Have you ever gone online to look up some piece of information and before you know it, it’s three hours later and you haven’t written a single word?
The internet is a great resource for writers because of the nearly limitless access to information, but it can also be a great source of distraction. Click bait headlines wish to attract your visits in order to make money putting ads in front of your eyeballs. Notifications pop up and demand your attention to deliver messages that usually don’t even matter. Even weather.com has distracting stories like “Kayaker’s SHOCKING Catch!” and “10 Places OVERRUN by Animals!” that beg you to click them. (Hint: try accuweather.com instead).
Maybe you don’t even know how it happens, but something about the internet always seems to send you off track. How do you reign in the chaos and actually get some work done? Here are five ways you are wasting productive time online — and how to correct those behaviors this instant.
You are so nervous about missing an important message from a publisher that you refresh your inbox every five minutes. It doesn’t even matter if you go days without receiving an email not sent by a robot; you’ll still do it. You might even get a rush every time you spot an unread message.
It might be absolute torture, but try closing your e-mail while you write. It will feel weird and you might even get some symptoms of withdrawal, but if you can break the habit you’ll be much more… (hang on, I was in the middle of writing this and went to check my email, now where was I? I better re-read my entire article to find out. Oh yeah…) productive.
Your Facebook tab is just as ubiquitous as the one for your email. You look for notifications frequently and always make sure to stay signed onto chat in case anyone wants to talk. I was trying to write the other day but had Facebook open and saw a Buzzfeed post called “15 Strangely Satisfying Examples of Power Washing Porn” and I just had to click it. After seeing the article, I thought: “Hmm, my deck could use power-washed, I wonder how much one of those machines cost?” A Google search led me to Sweeperland's washers to find my answer. Then I saw they have a Live Chat, and I thought “maybe I should prank them.” I started to search for funny chat pranks and before I knew it an hour had gone by. See how this gets out of hand?
To combat this, try setting a time limit. Give yourself a 5 or 10 minute break to check social media, and then get back to work. Setting a timer makes sure you won’t go overboard on your break.
Whether you’re browsing for a new cardigan or a new laptop, access to online shopping often seems to derail your concentration. What’s worse is that after you’re done window shopping, the stuff you were looking at seems to follow you around like a lost puppy, just begging to lure you away from your work. I’ve had many surprise Christmas gifts for my wife ruined when pictures of the exact watch I was getting her show up as Facebook ads on her page. Those ads can also beg you to go back to shopping.
Is a certain website just taking away too much of your time? Block it. There are sophisticated site blocking extensions like Block Site now that will even block a site after a certain number of minutes or between a certain set of hours — great for freelance writers who need to get work done in public.
You call it multitasking, but all those tabs aren’t helping you stay focused. You frequently click through them to try and find the one you needed, but you can’t close them because there was something important you needed to do with them.
It takes time to recover from switching gears every time you change tabs. Instead, try to cut down on the number of tabs you have open. There’s even a whole single tab movement online.
You are looking up something for the piece you’re writing, but one related link leads to another and suddenly you’re reading the (admittedly fascinating) page about the Donner Party and wondering how on earth you got there.
If you’re doing research on Wikipedia, simply don’t click any of the related links. If you can’t find all the info you need, start over with a new search. All the link jumping can get out of hand very quickly.
I’m sure there are plenty of other ways you waste time on the web, such as Reddit, Sports/News sites, TMZ, and more. What productive habits do you practice on the web to keep you on track? Share with other readers in the comments below.
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by Hugh MacLeod
Ever wonder what it really takes to make a living as a creative person in today's complicated world?
MacLeod presents some witty keys for creative success, including "ignore everybody. Why should you "ignore everybody"?
Because, he writes, nobody else can tell you whether your idea is worthwhile. People can give you advice, but at the end of the day, it's your decision. The more original an idea, the less helpful the advice is going to be.
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