Less internets please
February 6, 2008 11:45 AM   Subscribe

How can I make myself spend less time dicking around on-line?

I spend too much time dicking around online, on reading community sites, news sites, blogs, etc. It interferes with my desire to do things that aren't dicking around online. (Writing, reading, outdoor activities, etc.)

What are some strategies which you have successfully employed (or heard of others employing) that enabled you to limit the amount of time you waste dicking around on the internet.

Responses like "Dude, just spend less time dicking around on the internet" which do not suggest specific approaches are not helpful.
posted by dersins to Grab Bag (50 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Use the LeechBlock add-on for Firefox.
posted by canine epigram at 11:49 AM on February 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you find out, I'd sure like to know. The only sure-fire, effective way for me is to just up and go somewhere. Explore the city. Travel. It's hard to "dick around the internet" when you're far from the computer.
posted by mkn at 11:50 AM on February 6, 2008

Turning off the computer helps. I can sit there forever wasting time, but if I turn the computer off, it's like my brain turns on and reminds me that there's plenty of other things I can do. Once the computer is off, I'm less likely to turn it back on when I could be doing something else I'd rather do.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:53 AM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's a hint-- you're doing it now. (Well, so am I, but we're not talking about me.) Yeah, turn it off, go someplace. It really worked for me to turn my desk around so everyone in the office can see when I'm online (especially since they know that the blue and the green have nothing to do with musical theater!)
posted by nax at 12:01 PM on February 6, 2008

My problem with leechblock is that it somehow lost all of the settings after a week. It was the weirdest thing.
posted by sugarfish at 12:01 PM on February 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

Set an alarm clock.

Stop dicking around online when the alarm goes off.
posted by iconomy at 12:03 PM on February 6, 2008

TPS has a good point - Once the computer is off, I'm less likely to turn it back on when I could be doing something else I'd rather do. The problem may be that you have nothing else you'd rather do. Would you really rather be outside, writing or reading? I have those same desires, but when it comes down to it, dinking around on the internets is where it's at for me. I turn the computer off from time to time but then think of a million other things I would love to be exploring on the internet. A possible tactic would be giving yourself and hour or two a day of internet usage. Through out the day if you find something you are interested in knowing (community news, blogs, etc), write them down and then when you do sit down at the computer you have a list of things that you thought of throughout the day that you want to look into further. Once your 2 hours is up, then turn the computer off and start over tomorrow. Don't deviate from your list. If, while you are at the computer you think of something else you want to do on the internet, too bad, just write it down for tomorrow's list.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:03 PM on February 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

What TPS said. Stick a Post-It to the monitor with the word "NO" written on it.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:04 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get an old laptop with a totally fried battery. Only use it on battery power thus limiting your browsing to 30mins every 4hrs or so.
posted by zeoslap at 12:05 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get dial-up.
posted by milarepa at 12:06 PM on February 6, 2008

Get dial-up.

This doesn't work, or, it hasn't worked for me...I'm on a dial-up connection, and it hasn't prevented me from dicking around in like, ever. So, I still do it, just slower.

Also, if you regard it as "research" instead of "dicking around", at least it puts it in a positive light. And you may learn something so valuable that it will justify all those hours spent "researching", so cut yourself a little slack!
posted by motown missile at 12:18 PM on February 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

Dude, just spend less time dicking around on the internet.

Nah, I have this problem to. What helps me is to keep a todo list on my desktop, a simple text file, and I make myself look at it before I start doing anything. If there's something urgent or easy to do, I do it before I allow myself to start using the computer.

A kitchen timer works too, just set it for 30 mins or whatever and make yourself get up after it dings and do something productive.
posted by lohmannn at 12:18 PM on February 6, 2008

Set schedules. Luckily, I have plenty in life to distract me, so I know that "at 8 I have to do this, at 10, I have to do that, and so on..." If you don't have other things to take you away from the computer, then set an alarm clock, and set limits. Tell yourself, "I'm going to write/paint/read at 9 for an hour, then I can go back on MeFi for an hour, and then at 11, I have grocery shopping, maybe I'll see a movie."

I also justify my internet usage by rationalizing that I am doing something constructive--communicating with others, reading articles, playing difficult flash puzzles--so it's not like you're just vegging; you are working your brain. But it's always good to get up and go for a walk.

Impose frequent breaks and vary your activities, without beatring yourself up over online activities, or demanding of yourself that you give up this rich vein of experiences.
posted by not_on_display at 12:20 PM on February 6, 2008

Adopt a dog! Maybe one that has a small bladder.
posted by spec80 at 12:20 PM on February 6, 2008

beatring = beating.
posted by not_on_display at 12:22 PM on February 6, 2008

My ISP has a weekly 2gb limitation on bandwidth consumption, and I regularly go over, forcing myself to be disconnected on the weekends; it works, and saves money too. Perhaps you could switch to a similar service.
posted by book at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2008

Not sure whether your trouble's at home, at work, or both, because the tactics are slightly different depending on your environment. At home, you can make the computer physically inconvenient to use. If you have a laptop, put it on a desk with a not-very-comfortable chair, and only use it at the desk, and maybe put a pile of laundry or something on the chair that you'll have to move if you want to use the computer. Or move it to the room you're in the least, and only use it in there.

Make a rule for yourself that you cannot use the computer at the same time you're watching TV, eating, listening to music, what have you - if your favorite show comes on, turn off the computer before you turn on the TV. Often (and I am guilty of it myself) people tend to pile on multiple distractions at once until they end up with eight open Firefox tabs, five IM windows, and the TV's on and they're clipping their toenails at the same time. Limit yourself to one distraction at a time.

Work is different, because the computer is right there in front of you. Just yesterday I decided not to open my browser for anything not work-related... just for one work day. I eventually broke my promise after about six hours because, not surprisingly, I had actually done all my work. When I got back online, I quickly realized that nothing terribly exciting had happened on the intarwebs that day. I'm not cured of my endless surfing at work, but those six hours did a lot to boost my morale. I will be having a lot more work days like this from now on, and panicking less about the loss of my sweet sweet internet (and about the work I didn't get around to because I was so busy writing long long answers on AskMe).
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:38 PM on February 6, 2008

Do you have a laptop? I know I have huge trouble with internet dicking-about with my laptop, since I can carry it places and it's harder to just walk away. What helped for me was to set up a space specifically for the laptop, and to convince myself NOT to carry it places unless absolutely necessary. It's much easier to get chores done, pursue other interests, etc. if you can't go "Hmmm, wouldn't that be fun to look up on Wikipedia..." and immediately turn to look it up.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 12:49 PM on February 6, 2008

Edit your hosts file (/etc/hosts on Linux/OS X, I'm not sure about Windows) and add some lines like: digg.com reddit.com metafilter.com

... etc. If you really, really need to visit the site you can go comment the line, but that's kind of a pain in the ass so you're much less likely to do it.
posted by sjl7678 at 12:52 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: There are some great suggestions in here thus far. Thank you all. Unfortunately, suggestions that involve not turning on my computer, or leaving my laptop behind, are less than ideal.

One of the things I want to spend more time doing is writing, and I need my computer for that. (OK, technically I don't NEED my computer for that, but I write much more efficiently with my computer than without...)

Suggestions that involve ways for me to learn to alter my behavior rather than ways to set up physical or technical hurdles are on the whole more helpful, although that LeechBlock extension looks pretty interesting....

(marked as best answer just to highlight this update, not because I think this is the best answer...)
posted by dersins at 12:57 PM on February 6, 2008

this reminds me of when i asked my crack dealer for hints on how to stop smoking so much crack.

you just gotta do it.

put your computer in a different room or something.
posted by kneelconqueso at 12:58 PM on February 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

oh right, also for writing, if you have a mac, check out writeroom. kills distractions dead.
posted by kneelconqueso at 12:58 PM on February 6, 2008

There are actually some programs out there that will track how much time you spend on certain websites. You could setup a program like that and set goals for you self.
posted by delmoi at 12:59 PM on February 6, 2008

This might be bordering on heretical, but have you considered canceling your home Internet access?

As long as you have reasonable access at work where you can "dick around" during breaks or downtime, then it might be a good idea.

Before you attempt this, make sure you have a dictionary and a current phone book handy.
posted by ODiV at 1:01 PM on February 6, 2008

I think maybe viewing this as your standard basic behavior-modification program might be helpful. You could treat it like changing any other habit:

1. Write down what habit you want to change and list the reasons why. Post this prominently. Read it to yourself whenever you sit down to work at the computer.
2. Decide what an acceptable amount of dicking-around time per day would be. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking ("I won't ever dick around again!") . Instead, try to define what the acceptable limits of the behavior will be.
3. Whenever you succeed in spending an hour, session, day, or whatever while adhering to the acceptable limits as you defined them, reward yourself in some way. Set short-term and long-term rewards to reach for.
4. List the other activities you like and want to do somewhere you can see as well. Reward yourself for choosing those activities.

I have problems with this too - I work at a desk most of the time and dick around constantly during and between projects. Though I haven't gone on as strict a plan as I listed above for internet time, I do generally set little goals throughout the day: "revise the personnel budget, then you can spend 15 minutes on MetaFilter. Make these 3 calls, then check your email."

I used to smoke and used a pretty structured goal-setting/reward program for quitting. Same approach helped me to start exercising and to lose weight. Once it becomes at the level of daily habit it's much less hard to keep the good behavior going.
posted by Miko at 1:18 PM on February 6, 2008 [8 favorites]

posted by nanojath at 1:24 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get a router. Pipe your internet connection through it. Make it a router that allows you to restrict internet access to certain time windows on certain days. Have a friend that you trust come over, and after you've set up a few narrow windows in which you're allowed to have internet access, have your friend change the password and not tell you what it is.
posted by davejay at 1:24 PM on February 6, 2008

Open your pc only late at night, unless you do it specifically to write. Bedtime will win pc time. Also, print the (blank?) pages of your book and put them somewhere you'll see them (bed/desk). It should put you to shame.
posted by ersatz at 1:28 PM on February 6, 2008

I went away on a trip with no internet, and when I came back i felt so relieved, and amazed that *nothing* had happened online that mattered in any significant way at all. Within a week I was back online full-time.

You're right, though, you have to stop. So do I. The whole internet is like the features bit of the newspaper, and it never stops updating, and it's sucking away years of useful time. I've answered over 1000 AskMe questions, FFS. Many from work, but still.

(Btw, cutting off home access doesn't work. I've tried that, and there are lots of good reasons to be on the net as well.)

I think it might have to be a habit thing. Lent has just started, why don't we give up non-productive browsing for Lent, and see what happens? This thread will still be open when it ends.
posted by bonaldi at 1:30 PM on February 6, 2008

Sometimes it seems like all anyone in AskMe needs to do is DTMFA and/or download Temptation Blocker.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:32 PM on February 6, 2008

Recently I did some house-sitting for a friend of mine who was away. She said I could use her computer, so I didn't bother bringing a laptop. What a revelation: I was only able to visit websites I could remember the URLs of, since I didn't have my bookmarks with me. What I found was that I spent significantly less time browsing around than I do when I'm on my own machine. Those favorite sites are so familiar to me that I only ever had to check and see what was new, so they weren't the time-suck I would have guessed them to be. Apparently most of my time-wasting comes from browsing around, following trails from various blogs and aggregators. Upon my return home, when I cycled through all of my usual bookmarks, I found hadn't missed anything important. That experience led me to stick all of those non-essential bookmarks in a folder called "occasional," and bury it down inside my bookmarks menu rather than in the quick-click bar (so I don't unconsciously go to it). I restrict myself to only checking that folder on Sundays.
posted by xo at 1:38 PM on February 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I, too, have work to do on the computer, so I can't just shut it off; I also need internet access for work, so I can't block myself from that. Minuteur has substantially reduced my dicking around. It's an egg timer. I gave mine two presets: 12 minutes and 3 minutes. I work for 12 minutes, dick around for 3, then repeat, 4 times per hour. It makes a nice egg-timerey ticking noise that helps me focus on my work, and a nice substantial alarm that snaps me out of my dicking around phase. Sometimes I even skip the dicking around now!
posted by Enroute at 1:58 PM on February 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

A habit I've picked up that has worked quite nicely: don't visit a website twice in one sitting. As soon as you realise that you're returning to a site you've already checked, you've stopped gathering new information and started wasting time waiting for potential new information to appear. Avoiding that better-recheck instinct is the best thing I've ever done for decreasing the amount of time spent online.
posted by Paragon at 2:11 PM on February 6, 2008 [6 favorites]

dersins, I also have the problem of spending too much time on the Internet while needing my computer for real work.

I solved some of the issues by getting an Alphasmart. A light, durable, portable word processor like that eliminates the distractions while allowing me to have somewhere to type. I got the Alphasmart 3000, as I feared later models, like the Neo, would have too much crap on them to distract me.
posted by Anonymous at 2:11 PM on February 6, 2008

i suspect this is a huge issue for a lot of folks...myself included
remember the Batman movie where the TV sets were sucking the juice out of everyone?
that is the internet for many i am afraid.
so seductive...so easy to click...and click and click
just one more click

the answer ultimately is to get so busy doing other things you cant have time for the internet
posted by dougiedd at 2:31 PM on February 6, 2008

Do you have wifi in your house? Or a hard line? If you have a hard line, go into a room in your house without access or just unplug the connection.

You don't need the internet to write. You just need some type of word processor application. If your job is writing reviews of online sites or something, then I'm wrong about that. You weren't very specific about your writing, though.

If you have wifi in your home, get an extended-life battery for your laptop (assuming you have one since you referenced it) and go to a public place, like a park. Set an appointment for two hours from that time.

Use the time in public to write. This can be anywhere from a library to a bench outside.

Allow the appointment (dinner with a friend, movie, gym class, etc.) to act as your "decompression" time between work and your regular life (ie, dicking around on the internet).

Two hours is optimum for doing sedentary work (for me) because otherwise I get stiff. Also, if you haven't got it licked in two hours, your brain needs a break. Even just for creativity's sake/your eyes and legs and bladder.

I don't think your problem is dicking around; it's scheduling time for work and making that stick. Once the work is done, extra time can be spent doing whatever. I understand, though. My MO (and this is specifically what I have trained myself to do) is:

- work 10 minutes (or as each assignment comes in, usually 3-5 pages of copy)
- dick around for 5.

The exceptions to the above are timely deadlines, work crunches, and days that I have off when I'm technically on call or late at night.

I'm an online editor, so for me, the two-for-you, one-for-me rule works. It took a few weeks to get into, but once I did, it was almost impossible to stop. I find that I get distracted after 10 minutes of working straight, and if I edit nonstop, I tend to miss things (spelling, grammar, HTML problems) that I wouldn't if I rest my eyes from the subject matter for a few minutes, even just to go to the toilet.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2008

If you're on Windows, you could try using my program, Clutter Cloak. When you activate it with a keyboard shortcut it screens out everything except the subwindow your mouse is over. This enables you to hide all toolbars, menus, taskbars and so on. It's easier to stay focused when you're not constantly filtering out a bunch of clutter.

Of course many applications have a full screen mode which provides more or less the same functionality.
posted by teleskiving at 3:03 PM on February 6, 2008

Seconding the LeechBlock extension for FireFox.
posted by galaksit at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2008

A couple of scattered thoughts, for your benefit and for mine. (We can all use a reminder now and then.)

1. Internet dieting is WAY easier than it seems at first glance.

The hardest part is breaking the habit -- but it truly only takes a few days. Once you've lost track of the threads you posted in on whatever message board, or you no longer can catch up with whatever blogs or feeds you're reading, you will stop caring. I promise you. If you give it one week, and in that time use all the offline discipline and distractions you can muster, I swear to you in a week you will be wondering what the fuss was about. In fact, I doubt it'll even take a week -- more like 5 days. (The Internet moves pretty quickly; it's easy to lose your place.)

Embrace the idea that you can let go of the string on the balloon or release the twine on the kite or take your thumb out of the book and let the Internet go on without you. Stop feeling like you have to keep up with it. Not keeping up with it is incredibly freeing, and you'll quickly realise where your priorities should be in your 'net use. I practice this approach all the time, when I intentionally don't read all the AskMe posts that have been posted since I was last here, or when I don't bother to read to the bottom of my Facebook feed, or when I don't bother to read until I hit the last post I remember reading on Cute Overload. You make the decision! Discipline! Set little limits: "I'll read all the new AskMe questions down to the bottom of the page, and then move on." Keep yourself in check in small ways.

2. Make at least a portion of the time you'd normally spend click-refreshing on Fark (or whatever) time better spent.

It could be that instead of reading random blogs of random annoying people whose thoughts you don't even actually care about (or may even be annoyed by), you read some edifying blogs for a change. (Think meaty, info-dense blogs that provide new knowledge and things to chew on for a while.) I promise you that half an hour reading really engaging, informative writing is more satisfying than 8 hours surfing some of the totally inane crap I've caught myself reading. And that's why I've ended up surfing with no direction -- nothing I was reading was actually satisfying the brain itch.

Or, it could mean reading writing blogs, which keeps you engaged with the higher pursuits in your life, rather than the heaps of chaff.

Or it could mean doing puzzles (crosswords? sudoku?) that keep your brain sharp.

Or, it could mean (as it does for me right now) that you take an open-university course involving online lectures and readings, in the time you'd have otherwise spent click-click-clicking on garbage. Much more satisfying to feel you're coming away from your time online having gained something.

Or it might mean throwing the energy you normally put towards surfing mindlessly into developing your own Web site. Even if no one else sees it, spending time tweaking CSS can be satisfying because it's for your own pleasure.

The point being, that even if you're spending the same amount of time online, make steps toward making it worthwhile.
posted by loiseau at 3:28 PM on February 6, 2008 [6 favorites]

Is it really slower to write by hand or using a typewriter if you're spending this much time dicking around? Or does it just seem slow because you're used to bouncing from task to task (most of which are non-useful "tasks" like checking AskMe) and you've been erroneously measuring your achievement level by the number of alt-tabs per hour? I think you should give the old pencil and paper a shot, go find a nice place with a comfy chair and peaceful surroundings and just hack away at it for a while and see how it turns out.
posted by anaelith at 3:33 PM on February 6, 2008

I don't know if this will help but I seriously cut down on dicking around by having a daily list of sites which I open first thing, browse around then shut down... takes around an hour (also got a weekly list of places that update less often). MeFi is the only exception (bad mefi). I just had to get into the habit. (also having a daily task list by the computer guilts me out from too much random dickery)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2008

You might try starting with a fast. Taking a week (or 3 days?) off from the internet to remind yourself that you don't need the compulsive updates. Then start in with some of the suggestions for cutting back your day-to-day web time. I always find the break around the holidays a really good reminder that life is often nicer without being plugged in, and I'm better able to reduce web time after that reminder.

Another thing that helps me is not checking my major time-suck sites before a certain time of day. If I check Mefi in the morning, I'll be thinking about conversations here all day, returning to check in etc. If I wait until I get home from work to check, my mind is freer during the day.

I have a laptop and a desktop computer, and a computer at the office. The laptop doesn't have internet connectivity (no wireless), so I'm not tempted. The computer at the office has a very limited set of bookmarks: one news site, one weather site, a few professional gossip blogs and other work related sites. No bookmarks for the fun stuff. (My home desktop has one million bookmarks for every interesting I ever come upon, and it's a terrible time sink.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:12 PM on February 6, 2008

- drink a lot of water and whenever you get up to pee, take at least ten minutes to DO SOMETHING ELSE. hydration is also good for you!
- if you're distractable like I am keep a list next to the laptop for things you want to do when you're done with whatever the thing is you're currently dicking around with, consult it when you're on your pee break
- switch to a standing desk. Good for your calves and keeps you from getting into slouchy behavior but decent when your brain is really going.
- work near a nice window with neat things to do outside
- have SO/friend call you and say "now is the time where you get off the internet and come hang out with me"
- set up a separate profile on your computer that has whatever your writing software of choice is and hide/delete all the other icons that you might be using to surf the web etc
- make use of delciious or somethign while you're writing so if you have to do "research" for whatever you're writing and you come across something just fascinating, you can bookmark it for later and resist the urge to read it right then.
- work with your laptop unplgged, take a few hours off when the battery runs out.
- cook as you write. if you're serious about cooking you won't let good food burn just so you can check MeFi (even *I* don't do this, and you have to be less deep in than I am, right?)
- timers that make little noises every 15 minutes that remind you that you're 15 minutes older wiht nothing to show for it
- remember that when the outdoors is MORE APPEALING (i.e. not in fucking february) you will spend more time with it, but not now and check in with yourself in a few more weeks to see if you feel different. I don't mean to be all "it's in your head, you have SAD SADMANSADMAN!!" but really this is a common way to feel this time of the year.
- get better books to read and stop when you are at great points in them so they're more appealing than the stupid internets.
posted by jessamyn at 6:19 PM on February 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

What works for me: deadlines.
- Take classes with homework deadlines (you mentioned wanting to write - writing class?).
- Join a writing (reading/art/your interest here) group that meets regularly and requires you to bring your work for review.
- Recruit your friends and family members: tell them to give you specific deadlines and harass you to meet them.
- Commit to freelance/pro bono work for an organization you believe in.

If you're online while uncompleted work is hanging over your head, with a deadline approaching, it's a lot harder to surf around lazily; the guilt (if you're like me) will get you away from the web browser and back to work.

Which reminds me...I have some drawings to do for a work project, due tomorrow!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:33 PM on February 6, 2008

One thing that helps me immensely: Using two computers.

My desktop PC is hooked to the 'net so I can check email from time-to-time, but when I don't need to be online for a specific work-related reason, I take my laptop (not connected to the 'net) to another room and do my work there. I still check my email from time-to-time on the desktop, but since it's in another room, it takes more work for me to surf.

This has made me SUPER productive, and it feels really good. I can spend hours concentrating on difficult work-related problems on my laptop. I get a ton of work done this way.
posted by syzygy at 12:38 AM on February 7, 2008

If I come across a new site or blog posting or something that I know is going to take a significant amount of time to read I shove to the back of a 'to surf' list. I tend to look at the top one of these daily... there has been a large number of times I've found I'm no longer interested in something when I've come back to it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:16 AM on February 7, 2008

I am fond of the app Instant Boss. You set up timed periods for work and breaks--the default is for 10 minutes of work, 2 minute break, repeat 5 times, but you can go with whatever works for you. The app tells you when work and break sessions start and end. So you get your time to dick around on the Internet, but Instant Boss will bark at you to get back to work after a while.
posted by Carlos del Vaca at 10:38 AM on February 7, 2008

My problem is that I need internet access to legitimately do work, so most of the solutions that involve cutting off internet access don't do me any good.

I usually dick around on the internet (whereby I mean wasting my time) when I'm trying to avoid something. If this is true for you too, recognize what kind of activities you do when you dick around. Try to recognize how you feel while dicking around. Think about the useful things you'd rather do instead.

Then, periodically ask yourself if you're dicking around. Set a timer if necessary. The answer is yes if you're doing any of those activities, you have that emotional state, or you're not doing that thing you'd rather do instead. If the answer is yes, think about how much more satisfying doing something useful will feel. Try to do the useful thing for a bit (10-30 minutes) before you go back to dicking around.

Your eventual goal is to not have time to dick around because you have useful things to do, rather than not having time to do useful things because you're dicking around. And yes, none of this is as easy as I've made it sound.
posted by Asymptote at 1:20 PM on February 7, 2008

Enroute is a wonderful genius for suggesting Minuteur. Thank you!
posted by Hey, Cupcake! at 12:31 PM on February 8, 2008

The MeeTimer extension is good. It doesn't block anything but you can categorise sites and be appalled.... appalled! at how many hours you are spending on time-wasting sites. Alternatively, you may be suprised that you are spending less time than you thought you were. It can also nag you if you go to nominated sites.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2008

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