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Know When to Unplug From the Internet

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Know When to Unplug From the Internet

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    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 October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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