This probably describes you: you stare at a monitor from 9 to 5 on the weekdays, then you go home and stare at a monitor some more until bedtime. This type of scenario describes many. Above all, this type of scenario describes myself.
One does not simply quit the internet
However, I’d agree with you that one cannot simply quit the internet. The internet is essential in many of our daily activities, including work. But take a step back and ask yourself, how much time are you spending every single day on the internet looking at things that really don’t add much value to your life? It’s fun to spend hours on Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and other websites designed to tickle our curiosity. Our minds are inquisitive and constantly seek to know what our friends are up to, what our favorite actor has just tweeted and 10 things you need to accomplish before your 30s.
Yet, the internet is useful for much more than looking up cat videos or friends from high school. It doesn’t take much to also discover that the internet is a fantastic tool and resource. The habits we develop on internet can shape us both in highly positive ways and in very negative ways. The internet has the power to drive us to become successful entrepreneurs and productive mind hackers, or it can drive us to depression via the constant image crafting from our peers on social networks. Given this, it is important to realize how we are using the internet and how it is affecting us.
Ultimately, I’m not suggesting you attempt to quit the internet cold turkey. I’m not really suggesting you to quit the internet at all. Realistically you would probably cease to be able to continue work and your productivity would plummet without it. I’m also not suggesting that entertaining yourself on the internet should be forever an activity of the past.
The hidden cost of Facebook
But the truth is, most of us spend much more time on the internet than we should, which distracts us from being more productive. We are also distracted from important and necessary activities, such as sleeping or exercising. By depriving ourselves of these basic necessities, we in turn rob ourselves of many cognitive and health benefits, which help boost productivity and overall mood. Studies show turning off the computer and your gadgets at least 15-30 minutes before bedtime can make it easier to fall asleep and improve quality of sleep. In fact, excessive internet usage has been show to increase your risk of insomnia and depression.
Effectively limiting our recreational usage of the internet requires us to develop good internet using habits. Jumping on the computer after work to surf is not a good internet using habit. Neither is using it just before bedtime. Though, it is possible (and I even encourage) to give yourself some time everyday to surf and browse the internet for leisure without experiencing the consequences of overuse.
How to quit the internet
So how do we break free from the internet to reclaim some of our time? After going home, it is important to finish the rest of the day’s tasks before getting online. What errands do you have left to run? What are some tasks that have been pushed back for days due to procrastination or lack of time? These items need to be addressed first before wandering into the depths of the web. Additionally, if you intend to exercise that day, then it is important to exercise before you allow yourself time behind the screen again. At the very least, set a deadline for when you must shut off the screen and head outside or go to the gym. It’s much more likely to think “I can just exercise tomorrow” when you’re already comfortable behind the screen and engrossed in a funny online video or fascinating article. Reduce these thoughts by setting schedules to force yourself out the door.
Given that the internet is as helpful as we make it to be, use the internet to help reduce your usage of it during bedtime. Clever automation websites such as IFTTT can be used to set reminders of when to log off. Reminders don’t force you off the computer, but they are useful in helping us develop willpower and habits. If reminders prove to be ineffective at first, consider applications which force you off by means of disconnection and shut down. Simple applications such as Freedom serve to disable your connection for a designated amount of time, discouraging computer use. Other programs such as Switch Off force you off by shutting down your computer by a certain time. Windows users can also develop an automated shutdown themselves via this tutorial. If by bedtime you still have plenty of tabs open and unread material, try a program such as Pocket to help save material to read at a later time. Keep in mind some of your favorite sites may have embedded “save for later” or “watch later” functions. Learn to use these functions as your set bedtime approaches.
Cell phones and tablets are not exempt!
Keep in mind while I write specifically about internet usage on a computer, in this modern day of connected phones and tablets, no internet ready device is an exception. For those of us who let the internet occupy too much of our out-of-work time, it is important to pursue activities that do not involve computers or an internet connection. Take up reading a book again or pick up a traditional craft, such as painting. Both of these activities encourage us to set aside time on a day to day basis away from a screen and develop a project which can be incredibly rewarding.
Finally, getting started with a habit is never easy at first. You may also think that your level of internet usage isn’t really affecting you in any negative manner, which it may or may not be. Regardless of how much recreational internet you consume, trial run a new schedule for two weeks and see if your level of productivity changes. If surfing the web is your first activity after getting home from work, then start making it the second activity. Subject yourself to an hour of finishing errands or improving your life in some way as the first activity. Cook a meal, clean your place, or just finish something that was never finished. Learn one new thing of that has the potential to improve yourself. Talk to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Talk to someone you have never met before. Do something that doesn’t involve sitting behind a screen before rewarding yourself with some internet time. Then evaluate how you feel each day and be honest with yourself about how adopting these changes has affected you over the course of a few weeks.