Time Thieves: 6 Tips to Stay on Task

Sometimes I get tired of writing, you guys. So I'll take a Little Social Media Break™.

Emphasis on 'Little'. I just spent a half hour checking Twitter because I didn't know what a certain hashtag meant. And now I know all about #DnDgate.

My life is not richer for it. I am not happier or more fulfilled. I'm just mildly angry and concerned about something I can do nothing about.

What I should have been doing is writing. I had a goal to be done with the first draft of this manuscript before the end of June and now, with impending dental surgery looming, I doubt I can make that.

This post sure is taking a while. I wonder what Hufflepuff's common room looks like. I don't think Harry ever went to it. Hold on, this will only take a moment.

                                                                                          nice

                                                                                          nice

It took all my might to step away from Pottermore but the Hufflepuff common room sounds nice af.

My point is, constantly checking social media and looking up random trivia will slowly eat away your time. Its ubiquity and ease of use makes me distracted even in the best of times. It's a constant battle to stay focused but I've found a few ways to help. These are created from a writer's point of view but I'm sure this all applies if you deal with any projects.

1. Declare your purpose

Every time you sit at your computer, make a note of what you intend to do during that session. You can either just be mindful of your purpose or you could use a literal note in your literal notebook.

                                                    whatever gets the job done

                                                    whatever gets the job done

Write down when you start and when you're done. Even if, later in the day, you just want to screw around on Facebook, write down that intention and time spent. Soon, you'll be able to see your browsing habits and what time of day you get most fidgety.

2. Tiny sessions

Set a timer for however long you think is reasonable, 15 to 20 minutes max. All you do during that time is work on your project. Wanna check Pokemon GO? More like Pokemon NO. Gotta get some more coffee? It can wait just a few minutes.

                       no karen, this requires your immediate attention

                       no karen, this requires your immediate attention


In the writing world, these are often called sprints. I've found them to be extremely effective at narrowing my attention and focus. If you only have 15 minutes to complete a task, you're less likely to mess around online. Keep track of how many sprints you're able to do in a day. Use that data to establish what you can reasonably do in a day.

3. Not just computers

Waiting around for your bagel to toast? Waiting in line at the grocery store. Don't just check Twitter. Stop and put down your phone. Take a moment and just breathe. Observe what's around you. And when you eat that bagel, don't eat at your computer or TV. Don't browse on your phone. Just appreciate that bagel. It might just be the most delicious bagel you've ever had because you weren't distracted from its taste.

                                                                                                                                                                                      pictured: the bagel of destiny

                                                                                                                                                                                      pictured: the bagel of destiny


4. Designate a time for social media

Now, I'm not saying Facebook is the devil and Instagram is its equally evil cousin. Social media is a powerful tool that can let us keep in touch with faraway friends or make new ones in countries we've never been to. However, it's easy for anything to become a habit and even an addiction. Setting aside a time just for social media will help keep you organized and on track. And not having access to social media at all times of the day makes the approved time for it a little more special.

5. Beware the Wikipedia rabbit hole

This next bit applies mostly to writers but I'm sure it holds true for students and reporters. It is so easy to get trapped in research. If you've got an inquisitive mind, you want to know more about this topic that interests you. Wikipedia is a wonderful tool to get your research started but beware of links! One moment you're researching cell towers and then about what happens to them during an earthquake. Five hours later and you're reading all about the Arab Spring and your eyes burn in your skull.

                                                                          SOURCE: xkcd.COM

                                                                         SOURCE: xkcd.COM

Congratulations. You've just gathered pointless information. Only when you use what you read does it become knowledge. Be cautious, have a research plan, and know when you're done. And if you really, really want to delve further into the subject of slime molds or whatever captivated you, you can bookmark it. For LATER.

6. If all else fails, try denial services.

Willpower is a finite thing. If you're on a diet, it's way easier to refuse a slice of cake in the morning than in the afternoon, after you've been using that same willpower to not shout at your coworker for making that indescribable-yet-persistent noise. Using willpower is hard and exhausting. Making the right choice isn't easy.

So take choice out of it.

There are a number of apps that will shut you out of certain websites or forbid you access to the Web altogether. It depends on you and your needs. Cold Turkey is a good free one. It provides metrics for your browsing habits so you can see where your time goes when you're online. It's also available for phones. I've used this specific app and I really like how I can customize my blocked websites and the time that they're blocked. There are a number of apps out there, like Offtime and BreakFree but I can't personally vouch for them. Give one of them a shot and see how you do.


So there are my six tips on increasing productivity and decreasing mindless time wasted online. What sort of tactics do you try when you're trying to Get Stuff Done? Let me know by leaving a comment below.