Just 3 Small Things

I’ll be the first to admit that I get sucked into the Internet. It’s a wonderfully empowering tool that can fill my day with distractions, a million little “productive” tasks that matter little, constant interruptions from messages and status updates.

Who doesn’t find themselves hopelessly lost in Lolcat, Pintrest or Facebook memes?

We are frittering our lives away. And it often makes us feel badly about ourselves.

So how do we make best use of the awesomeness of the Internet (which has given me the power to do what I love) without succumbing to its riptide of distraction? This is a question that obviously occupied the minds of the ancients, from Aristotle to DaVinci, without any good answer.

I have good news. There is a way. It’s not always easy, but I can do it, and if I can do it, anyone can.

All it takes are three small things. For real.

1. Close everything. This means everything possible on your computer that isn’t absolutely necessary for the task at hand. If you don’t need the Internet to write something, close your browser. Close email, all notifications and reminders- every app, widget and program not needed for your task. If you absolutely need  your browser open, close all tabs — bookmark them, or save them to a read-later service like Instapaper. You can always open these sites when you’re done.

2. Set a time limit. Pick something (important or not) to do, and set a limited time to do it. It might be an hour, or 20 minutes, or even 10 if you’re having a hard time getting into it. Set a timer or the alarm on your cell phone if you have to. A time limit helps sharpen your focus.  Often if you have limited time to do something, you’ll be forced to decide what’s important. It also means you’re not doing some unlimited task that could take hours, but a very specific one that will be over in X minutes. Setting a limit is good too for when you decide to process your email — only 20 minutes to get as many emails processed as you can, for example.

3. Stop before switching. So you’ve closed everything else, you’ve set a time limit for your task at hand, and you’re getting started … but then you want to see what’s happening on Instagram or Pinterest or Youtube. You want to see what’s come in on e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Just stop. Make yourself stop for 5-10 seconds. This is the key habit that makes the other two work. Take a deep breath. Think about whether you really want to fritter your life away doing those things all day, every day, or if you want to do something great that helps you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Choose great, most of the time.

These are small things, and you can do them. When your time is up, take a few minutes’ break to check your favorite sites, and then close them again. But when you’re trying to focus, practice these things. They’re a small price to pay for a life not frittered away by distractions.