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.
> Ah yes, I agree. If you want to play video games, then yes, it’s cool to play games so long as it’s not getting in the way of other important things.
When I'm at my best, video games are not that interesting. But at my baseline, I enjoy these kind of escapes. I feel a little guilty about it--I'd like to be high energy, high engagement all the time--but I've more or less accepted that I'm 3/4 take it easy and 1/4 let's get to it. Maybe in time I'll nudge those numbers a bit more, but it ain't gonna happen all at once.
It is funny reading this. I have been doing the same thing for quite some time. I don't put quantified limits on myself but instead qualitative limits. Overall, technology (not just the internet) has the power to zap time away from us when misued or overused. I used to read tech blogs like every hour - waiting for the next update. I used to fiddle with my Android phone downloading apps, customizing, etc...I used to
download all the popular TV shows with bittorrent because it was easy.
The question I finally asked myself was the same you asked yourself - what am I getting from all this? Does it make sense to even read about a whole sector of a particular technology if say you're not interested in buying a product from that area? Of course not (unless your job depends on it). This is because in 6 months something else will replace it. Did I get anything from watching this ridiculous yet popular TV show? Does my phone work/look better?
I realized how much time I've wasted over the years worrying or partaking in things that always left me feeling that I had spent my time doing something but that something lacked some real substance. I now find more time to exercise (best shape of my life), read books (I've read 2 books in the last 6 months - thats more than I've read in the past 4 years), listen to new music, meet new people, and do a lot of things that have actual value to me.
The best part is knowing that I am not wasting my time on things that leave me feeling empty and indeed there is a big satisfaction in knowing that I have control over technology and I don't let it run my life (I can't even think of going back to using Facebook).
I can't imagine my life with as less as 3 hours of internet per day, as it is my job. I do concede that I spend way too much time online, though. Any given day, I'll spend roughly 12 hours online. I also am perpetually connected to my IM accounts, my three or four mail accounts. I'm trying to move all my programs to an online form of some kind, whatever that might be, and half the programs installed on my computer are either fully dedicated to the exploitation of online resources. The other half is dedicated to helping the first one.
You know what I tried that. I got rid of my TV, cut back the internets. Spent my time working/cleaning/taking classes/going to the gym/reading. I learned 3 things.
One can be very productive.
I'm a danger to myself when I'm bored
I can't sustain that level of activity for too long (16 months)
I learned a lot but I was also burnt out at the end. The brain needs veg time, filling it silly tv shows and dumb internet article :)
Hopefully you have better luck
Sounds a little like what I just started trying. I'm counting the minutes it will take me to post this comment. :)
In my case, it's not a scarcity of time, but rather a scarcity of willpower. I want to goof off and play video games and read HN (it really is goofing off, for me). So my new plan is, I have to do something useful (and track the time) to earn that goofing off time. If I do more useful stuff while playing just as many video games, I think that's a win.
Been only a couple days, but so far so good.
Just taking the trouble to really watch how I'm spending my time has been an eye opener. On that note, I've been very happy with the free plan of Toggl. You might spend a couple precious minutes checking it out (but check out ValueGrapher first because that dude actually wrote it himself).
Well if you are sitting down plowing your way through a Tolstoy novel it isn't suddenly going to turn into a funny cat video. It's not so much that good content doesn't exist on the internet it's that it's right there next to all the vapid yet enticing things that will devour your time. It's easier to stay on target with a book.
I've gotten a lot of emails lately, which has been fantastic. My email volume keeps going up.
There's one question I've gotten a few times, in a few different forms. "How do you do so much [thing]?" Reading is a common one, since I read a lot of books. Or balancing projects with working, traveling, tourism, connecting with people.
First off, I don't think I'm so good at getting stuff done. I see there's a lot more I could do. There's probably a lot better role models than me - if you can find someone who works a stimulating high powered job, competes athletically, parents, and does some philanthropy or art, that person is way ahead of me and you ought to look them up and ask them for their thoughts next time you see them.
I used to be insanely busy like that, with 3-5 things that should be a full time effort on the go at the same time. That's probably part of the secret to it right there - if you overload yourself without getting to breaking point, you'll be amazed at what you can do.
There's ripple effects when you're extremely busy. You stop screwing off and wasting time, because you can't. And other people start respecting your time more, too. If your entire calendar is open, people are flaky and whimsical and ambiguous with plans. But when you say, "My only time free for the next three weeks is this Saturday, at 8AM" - guess what? People come meet you at 8AM Saturday. Now, it'd be absurd to ask someone to commute into the city to meet you at 8AM on Saturday if you weren't busy, but if you are busy, you do it because you have to. And people respect your time.
Some time ago I realized that if I want to make good things happen, I've got to start working hard. I'm about to graduate from college, and if I want to live the kind of life I've always wanted, I really have no choice but to work my ass off.
And so I did. Or at least I was trying my best.
I started writing this blog. I was spending 20+ hours a week at my part-time job. I revived my iPhone photography website. I was studying direct response marketing and copywriting. I spent more than an hour each day hand-copying successful sales letters. I was working out four times a week. I was doing all of that while being in my last semester of college. Most of my classmates are already freaked out, even if they aren't doing anything else.
It's probably not hard to see that my life was not exactly fun most of the time. My quality of life was suffering, and I was beginning to feel isolated from other people. Not good for an introvert. And my productivity was beginning to suffer.
More and more often I found myself mindlessly spending time on the internet. It's one of the things I really don't want to do, yet I was often wasting hours online. My motivation was getting worse and worse. I was still more productive than I'd have been a year ago, but it was obvious that I could do a lot more.