If you're a writer, I imagine you are familiar with the problem of the internet trap. You turn on the computer to start writing, and an hour later you're still on the internet. You think of the pages you have still to write and you want to scream, Why is this happening? How can I stop it?
I thought I'd begin this week by talking about why the internet is such
a trap, at least for me. And also, thinking about how to manage the
whole thing. I hope that my thoughts may help those of you out there who
experience something of the same thing.
Internet Trap #1. Small flashes of wonderful in a torrent of irrelevant
heard partaking of the internet compared to drinking from a fire hose. I
don't quite agree with this, because it suggests that if you could
manage to take a sip, it would be good water that you were getting. To
me it's more like a baseball game: you'd better have good friends with
you and be doing something in the stands, because most of what's going
on is stuff you don't care about anyway (in this I reveal my bias
against baseball - sorry baseball fans!). Each critical play is buried
in a ton of waiting around. On the internet, sometimes I'll have a day
where I find tons of links I want to pass on to my blog readers. Then
I'll go for weeks without encountering anything to care about at all.
Internet Trap #2. News
this is where I get the vast majority of my news about the world. And
though I spend a lot of time in worlds of my own, I do care about what's
going on. So I find myself clicking through to read about current
events when I should probably be writing, or at least not reading my
sixth article in a row about a particular issue. Even one I really care
Internet Trap #3. Small tasks
is a big one for me. Going through emails, making sure to check up on
social networks, etc. It feels quick - each email takes very little time
to process, either to file or look at or throw away. Each part of the
stream goes by quickly. But the tasks pile up, and you can easily lose a
half-hour or more in increments of two seconds.
Internet Trap #4. Reminders and notifications
this I don't mean going to one site or another and checking news
streams etc. This is about when your computer beeps to tell you someone
is inviting you to chat, when you hear the tone or see the flicker that
indicates a new email has come in, etc., etc. It's like when the phone
rings. Your first instinct is to stop whatever you're doing and check
it. When I'm really concentrating, I don't notice this stuff half the
time. But when I'm not super-absorbed, I can get pulled right back out
of whatever it is.
Internet Trap #5. The desire for distraction/the risk of missing something/the desire to have "something happen."
among us does not procrastinate? Even when I'm not being beeped at I
feel the temptation to go on the internet. I might see a cat photo, or a
picture of a cool cake, or the face of a friend. Related to this is the
sense that something important might be happening (either in the world
or with a friend) and I might be missing it. The worst thing I find
myself doing is rifling through the internet hoping that I'll run across
something that will change my life for the better (like discover that
I've sold a story or find out that someone has said something nice about
Internet Trap #6. Sense of community, the importance of internet presence
are actually good things about putting in time on the internet! But
they contribute to the draw of it. The internet helps us feel like we're
not just alone in a room writing, and for many of us (like me) this is a
very good thing. Besides which, we would like to increase our
visibility by maintaining an internet presence, and have been told this
will help us to succeed. Surely being active in blogging and social
networks will make this happen. But how much will it really contribute
to the bottom line? And how much will it take away from the critical
time we need to spend actually writing? Those are hard questions to
Internet Trap #7. New networking opportunities
many times have you been invited to a new networking site? There are so
many out there, and being a part of one has both good aspects and bad. I
have found that if I start participating in a new networking site, it
reaps benefits because I get better chances of quality interaction with
the frontline participants. On the other hand, it takes on far more
importance than it deserves, and thereafter one of two things will
happen. Either it will not retain my interest and I'll have to drop out
because I just don't have that much time in the day, or it will be worth
participating in and I'll have to spend a bunch of time balancing it
against my other networking commitments.
Whew! So at
this point I'll talk about how I deal with managing these problems.
Believe me when I say that my solutions are not perfect. If you have
good ideas in this arena, feel free to make suggestions in the comments!
Solution A: Give yourself meta-time, and manage actively.
is a pretty simple thing, but I can't recommend it enough (that's why
it's solution A!). You know you're on the internet. You know it's
sucking your time. Take a step back and look at what you're doing, and
when. That will allow you to evaluate it and make decisions about
changing it. This is what I do to deal with the problem of new social
networks - I step back after experimenting with them and ask how I want
them to fit into my whole internet picture.
Solution B: Schedule yourself.
is my way of dealing with many of the issues above, including the fire
hose/baseball game problem, the news problem, the small tasks problem,
the sense of community/internet presence problem, and the networking
opportunities problem. I try to fix, and to limit, the times when I'll
be using the internet. Blogging time is limited to during the weekend,
or before I get my kids up for school. Networking I often do while the
kids are home, since it requires less concentration. Small tasks time I
limit by fixing the amount of time I'll spend on it - and this includes
networking and news stories time. To keep myself from losing track I'm
going to try setting myself a timer with an alarm. This is also going to
help me remember to give my eyes a rest every so often.
Solution C: Disable the evidence of notifications
I don't mean that you should dig into preferences to disable all
notifications. However, your computer has a mute button for a reason. If
you must have your email and internet browser open while you're
writing, make sure to take the word processing file you're using and
expand it to fill the screen so you don't see those little telltale
flashes and such. You just don't need those little sensory distractions.
Solution D: Cultivate a detached attitude
is, I suppose, the trickiest. It took me quite a while to realize that I
didn't need to read every notification of everything on every social
network, but just to dip in and sample each time I was there. News
stories will wait for you. Every service or game that you are involved
with is designed to convince you that you must never leave it alone or
you'll miss something absolutely critical, but this is not generally the
case. If you do happen to be involved in a game (Farmville leaps to
mind) that requires attention at particular intervals, consider stopping
for a while when you have a project to complete. Be aware that you need
to be the one running your use of the internet, rather than letting it
run you. Muses are fickle enough, and we're already trying to fit them
into the compartments that other parts of our lives offer us - we
shouldn't ask them to bow to internet "needs" that are being cultivated
in us by online marketers.
Solution E: Realize that you get out of the Internet what you put into it
is what I say to myself whenever I find myself searching for something
meaningful, or searching to make "something happen". When I put effort
into my online presence (mostly by blogging), then I can feel the
rewards. When I write a story and get it out there, that also has an
effect on the internet - and I like that effect better. So there's no
point just surfing around looking for something good, I tell myself. Go
create something, and that will make something good happen. If
it's time to get my blogging done, then I'll do that. But if it's time
to write, I'll either hide the internet or turn it off completely and
try to create something fantastic. Because that gives me something even
better to talk about.
Am I perfect in my execution of
this? Well, of course not. I began this post saying that I do have
trouble with the internet taking more time than it deserves. However,
this post is going to help me put into words what I'd like to be doing
going forward, and I hope it will help me take the strategies I already
use, and make them more effective.
So what do you do to
keep the internet from taking time it doesn't deserve? Feel free to
comment because I'm sure everyone would be interested to hear.