them. Seth would be proud.

Common Interest - 4%
Most of these are people I found during searches for updates on the Toronto Outside Workers Strike whose comments I liked.

Foreign Language - 3%
One tweets Spanish, the other German. I assume they speak English, but I speak neither. I have no idea why they follow me.

This data is basically anecdotal, but it's not going to stop me from making wild conclusions based on it. So what are they?

  1. Most of your followers are people you don't care about, are trying to sell you something, or are people who don't even really use Twitter.
  2. Don't stress out that much about how many followers you have, because it's basically meaningless. Tweet what you feel like, follow interesting people, and have fun.
FYI. I used tweetake to get my list of followers as a *.csv file. It asks for your Twitter password, so use at your own risk, but it looked legit enough to me.