How to Actually Stop Wasting Time On The Internet

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Have you wasted any time online today?

I can give you an idea of how much time I wasted just this morning:

  • I spent 20 minutes reading comments about Love is Blind on Reddit (which is awesome, by the way).
  • I spent 10 minutes stalking the Love is Blind people on Instagram to see if they’re really that crazy
  • I spent 15 minutes flipping through TikTok (while eating breakfast, so I guess this isn’t so bad).

45 minutes, totally gone. And that was just this morning.

Why do we spend so much time online? We should be studying, writing papers, studying for the BOC exam, or whatever – but instead, we’re on Reddit. Or scrolling through Twitter with glazed eyes. Even reading about productivity can be a waste of time. I mean, who wants to waste more time than they have to?

Sure, I’m not perfect. I still procrastinate. However, that 45 minutes I wasted this morning was followed by more than a few hours of solid work – and these techniques helped.

Lock Down Your Familiar Haunts

To avoid wasting time online, you should block access to sites where you waste time. It’s that simple.

While blocking specific sites won’t stop you from finding new ones, it’s still helpful. The goal is to make procrastination more work than it’s worth.

If you’re used to going to Reddit or Facebook when you don’t want to work, block them. If you Google for something specific to waste time looking at, it’ll take more mental effort than just scrolling through your newsfeed.

Freedom is my current favorite app to block distracting websites. You can block every digital distraction you can imagine with Freedom, available on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android.

It’s not free, but there’s a 7-session free trial. 

Other apps you can use to block time-wasting sites while you’re working:

  • Focus (Mac)  – Focus lets you block distracting sites and apps for specified periods of time, as well as schedule recurring “blocks of productivity.” It also works as a Pomodoro timer. 
  • FocalFilter (Windows) – FocalFilter lets you block sites across multiple browsers. You can’t set recurring “blocked” periods, but if you just need to stay focused during a difficult assignment, it’s a good option.
  • SelfControl (Mac) – SelfControl blocks sites for a predetermined period of time, just like FocalFilter. Even if you restart your computer or delete the application, you won’t be able to access distracting sites until the timer expires (so choose carefully which sites you block!).

If you don’t want to use an app, you can also block websites permanently by editing the HOSTS file on Windows or etc/hosts on OS X.

You can do these changes on an Administrator account on your computer if you want to get really nuclear. Put a complex password on that account, and keep it somewhere safe.

You won’t be able to change your block settings unless you get the password, so use a non-admin account. I know it’s a lot more intense than most people need, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Hold Yourself Accountable

The Pick Four tool can help you stay on track with your goals. The Pick Four notebook lets me keep track of everything I do each day. It’s supposed to deter me from being lazy since I won’t want a page that says, “NOTHING.”.You can still use this practice even if you don’t want to track your progress on specific goals.

To waste less time online, time-tracking is the way to go. You’re less likely to waste a bunch of time on the internet if you can see how much time you spend on certain things each day.

It’s why keeping a food diary is so effective for losing weight. And that’s why apps like Streaks are so popular. You’re more likely to do what you need to do if you know you’re going to be held accountable – even to yourself. Using an extension like RescueTime to automatically track how much time you spend on each site is the easiest way to keep track of your time.

“What gets measured gets managed.” I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better at it.

If you’d like to be even more proactive, use an app like toggl to manually schedule your day and track how much time you spend on each task. It does create more work, but if the time spent is outweighed by the time you spend not surfing distracting websites, then it’s a net positive effect.

Have a Work-Only Computer

One way to further remove the temptation to waste time if you’ve got more than one computer is to dedicate one computer to work only. Do not install things like Steam, social media clients, or chat clients (unless they’re work-related). If need be, you can completely lock down your computer with the blocking techniques above. Use a different Google account on this computer if you’re using Chrome and Chrome sync is enabled for your account so your time-wasting bookmarks don’t sync. At least hide the bookmarks bar if you don’t want to do that.

You’ll be more productive if you use this computer somewhere else than where you use your leisure computer.

Choose a spot on campus, in a coffee shop, or anywhere else you like as your “office”. Or choose a new location whenever you like – but don’t use the same room as gaming.

No second computer? You don’t have to buy a new one to use this trick. Use the computer labs on campus.

In school, I used to do this a lot, and not having all my time-wasting programs and bookmarks really helped. When you’re using a computer that only has IE (blegh) and Word, it’s hard to slack off, especially if you forgot your phone back at your dorm or apartment.

Tame Your Email Addiction

This is one of my bad habits.

Instead of focusing on one thing, I’ll usually stare aimlessly at my email inbox. I keep getting emails all day long. Some of them require thought before responding. Some messages require me to do something – schedule a meeting, do some research, etc. I’m constantly checking my email throughout the day, so I’m just switching my focus from one thing to another erratically, and never getting enough time to concentrate on anything. The solution is to set aside time for email during the day. Have one block of time where you focus only on email. All other hours of the day are to be spent doing something else, with the email tab closed. I’m not perfect at it, but it works when I make myself do it.

Eliminate Notifications

Although you block access to your biggest time-sinks, you’re often bombarded with notifications that keep taking your focus off your work and, occasionally, sending you off on time-wasting rabbit trails.

Solution: get rid of ’em.

  • Turn off everything but the essential notifications in Notification Center
  • Get rid of those notifications
  • Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode when you’re working (you can still receive calls, either from everyone or just specific people)
  • Check your social media apps and sites at specific times during the day instead of keeping them open

Remember that switching to another thing always costs you time, and those minutes add up. Every notification you disable helps you save time.

Now, Get Back to Work

Unless you put what you’ve learned into practice, reading about how to be more productive is just another form of wasting time.

Here’s your challenge: Pick just one of these techniques and put it to use. Get one of the apps I mentioned. Or make an accountability group with your buddies. 

Here’s to a more productive – and less distracted – semester!

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