How to keep the internet from wasting your time

Internet Time Wasters

by Joanne Guidoccio


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When I was working, I had email under control. I would check it three or, at most, four times a day. Since retirement, I check it at least five times before noon. There are days when I feel I am living in my email box, doing everything from personal communication with friends to sending out queries and articles to editors. It doesn't help that I am a self-employed writer with the computer as my constant companion.

If we let it, the internet could take over our lives. That is where many of us shop, meet people, communicate, work, play, and waste time. It is easy to go on the internet to do research or check email and then get caught up in other sites, often wasting an hour, morning or entire day. This black hole of productivity can prove disastrous, especially for the self-employed and unemployed.

Consider the following tips on how to set limits and use the internet more powerfully:

  • Use online tracking tools such as YaTimer to keep track of internet usage. Free and paid versions of these tools are available. Do this for a week and you will get a good picture of how you actually spend your time. It can be an eye-opener to discover that you might be spending more time on email or at a particular site.

  • Plan your use of the internet. Schedule blocks of time for email, doing research, completing work-related tasks, and simply browsing. Do not simply jump on anytime you feel like it. If necessary, disconnect from the internet if you need to focus on a particular task. In his book, The Power of Less, Leo Babuta introduces the idea of an "offline hour," which could be extended to an "offline day."

  • Do not check email first thing in the morning. This early check could easily dictate the rest of your day and offset any of your personal and business priorities. Instead, set aside 20-30 minute blocks of time and check your email twice a day, preferably at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. These times allow you to deal with any urgent morning emails and finish before the end of the workday.

  • Work your way from top to bottom, one email at a time. Open each email and deal with it immediately. Reply, delete or archive for later reference. When replying, limit yourself to no more than five sentences. This forces you to be concise and limits the time spent in the email box. Before deleting any email, ensure there will be no negative consequences.

  • Turn off email notifications. Most programs have alerts like a sound, pop-up message, or blinking icon that let you know when you have received a new email. This interruption can be disruptive and gives power to anyone who wants to email you.

  • Let your family and friends know that you do not appreciate receiving chain and joke emails. If they continue sending them, create a filter that sends these emails straight into the trash.

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