5 Ways to Avoid the Email, Internet and Social Media Time Suck

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As a freelance writer, I have the privilege of working from home. My job means flexible hours. It means no long commute.

It means hours spent surfing the Web while I procrastinate.

But surely I’m not alone when it comes to wasting time on the Internet. See if this sounds familiar.

It’s 7 a.m. on the weekend. I grab some coffee and boot up the computer to work while the house is quiet.

Better start with my email to make sure my editor doesn’t need anything.

Oh, look, someone outbid me on eBay. …

Now that I’ve reclaimed my spot as highest bidder and browsed 20 other auctions on the site, where was I? Oh yeah. Facebook.

35 minutes later …

Really need to get started on work. I’ll just check the news sites and then get going.

Hmmm … wonder if anyone liked the funny picture I shared on Facebook.

20 minutes later …

Better check my email again and see if my editor wrote back.

Enter small child: Mom, what’s for breakfast?

And there goes my so-called work time.

For you, it may be office work or the laundry or even playing with the kids, but there is likely something that gets pushed to the side while you get sucked into the Internet. Well-meaning people from all walks of life are lost in the vortex that is emails, online forums and funny cat pics.

If you need help breaking free, here are five ways to avoid the online black hole:

1. Limit check-ins to twice a day

I recently finished “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss. I didn’t particularly buy into its premise for a number of reasons, but I thought Ferriss was spot on in his assessment of email. Not only does processing email eat up a lot of time, it steals your attention from other, more important tasks.

Hopping onto email, even briefly, opens you up to seeing all sorts of things you can’t possibly resolve or address at the moment. Then, even if you close out of your inbox, your mind remains there. Kiss your productivity goodbye as you spend the rest of the day dwelling on how to respond to what’s waiting in your email.

I find it’s best for me to avoid starting my day with email. It’s far too easy to get derailed by what’s in the inbox. Instead, I shoot for twice a day, at noon and 4 p.m. However, hypocrite that I am, it’s 1 p.m. right now, and I’ve been in my inbox five times already today. Hey, I’m only human!

2. Install a digital nanny

So what’s the next step if you’re like me and having trouble self-regulating? The answer is to bring in a digital nanny. These are apps or programs that will tsk, tsk you for wasting time or, if needed, shut you out of time-wasting websites completely.

Here are three options:

  • Freedom. This is an all-or-nothing app. Freedom completely shuts you out of the Internet for up to eight hours at a time. However, you can sidestep the blackout by restarting your computer.
  • Anti-Social. If you don’t want to go quite as extreme as Freedom, you could try the similar Anti-Social app. Rather than blocking the Internet completely, it limits access to Facebook, Twitter and other websites you specify.
  • RescueTime. This final option goes one step further. RescueTime will not only block distracting websites, it will also track your time online so you’ll know exactly where you’re frittering away your hours each day.

3. Take temptation off your phone

One of the latest viral videos making the rounds is Gary Turk’s “Look Up.” It bemoans the fact we’re all constantly attached to our digital devices.

While I’m not ready to vilify our smartphones just yet, Turk’s point is well-taken. Our phones are gateways to the email/Internet vortex of wasted time and lost productivity. Each little ping threatens to pull you online and away from whatever more meaningful thing you should be doing.

The best way to avoid the trap is to delete all email and social media apps from your phone. If that seems a little too hard-core, you could at least turn off all notifications.

4. Change your home page

When you boot up your Web browser, what’s the first thing you see? Is it your email inbox? Or maybe you see Bing with its tantalizing slideshow of stories at the bottom. Perhaps you’re super-smart and have Money Talks News as your home page.

However, I’m going to tell you there is a better choice than any of those, including MTN (shhh … don’t tell Stacy Johnson). Rather than have your browser open to a page where you risk getting distracted by all the bright, shiny objects on the Internet, use a blank page.

Force yourself to think about why you’re getting on the Internet and what you hope to accomplish. Otherwise, it’s too easy to start clicking links that send you down the rabbit hole.

5. Keep your browser closed

Along with using a blank page as your home page, keep your browser closed unless you’re actively using it.

Tabs may be convenient, but leaving your email, Facebook and Twitter open all day is inviting temptation to be distracted every time those little numbers pop up in the tab.

I’ll readily admit to being a work in progress, but these steps have helped me limit my aimless Internet wandering. What about you? What are your tips for ignoring the siren song of social media and remaining productive during the day?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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