How do you limit the time in front of your computer?
June 4, 2008 9:21 AM   Subscribe

What limits do you set for yourself with regard to the time you spend in front of your computer? Does it work--any advice for enforcement?

I'm not at all interested in recommendations for GTD or other productivity methods--I'm curious about any hard and fast limits that you try to set for yourself...and whether or not it's worked for you. I took a look at a MeFi thread on distractions and overcoming computer ADD, as well, and that did have a few ideas...but I'm curious what most people do as more and more of our lives are spent two feet away from backlit pixels.

Does anyone completely stop at 10pm? Do you pull the plug when your significant other is nearby? Do you capture the time you spend that's productive versus unproductive with tools like TimeSnapper or RescueTime? Have Firefox add-ins (like LeechBlock) or Windows hosts file modifications that restrict certain sites made an impact? Etc.

I'm curious what limits you impose and if they really work.
posted by technotheory to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
No specific time limits ... though that's not a bad idea. (Thank you for the productivity pointers!) When I was in college I used a more crude method: whenever I caught myself woefully under-cramming, I took out my ethernet card and hid it up on a high shelf in the closet.

Nowadays, my significant other and I do go back and forth about computer use in the evening, but our only general rule of thumb is: if we've opened a bottle of wine, no more email. (There are many obvious reasons for this.)
posted by CruiseSavvy at 10:00 AM on June 4, 2008

I have the studying focus of a two year old except for the 24 hours before an exam. A couple years ago I was trying to be really responsible and start studying earlier, but found it difficult to motivate myself sufficiently to stop just screwing around on mefi like I am now. I set up one of those 'take a break' programs that lock you out of your computer for 10 minutes every hour. So when it came on I would start studying, and I did at least 10 minutes each hour (and usually some more) for several days.

I dunno if it helped, I got my worst results ever that semester. That's my excuse for not doing it again now.
posted by jacalata at 10:11 AM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I skimmed the other thread but didn't see the FireFox add-on LeechBlock. I use it at work and it's helped quite a bit.

I'm starting to think I might put it on at home, since it's pretty configurable, and set it to shut me out after a certain period of time. It's too easy to sit and end up doing a lot of browsing for not much gained.
posted by canine epigram at 10:26 AM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: WCityMike, Thanks for the tips on how Leopard manages parental privacy--I wasn't aware that it was built-in. I wonder how many folks are using Parental Controls for it easy to get around it?

CruiseSavvy, glad to help with the ideas; I really like your no-emailing-while-drinking suggestion :-) Then again, that does make work a little more fun...

jacalata, I totally hear you on procrastinating. What tool do you use to 'take a break'? I'd be very curious! As for putting things off, two things to consider: (1) Parkinson's Law (the work will expand to the amount of time and number of people available to it) dictates that you shouldn't get started on things too far in advance because you'll likely waste a lot of time but (2) some recent studies have shown that we have a much better chance of retaining information with a little sleep in the mix (60 Minutes a few months ago, for instance, covered this). And I'm not talking just the difference between healthy sleep and sleep deprivation. I mean you'd be better off cramming on Monday, sleeping and doing whatever on Tuesday, and taking the test on Wednesday. Our bodies need time to digest the information or something...
posted by technotheory at 10:27 AM on June 4, 2008

I used Workrave, originally for reminders to stretch and then I thought of using it as a prompt to actually do something useful :) I've started studying for exams on Saturday and next week already, so maybe I'm getting better :)

I also use TimeTracker and PageAddict Firefox extensions, they don't do anything but when I look at them it sometimes guilts me into doing something (hmmm...6.5 hours on the net today...2.5 of those on mefi...damn)
posted by jacalata at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I basically sit on a computer all day, so you'd think that I wouldn't want to use my computer when I get home - not so.

I live with my girlfriend, and honestly, sometimes, I just force myself to put it away. When I was living by myself, or in college, I'd just sit on my computer for all hours. Then again, most everyone else did, so it's not a big deal. Now that I live with someone, I have to really just force myself to put it down and go to sleep.

I think, because I work long hours, mentally, I set myself up to want "relaxation" time when I get home, which for me, includes browsing various sites that I can't get to during the day for various reasons. I make myself realize that those aren't priorities - spending time with my girlfriend is.

So what's my solution? Simply putting it away. Nothing online (well, almost nothing) is more interesting than spending about 30 minutes of time pillow talking with my girlfriend.
posted by SNWidget at 11:06 AM on June 4, 2008

ALSO - Firefox addons DO help. I have them on my computer at home, so I'm not sure which they are, but I know I have one that will let you blacklist sites, and keep track of your work site usage and your goof-off site usage. Just knowing how many hours you've wasted can make you feel guilty enough to just turn it off.
posted by SNWidget at 11:08 AM on June 4, 2008

Weekend Luddite might interest you.
posted by Hermes32 at 12:50 PM on June 4, 2008

It is a huge problem for me. I sit on it entire day at work and then come home and spend another 4 to 6 hours in front of the laptop. If that wasn't enough, I also use my smart phone to occasionally read news on the go.

There is no really a solution for me right now since so many things in my life depend on me being active online. Also being a software developer I can't imagine spending less time with the computer and staying professionally up to date.

I think personally for me this really requires a mentality shift and another look at life values. The tools you mention are useless.
posted by bargainhunter at 1:12 PM on June 4, 2008

I use Workrave. No more than 30 min at a time without a 5 min break. And no more than 5 min without a 30 s break.
posted by grouse at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: jacalata, Thanks for the links. I think I'm going to try out Workrave. I like the idea of something forcing me to step away rather than just making me feel guilty (whether or not guilt works I'd rather not learn exactly how much time I waste...)

SNWidget, I completely empathize with the addiction. When my GF is around I do find it helps for getting away, too. After all, we do have to consider what really matters to us. I'm also glad to hear some of the Firefox add-ins have helped; seems to work for a few people (from this discussion)...

Hermes32, "Weekend Luddite" and the "Cinderella Electric Curfew" that it links to sound like novel ideas--basically building a habit around time-away-from-electronics one step at a time until you spend the desired amount of time with it. This organic approach should work but often fails. Still, it's ideas like these that inspire some of us to change our behaviors. Thanks for the ideas.

bargainhunter, I hear you. As someone in your field, I can say that the world DOES go on when you don't read up on everything. Just take one step at a time and you'll be able to focus your energy away from all the craziness of the geek world online. I like to think of it in the sense that I'm IN THAT WORLD and thus can't help but to learn stuff just by being around people who are in it... there's more to be learned online but when I step away I don't feel any less well-versed or skilled. It just takes a few first steps. Yadayadayada, I know, but it can work.
posted by technotheory at 2:39 PM on June 4, 2008

Basically my rule of thumb is, is everything that needs to be done, getting done? No? Move away from the computer and do something then. Otherwise, I'm attached, working, studying or surfing. I did try Rescuetime for a while but abandoned it (I can't remember why - a little bug or something), and I quit my biggest time sinkhole, a forum I used to run. It was a little difficult, but three months on, strangely, I don't miss it.
posted by b33j at 2:53 PM on June 4, 2008

I don't play games, so the main time suck for me is web sites. The system that I've worked out to deal with this is to have a bunch of buckets that various websites fall into. For me, it's news, baseball, web comics, blogs (including MeFi), peak oil sites, and Once I've visited at most 2 or 3 sites from each of those categories, I'm done.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:35 PM on June 4, 2008

There's a computer in the room where I sleep, so I sometimes get sidetracked by it at night and stay up late when I should get to bed early.

I've developed a policy that I have to go to bed in darkness: I get everything ready so that I can go directly from the door to the bed with just the little bit of light coming through the window. I'm not allowed to turn on any lights.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:23 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: Grouse, glad to hear that Workrave is working for you--thanks.

b33j, I can't say that I can be disciplined enough to say "everything that needs to get done gets done" because while that may be true, all the time in front of the computer is taking away from time in other places. In other words, I don't think that gives me enough balance...especially since afterwards I feel like "what was I doing all that time?" But that's really up to each person. I do like your point about walking away from the forum you moderated--it's amazing how after just a short amount of time we adapt and move on (at least, with most things...)

A dead Quaker, cool tip--using the sites as like a checklist: "once i've visited three sites of each category I've spent my allotted fun-time" etc.

AmbroseChapel, glad that the darkness approach works for ya. I used to have a computer in my bedroom and that was always a challenge. Man, I don't miss the dorm days, either.
posted by technotheory at 6:41 PM on June 4, 2008

Heh - I don't.

I work from home, there is no true boundary between on/off.

And... to make matters worse, I just built a media-center PC, hooked up to the big TV (where I am typing this now).... but, on the other hand... we watch less TV and spend more time actively surfing together as a family.

Occasionally we have the kids on the TV PC (webkins), my wife on her laptop and myself on mine... both next to each other, on the couch with an occasional check of the smartphone for work email....

Welcome to the future....
posted by jkaczor at 7:41 PM on June 4, 2008

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