Internet procrastination is something that every single one of us can understand because it’s something of which we are all guilty. Whether studying for exams, grinding away on a work project or simply replying to emails, something is always happening on the internet to get in the way of whatever important things you actually need to do.
Cat memes, infuriating Trump tweets, Stranger Things spoilers; whatever it is, they’re all right there, ready and waiting to completely fuck up whatever productive juices you managed to get flowing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The internet doesn’t have to be a tool used solely to dismantle productivity. You can use it to your advantage as a means to help you crush your deadlines, finish your work and be the productive machine you always dreamt of being.
The First Step: Willpower
I don’t want to delve too far into preachy self-help book territory here, but the first step is coming to terms that you have a problem dicking around on the internet and wasting valuable time. Seriously. You do. That’s why you’re here right now.
First, it’s okay to admit you do it. According to a 2014 study from Salary.com, a staggering 89 percent of people say they waste time at work every single day. Of those respondents, four percent said they wasted at least half the workday doing non-related work tasks. You’re not alone in your fuckery.
But it’s about more than just admission of guilt. You have to walk into time management with an open mind. You have a problem, now let’s contain it.
Do an Audit of Your Online Activity
Where do you lose the most time on any given day? Is it Reddit? Facebook? Highsnobiety?… Porn?
Go through an average day in the life of your web browser and figure out just how much time you’re wasting. To be honest, this was my wakeup call. On any given 9-hour day, I was wasting three whole hours between social media and Reddit—and that’s not including email.
If you don’t want to manually keep track—or want a 100 percent honest and objective audit—look into services like RescueTime. It’s a program that you can run on your desktop and mobile devices in order to get detailed reports on just how, exactly, you’re wasting your time. The report takes all the crap you did throughout the day and quantifies it with a productivity score (“Productivity Pulse”). It can block out certain websites and apps at certain times to make sure you’re not dawdling, and can set alerts to let you know when you’ve spent a certain amount of time on a certain task, website, app, etc. There are a few others, but this one is a go-to.
Once you know where you’re going wrong, you can make the moves necessary to stop.
Set Goals & Stick to Them
So many of our bad habits stem from a lack of understanding about how we work. Did you realize that your brain runs in cycles, specifically in one called the “ultradian rhythm”? Your ultradium rhythm is present while you sleep, but it’s also cycling when you’re awake—a fact people tend to forget.
Your body can focus for 90 minutes, and then requires a small period of rest in-between sessions.
Knowing what we know about ultradium rhythm means that you should be setting work goals for yourself based on 90-minute time windows. Set your goals, allow yourself a small distraction break (15-ish minutes), and then go for another 90 minutes. It works.
And if you don’t want to work like that, find your own rhythm and stick to it. The point is, set goals, build a work schedule around those goals and then go crush them.
Don’t Divide Your Attention
Now to get a little anecdotal. When I first started slinging words full time, a friend of mine in the business warned me that the most difficult problem I was going to encounter would be the utter lack of structure. No boss to breathe down my neck or bull shit office bureaucracy meant no real need to sit down and power through some work. I still had deadlines, of course, but what was the difference if I took eight or nine hours to write a story when I could just relax, work leisurely, and fill that up over an entire day? Where the hell was I going?
He warned me, though, and said that as more clients emerged and deadlines got tighter, I’d have to better prioritize my time—and eventually, he was proven right.
However, e also told me the way he can sit down for eight or nine hours at a time without moving from his desk is by taking on multiple projects at once, transitioning back and forth between them throughout the day. When he finds himself losing focus on one, he pivots and switches to the other.
On the surface, that sounds like pure genius. Rather than wasting time on Facebook when you get bored with your project, just pivot to something else. Right?
The problem is, constantly moving from one task to the next might actually cause more problems than it solves. Gloria Mark, a professor in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine, told Fast Company that switching tasks takes the brain time to get used to the idea of thinking about something different. It’s a process that could take hours.
“People have to shift their cognitive resources, or attentional resources, to a completely different topic,” she said in the interview. “You have to completely shift your thinking, it takes a while to get into it and it takes you a while to get back and remember where you are.”
Through her research, Mark discovered that 18 percent of interrupted work wasn’t resumed on the same day, and those who did manage to pivot took an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task. That’s a lot of wasted time, depending on how often you find yourself having to pivot.
The best move is to pick a task and then stay with it.
Drop Your Email
I’d leave it up to you to decide where your biggest time waste is, but the statistics are pretty clear: You spend way too much damn time reading and responding to emails. In fact, according to this study, people check their emails an average of 15 times in the span of the day, and yes, it drastically impacts their productivity.
Personally, I live on my email. Whether I’m working with editors, brands or different publications, I’m always looking at or replying to (or groaning at) some type of correspondence. And worse, when you stop to reply to emails, getting back on track with the original task once that email is sent can take quite a while.
To combat the issue, actually followed some popular advice: I deleted Gmail from my phone and tablet, and designated three 15-minute periods throughout my day—one in the morning when I first sit down, one when I stop for lunch, and one in the evening after I’m “done” for the day—to checking my email. Even at that rate, I still spent nearly an hour of my day sending and receiving emails. But hey, it beats the 3 or 4 hours I was giving up before, right?
Next up; here’s how to wake up early.
- Illustrations: Stephen Cheetham