The average American spends eight hours a month on Facebook, up from nearly six hours per month back in August 2010. As of 2009, the average young adult was spending virtually every waking hour with online access, either through their phones or their computers, and they were actively using them for two hours a day. Restaurants and bars and coffee shops across the world are littered with broken-neck zombies gazing into their smartphones. I’ve seen entire families out to dinner, each member’s attention fixated on an iPhone as they spoon food into mouth, pausing only to breathe and guzzle cola. I’ve seen young guys out at bars who, instead of checking out the women at the next table over or jabbering at each other with youthful exuberance, feel the need to tell everyone on their Facebook lists just how much fun they claim to be having. I’ve even caught myself lingering at the computer after work, doing nothing of import even as a gorgeous spring day ticks away into the ether of time right outside the window. Why? Just what the heck is our collective problem?
The obvious solution is to not spend so much unnecessary time online, but we pretty much all know that. Just like we know we should lose that weight, exercise more regularly, read that book, watch that Blu-ray that Netflix sent us two months ago. But is that really a solution, or is it just stating the end goal? I think it’s the end goal, not the answer. The trick lies in figuring out how to reach that goal. That’s the key, and that’s what we should be focusing on: how to get ourselves to spend less time online and more time out in the real world. Stuff like “just don’t go online!” or “don’t check your email” isn’t really useful advice, so we won’t even go there. I also won’t tell you what to do with your free, real time, since you know what to do. I’m just going to help you figure out how to get more of it.
So, how to do it?
…so that you have more free time to do what you really want.
I like frivolity. The tendency to goof off and act silly and waste time is part of what makes us human, but if that tendency is preventing you from getting important things done, you’re only hurting your ability to really enjoy yourself. How many people have taken ten hours to do a task that should have taken two, all because they were clicking back and forth between online forums, Facebook, Twitter, and funny cat pics when they should have been working? Sure, you “enjoyed” yourself, but wouldn’t you have rather finished the task in two hours and had eight hours all to yourself? I find that when I waste time doing “fun” stuff when I could be more productive, I don’t actually enjoy the fun at all simply because lurking in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I should be doing my work. I’ll take the eight, totally unencumbered hours every single time.
What are some ways to improve our efficiency and stop wasting time for those of us who have to work online?
RescueTime is a time management and analytics application for “knowledge workers.” In other words, if you depend on a computer for your employment, the app will let you know where you’re spending your time on that computer. It will break down how much active time you spend on various websites and applications. We oftentimes don’t know how wasteful we’re being until we see it laid out in front of us in excruciating detail, so this can be very useful for identifying a problem. It also allows you to go into “Focus mode,” which prevents you from visiting the most disruptive (as deemed by the application’s analysis of your habits) websites. RescueTime is available for Mac and PC.
Use Self Control
No, I didn’t just break my promise not to give redundant, tautological advice. Self Control is an application for MacOS that allows you to put certain websites on a “blacklist.” Once you activate the timer, you will be unable to visit the websites on your blacklist for the time you’ve allotted. Even if you restart your computer or try to delete the program, you’ll remain barred from the offending websites. For the person with absolutely zero willpower (which is a surprising number of us), Self Control will prove invaluable. Obviously, you don’t use Self Control to stay offline. You use Self Control to get your work done faster so that you can log off quicker and get back to the real world. For PC users, Freedom is a similar app.
Establish Scheduled Breaks
Few can work straight through for eight hours without a break, and I don’t think you should even try to attempt such a feat. Instead, you should take breaks. Real breaks, though – scheduled ones. Don’t just flit around Facebook in the midst of your work whenever it strikes your fancy, because it’ll strike your fancy more often than not and you’ll end up wasting too much time. I find that setting aside time slots for regular breaks works way better than winging it. Try taking a ten minute break for every 50 minutes of solid work. You’re gonna take breaks regardless; you might as well try to make them work for, and not against you.
Take Your Breaks Away from the Computer
While you could use those ten minutes to feverishly consume the latest tweets, I’d say your time would be better spent away from the computer. Get up and do a quick ten minute workout. Bang out some pushups, pullups, and air squats. See how long you can hold a plank. Take a short walk outside. Meditate. Or, if it’s a real busy day, step away from the keyboard and give real, ponderous thought to the day’s tasks. You might have a revelation or breakthrough, thereby giving you a boost in efficiency. And even if you don’t, you won’t have wasted your break online.
Use the Internet as an Enhancement of Real Life
Above all else, the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool for connecting people and collating easily-accessible information. If we use the available tools to connect with people, pursue and research real-life interests, and learn about the world – and then apply the newfound knowledge – the Internet can be an enabler of real lives. It’s only when going online replaces real world interactions and experiences that things get all screwy.
What are some ways to enhance our real lives with the Internet?
Make Concrete Plans with Friends
Instead of idly chatting to your buddy whom you’ve not seen in months “Oh, we should totally grab dinner sometime,” say “Let’s grab dinner next Wednesday.” See the difference? In the first example, you’re just saying stuff to make yourself feel better for not having seen your friend without actually having to see the person – you’re not planning anything. In the second example, you’re actually making plans to see the person. You have to commit.
Use Online Apps to Create Events
Whether it’s Facebook, Google Calendar, Evite (are the kids still using Evite these days?), or any other calendar/invitation app, tool, or website, create events and then invite your friends to them. Take the initiative. Besides, chances are they’re spending all their time on Facebook, too, so they’re going to see your invite.
Use Meetup – Don’t Just Join It
Plenty of people join Meetup groups that sound interesting. “Oooh, transcendental meditation!” or “Hey, I like car camping! Why not?” They join, but they never actually attend a meet-up. Seriously: Googling “inactive meetup members” gets you tons of hits from blogs and message boards complaining about all the inactive members in various Meetup groups. This is a huge mistake, because more than the “thing” the group is about, you’re actually going to meet interesting people that happen to enjoy the same things you enjoy. Meetup can be a powerful tool, as long as you actually use it.
At some point, you’re going to have to not use the Internet in order to enjoy real life. You don’t have to give it up entirely of course, but you will have to have some electronic-free time.
Here are a few ways to go about this.
Every Day, Set Aside Two Hours of Non-Internet Time
You can use your phone to listen to stored music as you go about your day. You can use your computer to write in your journal. You can use your Wacom tablet to draw. But that’s about it. Not counting sleep, grooming, eating, bathrooming, getting ready for bed, and commuting to and from work, set aside two hours out of every day to not use the Internet. Use this time to cook and enjoy a delicious meal, hang out with friends and loved ones, go for a walk, lift some heavy things, read a good book, write a letter, pet your dog/cat, or look at clouds. Just don’t whip out the smartphone or flip open the laptop for those two hours (which can be broken up into two single hour sessions, if you like).
I find that whenever I go camping, I forget about the emails, the backed up posts in the queue, the blog post ideas, whatever projects I’m working on, and my smartphone. Oh, sure, maybe for the first couple of hours I’ll pace around the campground trying to find the spot that offers phone reception, but that soon falls by the wayside. The phone gets put away – or maybe used to play some tunes at night – and I lose myself in the great big wild. And then I end up finding myself, if you know what I mean.
Go a Whole Day Without the Internet
Take a day off from it all. Use your phone only as a phone. Let your contacts know what’s going down, of course, particularly if your livelihood depends on it, and set up an “out of office” email alert for those who write to you. This is going to be hard, it’s going to be scary, and it’s going to feel impossible at first. That’s okay – just stick with it. It’s only a day. When the day is up, review. Was it hard? Was it miserable? Did you pine for Facebook? Then you probably really, really needed this day off (and many more). And now you know it’s possible. After all, you’re still alive.
Leave the Phone at Home From Time to Time
We like to think we “need” our phone for emergencies, but how often do those really come up? Flat tires, sure. Getting locked out, okay. What else? Yeah, not much, right? Next time you’re heading out to do some shopping or run errands, leave the phone at home. You don’t really need it.
Turn the Phone Off When It’s In Your Pocket or Purse
When you do have your phone on you, keep it turned off when you’re on the move. Once you arrive, turn the phone on so you can receive and make calls, but don’t be that person bumping into people on the street, walking into fire hydrants, getting run over by street sweepers, or walking right off of cliffs (this isn’t a Looney Tunes cartoon and you won’t have the time to look down, realize your predicament, and run back to safety), all because you had your nose in an iPhone.
If you’re one of the rare birds that honestly cannot live without being connected, have at it. If you truly and honestly love and cherish every single minute you spend online and would rather give up sex than Facebook, then do it. But I suspect that most of you, even the ones who profess their undying love to the Internet, secretly wish you could spend more time offline. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to deciding not to spend so much time in front of the screen(s), and these tips, tricks, and techniques should help get you closer to that decision.
Of course, all the aforementioned advice should be utterly disregarded when it comes to your perusal and consumption of Mark’s Daily Apple.
Let me know what you think of my ideas, guys, then be sure to leave a comment or two with your own tips. Thanks for reading!