Last week, I wrote "On Getting More Done – Top-down, or bottom up?" -
I described two strategies of getting more done. The first way is to take on a lot of unbreakable commitments and follow through on them, and you'll naturally be forced to optimize to make all of your commitments. So if you play a competitive sport, work full time, study full time, and are helping run a charitable project - well, you'll naturally move fast and optimize your time. If you're the kind of person that always sees unbreakable commitments through, this can work quite well.
The downside is that you risk burning out or crashing. And that's a very real downside.
The other strategy for getting more done would be to gradually reclaim parts of your life. This would be identifying where your time is currently going, and gradually transitioning that time from activities you'd like to do less of into activities you'd like to do more of. I elaborated on this in "Want to read more? Okay, here’s a few ways to do so" -
What does it take to read? Well, you need a book or some sort of words or something. Some light. And – time.
You need time to read.
Now, here’s the thing about time. You can’t get any more of it. You’re already living 24 hours per day. That’s 1440 minutes.
If you sleep 6 hours, you’ve got 18 hours to live the rest of your life. 1080 minutes.
If you sleep 8 hours, you’ve got 16 hours to live the rest of your life. 960 minutes.
If you sleep 10 hours, you’ve got 14 hours to live the rest of your life. 840 minutes.
To spend more time reading, you’ve got to redeploy some of your 1440 minutes from something else into reading. I think it would be helpful to understand where those 1440 minutes are going.
I mean, 1440 minutes. That’s a hell of a lot of time, when you look at it like that. You can do a lot of stuff in 1440 minutes. I mean, I think you can produce some decent maintenance work in 20 minutes, and you can produce a small highly polished work in 300 minutes. “Defecting by Accident – A Flaw Common to Analytical People” – writing and editing that took around 300 minutes.
But you want to read more, yes? Well, me too. I love reading, and I think it offers one of the highest values per time of anything you could do.
But in order to read more, you need to do less of something else.
So, I've been tracking my time a lot lately, and I see a lot of it pours into the internet.
It feels like it's important time while I'm doing it, but then at the end of the day, I can't figure out where the time went.
I'm pretty disciplined. I've got a fairly large amount of willpower. I've got clearly defined goals, objectives, missions, purposes.
And yet, perhaps the internet is still stronger than I am.
There's an almost infinitely large amount of pretty good stuff online. You could read Wikipedia for months and months, reading fascinating things about fascinating people and places and times throughout history, fascinating concepts in science and art and technology, philosophy, literature... and you'd never finish. There'd still be more. Heck, recent events are getting new, interesting Wikipedia articles all the time.
Likewise, Hacker News and Reddit, Quora, Twitter, good blogs... you could spend almost infinite amounts of pretty good time on it.
But after spending that time, I wonder - what the heck did I just do? The time is gone, but I can't remember exactly where it went.
Looking at my time tracking, I spend asinine amounts of time online. It's quite likely you do as well - and you might not realize exactly how much time you spend online unless you've tracked it. It's a lot higher for me than I expected.
After realizing how much time I was spending on "pretty good but not amazing stuff" online, I kept trying to harness or channel that time into better time.
Nope. I concede defeat. The pull of the internet is stronger than my will to use it intelligently and responsibly, and it's getting in the way of me doing bigger things.
So, here's my new resolution that I've started. Three hours of internet time per day, max. Two hours of work, one hour random surfing. That's it.
Exceptions for Skype calls, which serve as a phone replacement to me. Also, I got Offline Gmail running, so I download my email in the morning and answer it offline.
So far, it's been incredible. When you've only got an hour to randomly surf anything, you really pick and choose. You skim for value. You move on instead of reading comprehensively. You don't read the long chain of boring arguments in a discussion on economics or politics. You only devote the very limited time if the arguments are really insightful.
I spent 40 minutes of my anything-goes internet time earlier today. 20 minutes left. That means I'll pick carefully and reflect before I fire up the browser. That's time for one ten-minutes-each Chess match at Lichess.org, skimming the first three pages of Hacker News, or covering my RSS reader quickly. And then, that's it. Time to log off, and read Casanova's Memoirs or Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding or do some writing or work on some sales materials or go for a walk.
The pull of exciting and fancy things online is stronger than my willpower to resist them. That's painful to admit, but seems to be true.
So be it! I concede defeat. The internet is stronger than I am. Thus, I limit my internet time to three hours per day. I expect my productivity to go up crazy amounts over this next month.