The Internet has already revolutionized the student life. Need to remember the name of that obscure Russian czar or Supreme Court case? Wikipedia is there for you, rain or snow. Can’t figure out how to make corn on the cob? howtocookcornonthecob.com is waiting to give you the low-down. Want to find out the name of the cute girl from Friday’s party? Facebook, here we come.
But for all the virtues of the Internet, we also tend to waste an incredible amount of time on here. If I could think of the perfectly distracting device for the urban student or the suburban worker, it would probably look something like the Internet: anything and everything you have ever wanted to see, read, or hear–all accessible from the comfort of your couch, bed, or coffee shop stool. And most of the time, this is pretty great. My life is better now that “Marcel the Shell” and the “Sneezing Panda” are a part of it, for sure.
But if you ever want to spend less time consuming and more time creating, less time distracted and more time focused, here is my (work in progress) guide to do so.
- Streamline. This will probably be old news for most of you, but just in case: set up a Google Reader (click reader on the top bar of your gmail) and then add the URLs of all the blogs and sites that you like to read on a regular basis. With a Google Reader, you no longer have to click individual blogs to find out if they have posted anything new. This works especially well for blogs that do not update daily, like those of two of my fellow Georgetown students: Austin Yoder and Malin Hu. You can just visit Google Reader once or twice a day and get your fix. Google Reader includes all the pictures and links from your favorite sites, and then formats and centralizes all of them. Awesome.
- Readability. When you are not using Google Reader and are, instead, reading a long newspaper or magazine article with lots of ads, multiple pages, and distracting graphics, there is an incredible and free widget called “Readability.” If I am reading an article that looks like this, for example:
and then make one quick click and wait three seconds, the screen magically transforms into this:
Gone are all the ads, extras, and formatting changes. What’s left is the entire article (multi-page or not) in a single page of an easy-to-read text. An 8-page New York Times magazine article will suddenly be much, much easier and quicker to read. I think you will find it very useful.
3. Starve your Inbox. Checking your email can be addictive and time consuming. To make it less so, 1) unsubscribe from all of the recurring email lists that you are on (except for those that you always read), 2) create tags to organize your emails, 3) archive all messages after you have responded to them, and 4) end each day with only two types of emails sitting in your box: those that require a pending response or task–marked with an exclamation mark–and those that you have just received and not yet read. The end result might be something like this:
4. Clear Your Desk. Your desktop should be as empty as possible. If you have a bunch of files and documents, store them in My Documents or in Folders on your Desktop instead. Leave as much empty space as possible. Here is my Desktop. It’s still a bit cluttered, but better than before:
5. Create. If you don’t really want to decrease the amount of time you spend on the Internet but want to channel it in more productive and interesting ways, there are lots of ways to do so. For me, I decided to create a blog after I was inspired by my high school friend Chris who publishes exactly one hundred words each day and is starting a writing movement of sorts while attending Stanford over at All of 100. For you, if blogging is not your thing, consider using the Internet to learn a language (http://chinesepod.com/), start a new hobby (http://www.wikihow.com/Learn-to-Fence) or challenge how you think (http://bigthink.com/)
6. Freedom is Not Always Free. Last but not least, if you want to go cold turkey, check out FREEDOM. You set the number of minutes that you want to not have access to the Internet, and it then blocks your wandering finger from opening a new window and checking the latest basketball game score or Politico article. In this case, Freedom will cost you $10.00, but you can get a free trial version and see what you think.
Sometimes you will want distractions, and for that the Internet is your friend. But when you don’t want distractions, the Internet does not have to be your enemy.
I hope one or more of these tips help you conquer and tame the beast of the Internet.
Now get off my blog.
P.S. **For an update to the post The Year Before and the Year To Come, check out the ambitious and adventurous New Years Resolutions of Scott Dinsmore over at his blog Reading for Your Success.