Keeping Sane in the Internet Age

I wonder sometimes if I’m suited for modern life.  I’ve often felt that I would fit into life better at some point in the past, even going back to my elementary school days (I was a surprising introspective young lad).  Part of it, I think, was just that natural sensation many people have of not fitting in when they are growing up; but another part of it was a general sense of ill ease with technology at times.  But that’s nothing to worry about it; technology is our friend, after all, and how would it ever hurt us?

Well, apparently it is doing quite a bit more harm than we might realize at first, and not in a ‘robot uprising plotting to enslave humanity’ sort of way (although, there might be some of that, as well; you have to watch those robots).  No, the damage we’re looking at is more subtle.  The internet and the use thereof has been accused of everything from shortening our attention spans to…Oh, something shiny!

Look, leftover ribbons from Christmas!

I mean, internet use also is a fantastic tool for procrastination, allowing people to spend hours of time aimlessly wandering through the digital landscape and following just about anything that pops into our minds.  This is one reason why part of my birthday goal of eliminating my procrastination will have to involve cutting down on my internet usage (and being more focused on finishing what I need to do when I am online).

Now, I’m not advocating that you cease using the internet altogether; besides the fact that in our modern world, that’s not really an option for most of us, there’s also the fact that if you stop using the Internet, you’re going to have a hard time reading my blog.  No, what you need to do is learn how to use the internet without it overwhelming you.  In the pursuit of that goal, here are a few techniques I’ve used with some success to keep my sanity (such as it is).

Methods to Keep Your Sanity

-Focus on One Thing at a Time: Here’s the truth about multitasking: usually it doesn’t work.  There are some situations where you can do two productive things at once without decreasing the effectiveness of either, like listening to a book on tape while you do dishes; combining an activity where you don’t need to think with one that expands your mind can work out pretty well.

Trying to do more than one thing where you need to apply your attention to each, like reading email and watching television or studying and blogging, is only going to slow down the whole process and decrease the amount of attention you give each activity.  Between the time it takes to switch from one task to the other and the mental energy you will expend on keeping one task on your mind while you work on another task, trying to multi-task will only make you less efficient at everything than doing the tasks sequentially.  In short, try to do only one thing at time, to keep your sanity and be more productive.

-Keep Only One Window Open at a Time: An extension of what we just discussed, if you keep multiple windows open you’ll be tempted to bounce back and forth between them.  Rather than opening yourself up to that level of distraction, it’s better to focus on one thing at a time, and only open up another window if you need it for what you are doing at the moment (like the window I’ve been using to get the references I’ve been citing in this very article).

-Use a Timer to Keep You Focused: I’ve done this myself in the past.  If you set a timer for ten minute intervals, it’ll help you pace yourself as you work.  If you start to let your mind (and your internet browser) wander, the periodic ringing of the timer will help you remember what you need to do and bring you back to the task at hand.  You can also use it to mix in some break time into your work, by giving yourself, say, five minutes to rest after twenty-five minutes of work.  If you don’t have access to an egg timer or something similar, there are online resources to manage your time on particular sites; I’ve had some success with Minutes Please, where you can set limits for yourself on how long you’ll spend on a given website.

-Work first, then rest: I’ll admit, I’m pretty bad about this.  It’s easy to say, ‘well, I’ll take a fifteen minute break, cruise the internet, and then get to work’, but all too often, that fifteen minute break turns into thirty minutes, then forty minutes, then seventy minutes, and before you know it, you’ve lost most of the day before you’ve crossed one thing off your To-Do List.  To keep yourself from trying to cram hours of work into the last hour or so of your work day (or the last hour of consciousness, for your work at home), be sure to get the most important things for your work done at the start of the day, so you have an accomplishment or two to put in your ‘Done’ File.

There, a few tips from me on how to keep your mind from exploding when you use the internet.  It’s not a perfect method (there are plenty of corners of the internet that can drive you crazy even if you don’t try to multitask), but it should help you to hang onto your mind and be more productive when you’re online.  If you need a few more tips, here’s an article that offers five more sanity-saving tips.  Just remember: have fun, be productive, and don’t get sucked into the internet too much, and you’ll be fine.

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