A familiar scenario: you jump online to send an email but before you know it, one distraction leads to another, and an hour or two fly by. How can we transform the internet time-waster into a time-saver, or at least time-well-spent? How to be a MINDFUL computer user? Here’s what works for me.
Rule 1: List tasks for the session
Rule 2: Record your start time*
Rule 3: Set a timer
General Rule: do 1-3 every single session and stick to the plan.
The three tips in more detail:
Rule 1: List Tasks For The Session
Before you even touch the keyboard, grab pencil and paper. Keep a dedicated notebook handy for the purpose. Jot down a list of what you want to achieve online in this session. Be specific. (Check email reply from Joanne about house sit; check library due dates; make travel booking; google false noses.) I find the sleeves-rolled-up/ shoulder-to-the-wheel flavour of actual pen and paper agreeably motivating.
Rule 2: Record Your Start Time
I’m always surprised at how much time has elapsed by the end of the session. (You mean that five minutes was actually two and three-quarter hours?) Recording a start time gives you an important reference point, an anchor for your cruise into the unknown. It is vital. Don’t forget it. And it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment at the end of the session when you reflect on how structured you’ve been. Our brain chemistry likes that!
Did you notice the asterix on point two? An alternative to pencil and paper is to post an electronic sticky-note on your desktop (found under accessories in the start menu of your laptop). Pin it to the main menu to make it easier to locate next time. Type your start time on the desktop sticky note: you won’t lose it there. Do that every single time you log on. Make it habit-forming.
Rule 3: Set A Timer
Calculate the Time You Have Available
To manage your time online, merely telling yourself to stop will not work. A familiar little voice inside your head will bleat repeatedly “just five more minutes”. Planning ahead is the key.
Return to your pen and paper list to calculate timings. Check email reply from Joanne about house sit … calculate 15 minutes (include checking other emails as well); check library due dates calculate 5 minutes, it’s a slow site; make travel booking: could be a mine field. A few airlines to compare (plus the inevitable glitches, reloads and backtracks that flight bookings entail, as well as payment brain strain) give it 45 minutes; google false noses ... I don’t want to spend more than ten minutes on that (although it's tempting to spend an hour). And how about ten minutes for a quick visit to Facebook? Total: 1 hour 15 minutes.
Now you’re ready to set your timer. This bit can be fun because there’s some interesting desktop timers out there (although not nearly as many as for smartphones). You can swap and change between them depending on your mood. Or run several at once, according to your requirements. Here’s my pick:
Sensible Zen chime timer. This free chimer downloads quickly and easily and is a flash file which means it can be used when offline. So it’s handy during non-online tasks (such as writing your blog post). It’s got a nice tone and the third and final chime rings fervently and meaningfully, “I mean it! Get off facebook NOW”. Yessir!
http://www.mindfultechnology.com/timer/ or from http://mindstreaming.net/
Fun timers kids will love (and you will too).
Candle timers date back to 500AD. Get up to speed with this fun visual timer: watch as the wax melts away before your very eyes. You don’t have to download anything, simply go to www.online-stopwatch.com/classroom-timers/, click on your desired style and voila, it will load up for you. Then click on 'use full screen', set your time (easy as), hit the 'start' button and off you go.
Or go for the sand-through-the-hour-glass egg timer. Its alarm is longer and louder than the candle.
The awesome selection of colourful animated timers on this site includes a slow snail race, a running race and swimming race as well as rockets and dynamite. Perfect for kids. I use these cute timers for shorter tasks within my session (ie, 15 minutes on Facebook) with the Zen Timer running in the background to embrace the entire session.
Meanwhile, it's handy to install a clock on your desktop that chimes on the hour/ half hour for generally keeping track of time as it flies by. This beautiful antique clock from Blaiz on my desktop is a joy to behold: http://chimer-by-blaiz-enterprises.en.softonic.com/
Chose from 18 dials, 33 chimes, Ships Bells, 4 alarms and 24 built-in programs.
Wait Up- Why Bother To Manage Your Online Time At All?
Because who isn’t familiar with the guilty unfulfilling sense of let-down, having lost all track of time and task due to being ensnared in the sticky web world?
G. Pascal Zachary wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The Victorians had nervous anxieties. The Roaring Twenties had psychological breakdowns. In our age, we can't concentrate. We battle to pay attention. We suffer from an illness spawned by our immersion in digital worlds. We are the prisoners of our distractions...” A really good reason for internet time management.
My Joyful Mind mindfulness tips are: don't cram, do be realistic. Relax and breathe. Get over being in a hurry. Which is easier said than done (is it ever!) but it’s the secret to contentment.
When we approach the online session with an attitude of “how much can I cram in to beat the clock?” we rev up our nervous system. We burden our cardio-vascular system. We wind up stressed and less productive. Extra time won’t magically appear by force, yet something magical happens when we slow down and tune in to the natural flow. We feel more alive and more present when we stop rushing and panicking. We actually get more done.
Instead of rushing, approach your session as something leisurely and enjoyable. Be practical and realistic in your forward planning. Keep your breathing even. Notice when you’re holding your breath (apparently it’s quite common to hold the breath while waiting for a web page to load) and let go. Whenever you feel your breath shortening or speeding up, intervene with intentional slow deep breathing. So you spend the whole session breathing deeply and slowly? Good! Your nervous system will love you!
It can also help to play calming music in background (ie, open a music file on your laptop.)
Put the genie back in the bottle.
Above all, resist following the constant leads, the many-coloured pathways through the magical forest, the razzle-dazzle shooting stars that accompany online browsing. Put the genie back in the bottle and keep the stopper on until such time as you have the leisure for an unstructured online feast.
If you've enjoyed this post, I'd love to hear from you with a word or two. Please click on comment at the bottom. Cheers!
If you want to get really anal about it, there’s a Chrome extension called timeStats that will record and display your online behavior in visually friendly pie charts and bar graphs. How’s that. http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-57548741-12/manage-your-online-time-wisely-with-timestats-a-chrome-extension/
Smartphone users are wide open to temptation. A book addressing the pitfalls and offering solutions is The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Little Brown & Co, 2013 http://www.distractionaddiction.com/