How to Use the Web Without Losing Your Mind and Time

The web is a monster that’ll devour all the time and energy you give it, and then some. The sheer amount of time-wasting opportunities that are literally a click away makes using the web surprisingly like walking through a minefield. You’re hopping online to quickly gather some resources for your next design, or to research a new technique – and before you know it, hours have passed by with you getting nothing done except watch funny videos. How to combat this? Well, here’s the simple guide on how to use the web without losing your mind and time.

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Now, we all know our human self-discipline is about as strong as a skinny toothpick. So these following 5 ways keep that in mind and offer something simple and realistic you could do. No, it won’t “completely change” the way you work or whatever. But it will offer a small action you can start doing to get better at not wasting as much time on the web. Little by little, you’ll get better and eventually form a habit of rocking the web without letting it eat away at your time and energy.

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1. Have a purpose before getting online

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
-Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland

This is the biggest way to combat the time- and energy-sucking web monster, especially in the increasingly always-connected world. When you have the web available for anything and everything at any time, it’s easy to hop on for a minute and quickly waste away an hour.

By having a purpose before getting online—research something, gather resources, email clients, contact prospects, send invoices—you can help yourself avoid wasting time.

2. Research “just in time” info rather than “just in case”

It’s really easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re being productive, when in actuality you’re not using your time effectively. You could be reading design blogs on random techniques and ideas that are sort of related to what you’re doing, but you don’t need that information right now (maybe even never). In other words, you’re collecting “just in case” information. You know, the kind that looks possibly-useful-in-the-future-at-the-time but quickly fills up your bookmarks, you forget about, and if you ever need the info again you end up having to re-find and re-research it? What a tricky and deceptive way to waste time.

Why is this? Because it’s easier to passively read than to actually complete a meaningful task. Especially with the huge abundance of information that looks really useful (and is to those specifically looking for it, but definitely not to you if you don’t need it at the moment).

So how do you combat this? By sticking to only finding “just in time” information. It’s what it sounds like – you only find and research something right before you actually need it. A client wants a specific CSS tweak or HTML5 addition that you’ve never done before? Only then is when you hop online to research it.

This way, you’ll avoid information overload and wasting time on seemingly-productive research that actually gets nothing useful done.

3. If you don’t need it at the moment, don’t bother reading or bookmarking

This is an extension of #2. If you come across something that’s interesting or even relevant, but you don’t need it right at this moment, then don’t both derailing yourself by reading about and bookmarking it (which will just clutter up your bookmarks with random links – it might seem innocent, but it quickly adds up to a mess).

If you’ll need that info/tool/resource/product, you’ll find it again when you’re searching for “just in time” stuff. And if you don’t need it, then you didn’t bother wasting your time and energy reading about it and cluttering up your bookmarks by bookmarking it.

4. Set self-imposed time limits or use time-management software

Yeah yeah, this is the “sounds good in theory but never works in reality” tip, and it’s pretty much useless for most people (just being honest here). Almost no one has the self-discipline to stick to self-imposed time limits.

That’s why you should consider using time management software such as the Tim Ferriss-recommended RescueTime. It’ll do the self-discipline time limit thing for you.

The reason this can help is forehead-slapping obvious. By having a time limit when using the web, you avoid spending too much time and are forced to get what you need done within a deadline – whether it’s to research a new design technique, find and gather resources, or whatever else.

5. Delete bookmarks, links, and reminders of unessential sites

The trick here isn’t so much to trick yourself into thinking that the game or video site doesn’t exist anymore. You’re not stupid – you know the URL and can easily type it in. But there are two reasons for deleting any bookmarks, links, and reminders of those unessential sites:

  • 1. It won’t be visually grabbing your attention while you’re on the web, since a visual reminder of it’s existence won’t be there anymore
  • 2. Typing the URLs in is just that little extra bit of work that’ll decrease the number of times you’ll visit those unessential sites

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The web will happily suck away as much time and energy as you give it. At least now you’re a little more armed to combat it so you can use the web without losing your mind and time.

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s all-or-nothing. We’re not robots but entertainment-seeking humans, after all. It is nice to watch videos of cats running into things or our favorite guilty-pleasure show online – occasionally. Just like how you’d prevent wasting away hours on TV by setting yourself limits as to how much you’d watch (or limiting yourself to one episode of a show per sitting), you can set aside a block of time to waste away on the web in a guilt-free manner. Indulge in the funny sites and whatnot, then it’s back to doing your great design work you’re passionate about.

To recap, here are the 5 steps to using the web without losing your mind and time:

  • 1. Have a purpose before getting online
  • 2. Research “just in time” info rather than “just in case”
  • 3. If you don’t need it at the moment, don’t bother reading or bookmarking
  • 4. Set self-imposed time limits or use time management software
  • 5. Delete bookmarks, links, and reminders of unessential sites

Your turn: how else have you been able to effectively use the web without losing your mind and time? Share your favorite ways to combat time-sucking and pointless-web-surfing in the comments section below.

Author: (41 Posts)

Oleg Mokhov (mokhov.net) is the world's most mobile electronic musician and web + visual design enthusiast. He makes music that's a cross between Four Tet and Aphex Twin.

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