Drastically reducing your Internet usage. Did it work for you?
October 13, 2010 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Drastically reducing your Internet usage. Did it work for you?

I have been struggling with anxiety, depression, and attention issues for a long time. My Internet usage is a source of this/does not help me at all. I am considering drastically reducing my usage but would like to hear stories from others about their success and strategies. I have read lots of success stories but they have always been part of news stories and have never included people who have failed or who didn't feel better. I would like advice on your strategies as well in dealing with monkey brain that's constantly seeking novelty even when not enjoying it. Thanks in advance
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not -quite- sure I understand the question, but I'll try to relate my experiences.

I still use the internet heavily now, so I guess you can say I 'failed', but my experience was positive.

At some point a few months ago I'd gone from being on every day for some eight hours to only logging on for about five minutes to check my e-mail and facebook. I felt SO much more fulfilled, because I was actually doing things I could progress in like knitting/drawing/reading/etc instead of browsing forums and hitting the refresh button a bunch of times.

Cutting back definitely helped with depression but it wasn't the fix-all because it didn't tackle the root of the depression for me. And eventually I fell back into spending all my free time doing nothing on the 'net. YMMV, but it's worth a shot.

Strategy-wise, just find something you like doing that you can't do online and that you can do away from a computer. For example, if you have a video game console you could get into a game. It gets you used to doing something where you absolutely can't be online and still focus. Doing your schoolwork, etc if you have any in an internet-less place like a cafe will also help.

It would help if you went into more specifics about why your internet usage is a problem. I went back to using it too much because for me it's a habit. It's literally a mental struggle for me to do anything that requires me to be away from the PC. If you have a similiar problem, I would suggest trying to develop a habit that doesn't involve the internet when things are going well so that when times get rough again you can fall back into something a little healthier.
posted by biochemist at 6:52 PM on October 13, 2010

I know you're looking for stories of successes and challenges, but here are my tactics --

I was really helped by Temptation Blocker (which blocks programs) and LeechBlock (a firefox add-on that blocks websites of your choice, so you can block Facebook while still accessing Gmail).

Also, do you have a laptop with a working battery? For a while, I would charge my laptop at school but leave the electric cord at my desk there, so that when I took it home, I could be on the computer no more than 90 minutes.

I actually find the first 5 minutes after getting off the internet are the hardest on my chattering brain, and that the transition was easier if I could find something else informative to occupy my mind, like listening to This American Life. That's my strategy now; direct my surfing to the This American Life or Fresh Air website and start streaming something interesting, and then leave the computer audio to entertain myself while I do dishes.
posted by salvia at 6:56 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a huge procrastinator and the internet is my procrastination tool of choice (especially since we recently gave up cable...sob). I gave up one of my favourite sites (on which I waste a LOT of time) for Lent once. I missed it but it was doable -- I removed the link to it from my bookmarks bar so I wouldn't be tempted to just mindlessly click and get there. Getting rid of easy ways to get to sites is helpful (removing links, removing automatic passwords, etc) because sometimes it's just the ease of getting there that's the problem.

I also use Self-Control, which is a Mac program that blocks certain sites for an amount of time that I choose. This is immensely helpful when I'm trying to work on the computer during the day. I block everything that I don't need for my work and anything that's potentially distracting. I can't tell you how much I love this program and how much more productive I am because of it.
posted by pised at 6:56 PM on October 13, 2010

Why not just cancel your internet subscription. Unless you work from home online, is there REALLY a reason to have it? At least then you would be forced to get out of the house to find a hotspot. Higher barrier to entry/more frustration=less use?
posted by TheBones at 6:57 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I constantly struggle with trying to cut back, especially when whatever I'm working on requires me to be online.

For me, I think my root cause is problems with focus/attention, or simply being able to deal with the fact that the work I'm trying to do is (at times) boring. The internet is constantly there, constantly saying "Hey, you could be doing something more interesting instead!" Much like many bad habits (eating junk food, drinking too much boozahol, etc), internet overuse is only ever "fun" in the very short-term, and sometimes not even then; but it's hard to get your irrational self to recognize that.

(You do realize the irony of this post, right? I'm commenting on it because my whole day has been an Internet! Forever... binge to avoid work.)
posted by amberwb at 7:02 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Freedom yet, which is now available for Windows and Macs. (Disclosure: Freedom was made by a fellow student in my PhD program.)

I had a lot of luck using Leechblock, recommended above by salvia. The mere thought of having the blocker pop up and admonish me for surfing the web actually kept me off of my forbidden sites just by willpower alone, so that was nice.
posted by k8lin at 7:08 PM on October 13, 2010

I know exactly what you mean. I have (partially) succeeded with this, and the way to make it stick is to change the goal from LESS INTERNET to MORE EVERYTHING ELSE. Squeeze it out in favour of other, positive, activities.
posted by Paragon at 7:13 PM on October 13, 2010 [10 favorites]

There are a number of past threads about this that will have more suggestions and hopefully some of the stories you're looking for.

/ now getting off the internet to make dinner!
posted by salvia at 7:17 PM on October 13, 2010

I use a kitchen timer. I set it, and once the buzzer rings, I get up.
posted by AMSBoethius at 7:30 PM on October 13, 2010

I have tried to reduce my internet usage many times and always failed eventually. It never lasts for more than a few days/a week. The main problem is that I have to use it for my work, so I can't completely withdraw from usage.

I have tried just about everything: Leechblock, "Freedom", using different machines/accounts for work and fun; setting strict "parental restrictions" on my computer and making someone else the only person with the password; trying to set a 1 hour usage limit a day; trying to have one internet-free day a week; trying to only surf on weekends; moving all the sites I frequent to RSS feeds in an offline aggregator... Nothing works for long.

HOWEVER, I have found more and more lately that internet addiction/procrastination is a symptom, not a cause of my other issues. I have been on an SSRI for a while now, and now that it works, I spend much less time online, without even trying. When I am having a good week at work, and am busy and fulfilled with other stuff, I feel no urge at all for the endless surfing that I can get sucked into otherwise.
posted by lollusc at 7:34 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make this your homepage.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:57 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you really don't NEED the internet for anything (paying bills or whatever), just cancel it. I've been on vacations where I had no net access for a few days to a week, and man, you really don't miss it as long as you're keeping somewhat busy. Get some books, CDs, whatever, find something else to do once it's gone, and you'll be fine.
posted by Slinga at 8:13 PM on October 13, 2010

I've failed AND succeded.

It's not a binary. You'll do better if you accept that you'll probably go back to using the internet, but it's not a big deal, because you can try to cut back whenever you want. If it doesn't help, you can always go back to it.

Don't get into a guilt/shame spiral about it. It's counterproductive,

Don't say "I failed", say "I tried, and I'll try again when I feel up to it" and then when the time seems right, try again.

This really works for me about a lot of things that I used to be very black/white about--eating 100% vegetarian all the time would be nice, but right now I'm trying to do the best I can and if it's not 100%, so be it.

I have other hobbies to turn to that I tend to neglect, so I have something positive to fill the space that the internet was filling. It's a lot easier to do something than it is to avoid doing something.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:03 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the problem is computer time in general, find compelling goals that keep you away from the computer. Is FaceBook more compelling than being with your real friends? Is FaceBook more compelling than being fit and sexy? Than getting out for walks? Than playing an instrument or rebuilding a motorcycle or taking a language class?

If you need to maintain computer time but can do without internet during that time, try to involve someone else, either a person or a program who will let you define the limits and then hold you to those limits. If you live with someone, explain the problem to that person so you'll get the sort of help you need -- maybe someone to temporarily take physical possession of a cable or router or some other key part of your connection to the internet. If you have to ask to get it back, you'll have to admit to you and the other person that you couldn't stand it any longer.

If you need to maintain an internet connection but certain programs lure you away from your purpose, try turning off all reminders and getting a program like Leechblock.

And try to find non-internet alternative sources of your internet time wasters. If you normally blow a lot of time reading online news and sports scores and so on, for example, try buying a good newspaper or news magazine and sitting in an internet-free place (go somewhere without your electronics). If it's porn, get yourself some books or magazines and head for the bedroom. If it's recipes, buy a great recipe book and head for the kitchen. If it's aimless relaxation and zoning out, get some great bath oils and head for the tub. If it's argumentation, head on down to the pub and plant yourself next to some talkative geezers.
posted by pracowity at 12:16 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

What helps me is to pack up my laptop and stick it at the other end of the house. I have to cross 3 little kids and either go through their playroom or walk down the hall past their bathroom and bedrooms. There's enough in those rooms for me to do to distract me from making it to the master bedroom and my laptop.

I say pack it up and put it away if possible, or make it otherwise difficult to reach-- sometimes just the minute or two it takes to unpack and set up is enough to make me go "you know, I really need to be doing something else"...
posted by mdiskin at 2:21 AM on October 14, 2010

I've tried and failed at this in the past.

Repeating people above slightly, I think the two strategies that work best for me are focus, and finding other things to do.

Focus-wise, try to only do one thing at a time - a lot of the suck of the internet for me is the ability to continually flick between a million little things - if you stick with something it helps a lot.

I also recommend finding real world things to do - if youre out doing thing-you-like, you're not online.

More drastically, where activities are totally unproductive and stressful, but addictive (I put World of Warcraft in this category, for example), it can be good to quit entirely. There's something binary about cold turkey that helps me achieve it over just cutting back.

Having said all that, I'm still hopelessly prone to over-using the internet, and it does suck.
posted by curious_yellow at 3:34 AM on October 14, 2010

I'll summarize up top, as ... let's be honest ... we're all a little distractable, right?:
  1. I purged my RSS feeds. I do not regret it, and would recommend that you do it, too.
  2. I'm a fan of some means of either physically or virtually limiting access to the internet. I've used a variety of methods (both hardware and software). I'll go into specifics.
  3. Echoing others in this thread, having something you're working towards — a clearly-defined goal or other destination — is helpful in preventing mindless surfing.
  4. Medication?
  5. On preview: a mantra and a pad of paper.

This is something I'm interested in, both personally and professionally, and I've spent a lot of time looking into it, and have tried a bunch of things (and am developing a new one, actually).

A few things that I've found useful ...

I had been subscribed to ~150 RSS feeds. I overcame my fear of missing something Important and deleted all of them, figuring A) If it's really important, it'll bubble up through other channels, and B) If it's a site that's important to me, I'll remember it and will check in on it. I definitely spend a lot less time checking for updates. There's a bit of a hassle in going to the different sites, but it's a healthy hassle. The truth is that I don't need to read every single Daring Fireball piece in near-real-time. Same goes for ... well ... just about everything else. The only blogs that I've added back in to my RSS feed are blogs from family members and local friends, where when they share something online, I want to know about it. There was a fear that I'd miss important things ... after all, I'm the guy in my circle who knows what's going on online, right? But it hasn't been bad. Honestly, maybe I have missed a few things. But I think the time and attention that I've had as a result has been more than worth it, and it's still rare that any of my friends knows about some meme before I do. Before I purged mine, I exported an OPML file so I'd have a record of all of the blogs I had been subscribed to, in case I wanted to add them back in. I haven't once had the desire to do that, but it was nice knowing I had the safety net.

I went for a while with no home internet, but with a USB modem (precursor to the MiFi). I would give my wife the modem, work for a few hours, and then she'd give it back to me to check in online for a short break, or to e-mail or remotely save whatever I'd worked on. This actually worked well, but requires a willing third party, and also requires that their internet needs not conflict with your internet needs ... USB modems only work on one machine at a time, MiFis have a range that means you'd need to be in a larger house for this to be effective. The software I'm building (Monotask) actually ends up approximating the third-party-giving-limited-access-to-the-USB-modem approach, but without requiring the third party or the USB modem. I've tried other software before (the aforementioned Leechblock, Freedom, and SelfControl, as well as the not-yet-mentioned-but-worth-investigating Rescue Time), but they haven't done the job for me. I do find that Monotask works for me, though. If you want in on the Monotask beta (soon, but not sure when), MeFi Mail me and I'll put a plate in the oven for you.

Merlin Mann once noted that when his daughter's awake, his laptop is in its bag. I'm not sure if he's stuck with that rule. I've tried it, and it's great if you can stick with it. I wasn't able to.

Something that I've been doing lately — and this is more for "when I know I'm on the computer, how do I be more productive?" — is that, before I get working, I'll spend 15 minutes writing out (on paper!) my tasks; then, I'll spend 15 minutes knocking out as many of those tasks as I can; then, I'll transition into my Real Work. That 30 minute "warmup time" ends up being really helpful. That's from this piece, at HBR.org. I find that when I look at why I wasted time online, it's often because the next steps in my project(s) aren't clear. If I can break down my task list into actionable steps (a la GTD et al.), I'm better able to stay on task, and less likely to get sucked into the æther. So, I'd recommend supplementing your internet chokepoint with an attempt to clarify the tasks on your plate.

Finally, I just wanted to mention that it'd be worth scheduling a visit with a psychiatrist, to talk about your situation and your options. I ran through the battery of ADD tests when I was in high school, and the psychiatrist concluded that I probably had issues, but that since they weren't affecting my schoolwork, he didn't think we should address them. I'm sorry that was his conclusion, as I think I was actually just smart enough to compensate for it in the moment, and I think I could have performed a lot better than I did, both in high school, and then in college, and then professionally. I recently saw a psychiatrist, and she prescribed Wellbutrin. It's definitely helping, both with my attention management, and with me having a sunnier outlook on things. I'd encourage your seeing someone about that.

On preview, curious_yellow reminded me of something. There's a mantra that I've been trying to repeat to myself, and to teach my daughters (in whom I'm already seeing signs of destructive distractibility): "Do one thing at a time, and do it 'til it's done." This has actually been helpful, in my offline life, as I try to not get distracted from doing the dishes by cleaning up the table, and so on. I'm working on transitioning this to my online life, as well, which is kind of what this whole thread is about. I think having that notepad of paper in front of me (I mentioned it two paragraphs above) is really helpful there, in that as soon as I get sidetracked, when I next look at my paper, I can see what I was supposed to be doing. I've tried doing this with online notes (Backpack, TeuxDeux, RTM, etc.), but find that physically writing it down gives fundamentally different results.
posted by Alt F4 at 4:00 AM on October 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

I have a router with access restriction via ip and keyword. Block say facebook et al from 9am to 11am. For me, the trick was to make getting to time wasting sites just enough work that it wasn't worth it for simply my amusement.
posted by handle_unknown at 6:19 AM on October 14, 2010

Anxiety, depression, attention issues - no comment. But less Internet - do it. Go outside, read books, be social, make things. How to be online less? You know how. Has my life improved in every way being online less? Yes.
posted by eccnineten at 6:57 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't see this question until today because I don't have the internet at home. Leechblock and programs like that did not work for me. The only thing that worked was canceling the internet, which forces me to be more productive when I do have internet access, and helps me stay focused on the things I really want to do when I am at home. I spend around 2 to 3 hours a day online during the week, maybe an hour on Saturdays, and am offline completely on Sundays. I didn't realize how depressed and just yucky spending six or more hours online every day was making me feel.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:07 AM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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