Using Technology

7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried!

Posted on January 5, 2012. Filed under: Tips and Ideas, Using Technology | Tags: , , |

Beth Kanter provides some very valuable tips on how to manage your focus to cut through the overload of information out there and achieve what you need to each day.

Thanks for the advice Beth!

Kathie van Vugt

7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried!
Are You Content Fried!
Mindmap by Jane Genovese

This morning I learned a new word for information overload – “content fried” from a colleague at the Packard Foundation. It resonated. We have so much content in our professional lives. I’m talking about the stuff we consume daily to keep inform of our professional field. It comes speeding at us from our email boxes, social networks, kindles, and even paper and snail mail! We scan, we browse, we try to thoughtfully read the best stuff, and interact through online conversations.

Then there’s the whole other world of organizational content that you need to consume or create to get stuff done! Reading, reviewing, commenting, writing, and editing content.

For those of us who work on social media and networks, “content fried” is an occupational hazard. So, it is important for us to incorporate techniques in daily work life that reduce the chances of this happening.

I’m finding that my learning and online work is a fast forward, swimming in the stream experience. I can’t possibly read everything, but I am using content curation skills to pick out the best stuff to give more attention to. I find I can only do that work at certain times of the day or only for so long. The biggest difficulty I experience is the shifting from this forward flowing process of consuming, curating, and sense-making of content to learn versus to get something done. The latter requires a different type of attention and whole new set of information coping skills.

Howard Rheingold calls this process managing your attention or “Infoattention” and it is what he has been teaching in his courses. I’ve been trying to curate content that offers ideas, tips, and resources to get past that ugly feeling of “content fried.” He curated the above mindmap and when I shared this Google + , I discovered that nonprofit colleagues have the same struggle. I liked this map so much that I printed it out and keep at my desk.

I decided to spend a little bit time reflecting on the diagram and pull out some tips for re-learning focus:

1.) Manage Your Attention, Not Just Your Time: Don’t just create a to do list, lay it out on daily and weekly schedule, breaking down key tasks of the project to chunks. But consider the level of concentration and focus that each type of task or chunk requires – and schedule accordingly. For example, if I have to do some writing – that requires a higher level of attention for me than does scanning Twitter or reading and responding to email. I schedule my writing time during peak concentration hours in the day. (I’ve charted those – so I know when they occur). I also use a timer when I’m doing scanning my networks and time box those activities into 15-20 minute bursts.

2.) Visualize On Paper: Over the past 10 months, I’ve made a return to paper and markers and using mind maps or visualization techniques to reflect, plan my week or day. I use this as a pre-writing exercise as well as a reflection exercise. It’s why felt the need to dive into visual facilitation and thinking techniques as a way to cope with content fried.

3.) Establish Rituals: Rituals in your work life are valuable. The mindmap offers a lot of good suggestions for rituals – from decluttering your workspace to healthy habits like sleep and exercise.

4.) Reflection: Reflection doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time to be effective. I’m taking ten minutes every morning to practice some visual recording skills like drawing to create my “3 Most Important Things for Today List.” At the end of the day, I look at it, reflect on what I did – and plan for tomorrow. The advice is not to go online or check email until you get your three things done, but that is very hard for me – given so much of my work is online. What I do is try to avoid email first thing in the morning.

5.) Managing Email and Other Distractions: I’ve turned off notifications that pop up on my computer screen or send me a text message to my mobile phone.

6.) Managing Physical Space: When I see clutter in my physical work spaces, I try to take that as a sign that I need to hit a pause button. Usually it is because I’m doing too much.

7.) Just Say No: Maybe you are going to say no to social media for a day and go to meet with people, take a class, read a book, or talk a walk. When I’m feeling most overwhelmed, I take a break. Even if it is just to get up and walk around my desk.What are your tips to help you focus in an age of distraction? Are there tips not on the mind map? Have you read a helpful article or blog recently that helped get more focused?

Source: Beth’s Blog – 7 Tips To Help You Focus In Age of Distraction: Are You Content Fried!
Author: Beth Kanter 

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Finding Time for Social Media

Posted on January 3, 2012. Filed under: Tips and Ideas, Using Technology | Tags: , , |

This article cites a study that shows using 3rd party tools has been found to decrease engagement on social media by 70%, and you may be wondering why I would post an article that undermines our CommsConsole social media platform? Well, the answer is simple: anyone relying on a machine to do the work for you will undoubtedly miss opportunities to engage, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t employ the assistance of a communications console to help you manage your posts and communications.

It is important for organisations using social media communications to bear in mind that the very nature of social media is that it is social. Regardless of the systems you implement to manage your social media communications, in the end there needs to be human interaction and messages need to be tailored depending on the platform they are being communicated on and the audience you are communicating to.

CommsConsole not only allows you to manage all of your online communications, including social media, blogging, email campaigns and SMS communications, it also enables you to closely monitor the success of each communications piece by providing detailed analytics.

Kathie van

Finding Time for Social MediaFinding Time for Social Media

How do you find the time for social media? Whether you’ve been asked this question or asking it yourself, this post is for you. When looking at our goals and our resources, time – as we all know – is one of our most precious resources.

Managing Social Media

There are tools that can help you more efficiently use social media. However, be aware, that the use of 3rd party tools has been found to decrease engagement on social media by 70%. That said, there are three main tools that will help you get the most out of your social media use:

  1. To Listen… RSS Reader: If you follow a variety of online news sources and blogs, you can create your own online digital library. The most popular tools to use in doing this is creating an RSS reader. Google reader is an easy choice, however, some people also prefer iGoogle, Alltop or Netvibes to create their own custom experience.
  2. To Learn… Bookmarking: Not only can you create your own online library, you can also create your own online database of resources, articles and Web pages that you want to have for reference. Most tools let you tag and categorize your saved content based on your preferences and sorting needs. Some popular tools include Scoop.It,, and diigo.
  3. To Engage… Content Platform: To get the most out of social media, there will come a time where you will want/need your own publishing platform. Whether you create a blog or use your Facebook profile, having a way you can share your voice online will help make a difference. Some content platforms to possibly consider include Tumblr, Posterous or Twitter.

Time Management Tips and Tricks

Once you get in the groove, you’ll find that you’ll want to spend more time using social media than you might actually have. You can help manage this by avoiding the following actions:

  1. Limit the number of blog subscriptions you have. In your RSS reader, create a “must-read” folder where you place the feeds of the blogs you find most interesting and helpful. You can switch which blogs you have in this folder around as time goes on, but this way you have a “go-to” folder when you have time to catch up on some reading.
  2. Know you don’t have to read everything. Train your eyes to scan and organize content to help you do so.
  3. Be choosy. You don’t have to use every social media tool or channel–and you don’t have to join every online community. Choose which one(s) help you be the most effective with your time.
  4. Avoid the auto-message. It’ll be tempting, and you think it’ll save you time and energy. BUT, it could cost you more in the long run. At the very least, balance auto-messaging with real-time updates.
  5. Remember rule 6. The key to remembering rule six, is knowing that there isn’t one and that the best way to use social media is to do what works for you. This will include an element of learning–you don’t need to do it perfectly. And, you don’t have to do it all.

For more information, Beth Kanter recently shared “7 Tips to Help You Focus in an Age of Distraction” for those who are starting to feel information overload.

Consider Opportunity Costs

Perhaps a question to ask now, is not whether or not you have the time–but more along the lines of, “What do I lose if I don’t participate in or utilize social media?” You may miss out on opportunities to connect with individuals who share your mission, knowing about breaking news that impacts your work, identifying local partners and sponsors, and the ability to galvanize and empower advocates.

Source: Inpiring Generosity – Finding Time for Social Media
Author: socialbutterfly
Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

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Using Technology for Mission: Ontario 211 and NTEN Hear From the Arthritis Society

Posted on September 28, 2011. Filed under: Using Technology | Tags: , , |

Reading this Q&A with The Arthritis Society, it certainly strikes a chord and I think many nonprofits are experiencing a similar set of circumstances.

What I find most encouraging about how The Arthritis Society is handling the situation is that they are clearly aware of the changes in the technological landscape and are making moves to bring their organisation into the 21st century in terms of their implementation of the technologies available.

I also find it heartening to hear that they have identified the need to employ a dedicated Social Media Manager, which indicates how seriously they are taking this shift to online communications.

Congratulations to The Arthritis Society – I am sure you will see great benefit from your new strategies!

Kathie van 

Using Technology for Mission: Ontario 211 and NTEN Hear From the Arthritis Society

[Editor’s note: Ontario 211 and NTEN asked Ontario nonprofits about how they were using technology – and how they’d like to be using technology – for their work. We’ll share what they told us in this series of blog posts. If you’d like to share your stories, click here.]

The Arthritis Society

How would you compare your organization with other nonprofits, in general, when it comes to using technology effectively (from databases to social media) to achieve your mission?

Having recently attended a social media conference and through contact with individuals in other organizations, I would say that The Arthritis Society is in the middle of the pack. We are actually in the process of updating our archaic website, we’ve recently upgraded our database, and are actively participating in social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc), but we are not currently engaging in some of the newer, “hotter” technologies, such as cloud computing.

Where do you think your organization is particularly strong (a leader) when it comes to using technology effectively?

We are open to new ideas and technologies, but we certainly aren’t leading the way (yet).

Where do you think your organization is potentially lagging behind other nonprofits when it comes to using technology effectively?

I think our primary concern is our website, which is currently in the process of being updated. While I don’t think we’re a leader, I certainly wouldn’t say we are “lagging behind” in any capacity. We are slowly but surely trucking along trying to find the best ways to use technology in order to help us further our mission.

What’s the biggest technology change you’ve implemented in your organization in the last few years?

Updating the database and website (in process). We’ve also hired a Social Media manager, which is a new position for us.

Thinking about your answer to the previous question, or other recent changes that involved technology, please explain how this has impacted your organization? Your mission?

All of our changes have allowed us to better interact with our supporters and allies. We are using social media to connect to our longtime supporters, as well as attract new people into our community. Through better technology we are able to disseminte important and helpful information more quickly, and connect with our community members in ways we couldn’t before.

What are the driving factors or needs in your organization when it comes to technology?

Like any organization, we need technology that is easy to use and accessible. We need technology that allows us to be organized and effective in our communications, and in all aspects of fulfilling our mission.

Are there any innovative projects that you’ve seen other Ontario nonprofits implement that you admire?

I’ve seen some fantastic fundraising efforts through social media and SMS that I’d love to emulate.

If budget weren’t an obstacle, what’s the one technology project you’d like to launch to help you achieve your mission?

App development.


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Fostering Innovation and Enterprise: Thoughts on supporting the sector from #giveandtech

Posted on September 26, 2011. Filed under: Using Technology | Tags: , , , , , , |

Amy Sample Ward  has again highlighted some important insights into the use of technology by the nonprofit sector. There are a number of points in her article that resonate with me:

1. A long-term view is essential. Technology is a fast-paced world but NFPs and NGOs need to use technology with a view to the long term connection between the organisation and the community.

2. Amy’s comment about funding projects and not just products is spot-on. It is not about the product, it is about the business model you build around the product and unless you have a long-term business strategy the product will sit on a shelf and gather dust.

3. IT is no longer solely the domain of the IT Department, that is true. Cross-training staff to use the technology available and leverage the astonishing amount of information that can be gathered will become a dviding factor between nonprofits who succeed in future and organisations that go the way of the dinosaur.

4. Technology abounds to assist businesses to analyse the impact their online communications are having, it is important to use this abilty to analyse effectively to make good long-term strategic decisions.

5.’s mission is to provide a catalyst in the form of smart, efficient technology that enables community organisations to generate support. Our aim is to provide nonprofits with the tools to enable them to succeed in telling their stories.

Here is what Amy has to say…

Kathie van

Fostering Innovation and Enterprise: Thoughts on supporting the sector from #giveandtech

Fostering Innovation and EnterpriseI’m quite excited to participate in The Power of Information: New Technologies for Philanthropy and Development Conference in London, UK, put on by Indigo Trust, Institute for Philanthropy and the Omidyar Network. I have the pleasure to participate on a panel with some smart, experienced folks: Chris Locke (GSMA), Jon Gosier (HiveColab), and Bosun Tijani (Co-creation hub). The other panelists spoke about the projects they’ve been a part of, things they’ve developed and things they’ve helped produce. To compliment, I shared some of the core beliefs I’ve developed in my experiences working in technology, innovation and community engagement. My five points are summed up below – I’d love to hear what additional truths you’ve learned and witnessed in this field!


In the innovation marketplace, adoption is the only currency that matters.

As the speed at which new ideas can step out on the stage continues to increase, it is less about finding a great idea and pitching it for support. Ultimately, it’s the adoption by the community that matters in the long-run, and now can be proven even in the short-term. The advantage of the technology sector is that even if it is rudimentary or preliminary functionality, you can expose a new idea/tool/app/platform to the community from the very beginning, getting their feedback and support. This can help prove the value and need, as well as begin the iteration and development with the community’s engagement from the beginning.

Look to fund projects, not products.

The infrastructure that supports new innovations and social enterprise requires capacity, just like any other organization. Likewise, what we have as far as a product on Day 1, could and should look different on Day 15 and Day 50 and Day 500. Funding projects instead of just a specific product ensures that organizations or teams can fail quickly and softly while working towards something better, can invest in research and evaluation, and engage the community not just market to them.

Recognize the role of technology across all our work.

Technology is a catalyst for data, analysis, scalability, effectiveness and efficiency. It is not something confined to an “IT department” any more as everyone (if we are looking at a nonprofit, for example, staff use the website, database, email marketing, etc.) can be harnessing technology to improve their work and impact. As such, we need to invest in raising the level of technology education and understanding across the social impact space so that the organizational catalysts, those in a nonprofit that are not in the IT department but would be the ones engaging with the community or program, have enough technological familiarity that they can recognize the value and opportunity for adopting a new application or tool and implementing it in their organization. After all, the potential to scale one entrepreneur or organization’s new application is hugely tied to the numbers of organizations and communities that can adopt it and spread it.

Focus on why, not if, something works.

To work on scale and replication of any tool, we have to understand why it is working now, not just whether it is or isn’t. Once we know why it is working, we can know if it is even able to scale or the success is tied too closely to the specific segment already engaged. We can also look at the why to understand the ecosystem for new or complimentary tools. Supporting analysis and evaluation may not sound as exciting to your board as funding a new tool, but it can be at least as important!

Let the community drive the innovations you want to support.

As it turns out, the community knows far more about itself than you do (unless you are actually part of that community, of course!). So, look for opportunities to be a catalyst, supporting an environment for the community to help itself. As a recent MIT study showed, communities were better able to align aid with those that needed it than objective measures were to assigning that same support, and they felt far better about it. The same has been true in my experience with supporting new technologies.


After the panel remarks, there was some great discussion with questions from participants. One question was raised, and I want to share my response as it is something I’ve been asked by foundations and philanthropists before: what are the biggest mistakes funders can make when supporting tech innovation? I have three key myths to highlight:

“Money is Gold”

For many projects, money is obviously a key ingredient to staying afloat and going forward. But so often, supports (whether financial supporters or other sponsors/partners) overlook the power their endorsement carries. Sometimes what is really needed is a recommendation, or an introduction, or a stamp of approval publicly. When projects are small, involve people that haven’t yet “created something” to get their name out there, a few thousand dollars is important, but so is your support.

“History is Enough”

Just because some person created Facebook, doesn’t mean their next idea will be the “next Facebook.” Obviously that’s an exaggeration. But what I’m really getting at is that the it shouldn’t matter whether someone or some team has created the coolest, shiniest, sexiest application in the past, but whether they can show their new application addresses a real need (and isn’t just another random “solution”) and has community interest. We are all learning from the success and failure of others in this sector, so a first try or a 50th try shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

“New is Better”

If there are funds to give out, they may as well be for something new, right? Not always. Sometimes the funds could actually go much further towards scale and impact by supporting a project that already has a tool but can use your support to fund staff and time to create documentation or clean up code so that it can be released to the open source community, or (as said above) quality investigation can go into the why of it’s success. Looking at deeper or wider can be more exciting than just new.

Source: Fostering Innovation and Enterprise: Thoughts on supporting the sector from #giveandtech –


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