Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Controlling The Internet

Last week I wrote that I'd found meditation helpful in helping me to concentrate and stay on task with my work. What I didn't tell you was that I didn't keep it up. Pourquoi pas? you may ask. Well, I didn't have time for it. I work out every morning, for any number of reasons, and I added a short yoga practice a year or two ago. Adding meditation was making my morning routine rather lengthy.

But, in hindsight, I don't think it was the exercising and yoga that were so time consuming that I had to give up meditation. Until very recently I was spending time on the Internet most mornings. I would actually check in before even starting working out or in-between using a twenty-minute exercise tape and getting on the treadmill. Checking my e-mail and responding to messages from family members could easily take up twenty or thirty minutes (if not more), and then I would look at my blog and maybe respond to a comment. And then I'd go to two news sites to see what was happening and to follow links to celebrity gossip articles. I also visited Salon and often read at least one article, and until I started having trouble accessing Slate, I'd go there, too. And, remember, I often started doing that in the midst of my workout routines, meaning it could be 9 o'clock or after, and I still hadn't finished with them. So I gave up on meditating because even without it, by the time I finally cleaned up for the day and got dressed, it could be after eleven before I was ready to work.

I know I'm not the only writer who does that sort of thing. At least, the part about the Internet.

In her Poets & Writers article, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, Ellen Sussman writes about using a program called Freedom to block her access to the Internet during her work time. She describes trying to break the block the first time she used it. "...like an alcoholic with a hidden bottle of booze, I ran upstairs and found my laptop, opened it, and checked my e-mail...I took a mental picture of myself then--sneaky addict sitting on the dog bed in my room with a laptop in my trembling arms--and I've never done it again."

For people who work alone, without colleagues, the Internet is a lifeline of sorts to other people. We have to keep checking because maybe someone--someone we actually want to hear from--has e-mailed us and wouldn't that be terrific? Maybe someone commented on our blog post or something we put up on our Facebook walls, which is almost like meeting someone somewhere to talk.

Writers (and probably others who work for themselves) are also regularly told that social networking will help us professionally...sell books, connect us with movers and shakers in our industries, make a difference to our careers. Doesn't that mean that spending time on Facebook and Twitter is actually working? Hell, yes!

I don't know whether there are a lot of hard statistics to prove that time spent on social media truly sells anything for must of us. How many books really go viral and become bestsellers or even sell enough as a result of something we did on-line to make back an advance? In the meantime, while we're out there on the Internet, believing we're selling, we're not creating something to sell.

I haven't gone as far as Sussman and actually blocked myself from the Internet. Last fall, while we were enduring one of our periodic family crises, I lost interest in celebrity court cases and red-carpet fashion. I've been able to maintain that disconnect since I've been back at work these past two weeks. In fact, I didn't know the Golden Globes were happening this year until the day after the event. I also find that whenever there is some kind of change in life (coming back from retreat week, a birthday, even, once, new living room furniture), I am able to attempt changes to routines. So since I've gone back to work after a long break (a change), I've been able to maintain a work schedule for two weeks that involves no visits to Internet sites and no accepting telephone calls until at least noon. (I make an exception for Time Management Tuesday, since I want that available to readers all day. Hmm. Is that a crack in my defenses?)

Okay, work-at-home people--Is dealing with the Internet as difficult for you as it is for Ellen Sussman and me? How do you control the beast? And, while we're at it, do you think the time you spend on social media is productive professionally, thus worth the time it takes from your creative work?


Ali B said...

Oh boy, is it ever. Like you, I have a tornado of "time-sucks" that pull me away from what I should be doing - writing, and suck me into the storm of facebook, huffington post, emails, etc. It is a constant struggle.

My other "focus" issue is housework. If I get to a challenging bit in my writing, I will wander off and do dishes or laundry or organize my daughter's menagerie of Littlest Pet Shop animals. I basically do anything except tackle the challenge. It has become a real problem. I was justifying it by calling it essential "mommy stuff" that need doing, but it was classic work avoidance.

I now spend one of my full writing days at my favorite coffee shop. I get there early, get a good seat, order my coffee and get down to the business of writing. I allow myself short internet breaks, but nothing over ten minutes. So far, so good.

And, for those of you who might think I'm nothing but a Wifi hoarder, nursing my latte all day and hogging up a table meant for four, I will protest by saying that I always buy another drink and lunch, I always keep my notes/stuff in my bag, and I always invite others to share my table/space/outlet. I can't afford bad writing karma.

Gail Gauthier said...

I have sometimes worked on a laptop in my bedroom because that didn't have Internet access. If I felt I needed to research a point on-line, I had to go downstairs to do it. That was helpful. Unfortunately, we now have wireless access at our house. Yippee.

I would consider taking a laptop to our library to work, but we're so overcrowded there now that there are no study spots, anymore, not even reading chairs. There's only one table left where I sometimes see tutors and students working.

I believe we'll be talking about housework some Tuesday this year.

MotherReader said...

The Internet is such a time suck, but really doesn't it come down to willpower? Because if I had Freedom - the program not the concept - I'd just turn it off because some bit of something would "need" my attention.

But then I'm also the person who reads articles about cutting calories by having an apple instead of a cookie and thinks, "I really want a cookie now."

Gail Gauthier said...

That's true, Pam. Evidently you can set the program to block your access for different lengths of time. Meaning you can just not set it at all.