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Know When to Unplug From the Internet

Know When to Unplug From the Internet

unplugged

    I’ve recently had a very troublesome realization about my line of work. I’m the managing editor for a few websites and a contributing editor for a few others. Websites happen to be on the Internet; a job that revolves around websites tends to require that you use the Internet.

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    The troublesome part is that the Internet can make it very hard to get work done. Child labor laws aside, it’s sort of like asking a six year old to work in a toy store. Don’t expect them to be doing much in the way of customer service or cashier work.

    Once upon a time I used to enjoy the Internet in my spare time, but these days — due to the fact that the Internet is my place of work — you can’t get me off of it quickly enough at the end of the workday. That doesn’t mean I’m any less prone to distraction while I’m on it, though. It requires a fair bit of discipline to stay on task, and we all know that the longer you’re required to exercise discipline, the more likely it is to fail.

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    So my solution has been to accept that I’ll spend a considerable amount of my working time online and exercise discipline when I am, but reduce the amount of connected time as much as I can. There are plenty of tasks that can be completed without connectivity even in a job like mine — the added bonus is fewer interruptions by instant messenger or email that you’re compelled to check right away.

    Contexts

    The concept of “contexts” as used in productivity appears again in today’s article, as it’s the thing that’ll allow us to separate tasks that require the Internet from those that do not. Anything that does not require the Internet, is best done without it.

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    Basically you continue to manage tasks the way you’ve always done (unless you haven’t been managing tasks properly, in which case you should read a book like Getting Things Done and start doing so), but start applying a tag to each task you enter — either online or offline. You then use the software you’re using to view only tasks from one group or the other depending on which list you’re tackling at a time, or if you’re not using software, simply make up two lists.

    This approach is based on the principle: if the task doesn’t need to be done with the help of the Internet, it’s best done away from it.

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    Research and Fact-checking

    A common criticism of this approach is that you might come across something you need to fact-check or research. The fact of the matter is there’s too much opportunity to end up exploring a rabbit hole when you’re checking a fact, and you should relegate it for later. You can keep a to-research task list that you check when you go online, or if you’re writing you can take a hint from Cory Doctorow and leave an easily searchable marker, using Find to go through the sections that need checking later. You might type, “The cliff was TK feet tall,” and when you search for TK in your document you’ll see it and can find the information you needed. There’s no need to forget, and no need to resort to using the Internet during offline time.

    Start the Day Offline

    An important tip: start the day with your offline list. Do not start the day with your online list, ever, if you can help it.

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    For the same reason you don’t check facts while writing (that is, the risk of rabbit-holing), you want to delay going online as much as possible or you just might not get to those other offline items on your task list. If you tackle offline tasks first, even if you do get distracted when you go online, at least you managed to get a considerable amount of work done first.

    Put Email Last

    I tend to think that email is a big distraction and it should be dealt with as late in the day as possible. If there’s no reason to reply to something, archive or delete it (while often devoid of useful, work-related content, email from friends and families doesn’t qualify for this sort of treatment — this is a way to be effective at work only). If you can’t manage staying away from email until four in the afternoon or your boss simply won’t let you, put it off until just after lunch. Your boss will eventually notice the productivity gains you made in the first few hours of the day.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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