Sometimes websites are like potato chips: You can’t have just one and you feel like crap once you’re done.
Many of us wander aimlessly around the web day after day, night after night, telling ourselves we’ll quickly check something only to surface, hours later, from a long fall down the rabbit hole known as the Internet.
Unlike Alice after her Wonderland adventure, we don’t come out of our web haze armed with grand insights of self-discovery. Instead, we feel worn down and wasteful, and fear our behavior is bordering on addiction.
A bad habit is not an addiction. Addiction makes a severe impact on a person’s well-being and threatens to destroy their lives. If you think your Internet use is approaching that level of harm, contact your doctor. There are therapies that can help.
But if you’re like me and you have a pretty balanced life yet are concerned with the amount of time you spend online, then read on for some tips I’ve gathered from the experts on some innovative ways to gain back those hours lost to the Internet:
1. Surf the web first.
What was that? Yes, surf the web first thing in the morning (or the beginning of your day). Use the Internet only in your most energetic moments. You’ll be efficient because you will be obligated to do other things (e.g., get ready for work, take the kids to school) and you’ll have the energy to ignore the endless lure of “interesting” links. Winding down at the end of a long day shouldn’t include the Internet. Our ability to make good decisions is used up by the time we usually sit down to surf. Dan Ariely, a Behavioral Economist at Duke University, says this phenomenon is explained by what is known as Depletion Theory: “our ability to make any type of difficult decisions …[is] adversely affected by fatigue.” Limit your web time to solid energy level hours, and you’ll spend less time wandering and more time researching or getting done what you need to do online.
2. Find autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Author Daniel H. Pink, in his book DRiVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says that the best way to love a job is to have autonomy over your work, have the possibility of mastering the work, and have a sense of purpose for doing the work. Find these three aspects in the “work” of your web surfing. AUTONOMY: When you go online, remember that you are in total control over how much time you will spend. Use a timer if it helps you stay conscious of this fact. MASTERY: Learn how to research topics quickly (e.g., use the outbound links at the bottom of wikipedia entries); Aggregate social sites by using RSS or email. Automate as much as possible. PURPOSE: Go online with specific tasks in mind. Keep a sticky note on your desktop with a list of the top 10 of your life goals on it; if a website doesn’t fit under one of those categories, then close the window. Gaining control over yourself, the subjects and sites you surf, and surfing with a goal in mind will help you feel like the time you sit online is time well-spent.
3. Use Disruption.
If you spend too much time mindlessly web surfing, you’ve developed a bad habit. The key to stopping bad habits like smoking or superfluous eating is to interrupt the pattern of behavior by using a technique known as disruption. According to Psychology Today’s Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, willpower isn’t as powerful as it seems; Disruption, in research studies, proves to be more successful in ridding yourself of bad habits. Try changing the context of your web surfing. Build a high shelf or treadmill stand for your laptop, and allow yourself web time only while standing or walking (very!*) slowly. Next, try changing the method of performance. Use your non-dominant hand to scroll, use the mouse, or one-hand type. Or use your phone (harder to read and navigate) to check social media sites, AND use your non-dominant hand to do it. By designing some well-placed disruption in the course of your habitually bad behavior, you’ll break the pattern and feel better about yourself.
With a little effort and concentration, you can kick mindless surfing to the curb. Design your life with new, healthy patterns of Internet behaviors and you’ll never spend another minute lost in a maze of cheshire cat videos again.*Take my advice at your own risk. In other words, don’t sue me: It’s just a blog. More info: Dan Ariely on self-control: http://danariely.com/tag/self-control/ Dan Pink, DRiVE: http://www.danpink.com/archives/2009/12/harvard-business-review-on-what-really-motives-workers Heidi Grant Halvorson: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201110/forget-willpower-stop-mindless-eating-and-other-bad-habits-through-d