Being online and being productive can sound like a contradiction. The internet, after all, is an endless sea of information where we can easily get caught up in what may seem like productive activity, but in reality often distracts, confuses, overwhelms and immobilizes us.
My time online tended to always go down the same route: some hours and 50 tabs later, I’d find that I made no progress, nor gotten any closer to forming a clearer idea of my purpose. Instead, I was often unable to consolidate the vast information I consumed, and in many cases found my attention diverted to something totally unrelated.
We all struggle to manage the overabundance of easily-accessible resources available on the internet. The following tips will help you use your online time more effectively, so you can harness the power of the internet without letting it get the best of your focus and energies.
12 Keys to Manage Your Online Time Effectively and Reach Your Goals
That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
– Steve Jobs (more quotes)
1. Start with your brain and gain clarity (from the beginning)
Before jumping online, take the time to brainstorm or mind map about your concept, goal, or project. Rely solely on your brain. Just like when writing an essay, you have to identify the topic first, then conduct your research. The research helps you to develop or argue your point — your efforts are focused, and you adapt as necessary to achieve this. If you aren’t clear from the start, from my experience, you won’t get far. Also, it’s important to clarify why you are going online and what you hope to accomplish as the end result of your time and effort there.
This can be tough — it’s as though we have to retrain our brains. But the answer is within us, not out there. Just like a map, online resources will only help you arrive at a destination you have already decided on.
2. Plan your time online to avoid getting distracted
It may be a couple of hours or minutes, but even if things don’t unfold exactly as planned, it is always better to plan and budget your time than to leave it open-ended. This is a recipe for getting side-tracked and overwhelmed.
3. Stay clear on your purpose
Know and remember what you are trying to achieve at any given moment. Learning how to make a website? Looking for suppliers? Write it down in a clear statement (something like: “I am currently working on ___”), and keep it near. Notice when you begin getting sidetracked, and return to a clear and focused headspace. All your efforts and results will flow from that clarity or lack thereof. If you lose focus, it’s better to stop completely and regroup than to push on win a state of confusion.
4. Avoid distractions by using browser extensions and optimizing your physical environment
I use an extension that blocks Facebook between certain hours on certain days, and once programmed, it is tough to reverse (I’ve tried). Some will even tell you how much time you spend on distracting sites. It really helps… and made me realize that I was probably an addict, to be honest. Also, be conscious if the environment you work in isn’t conducive to your focus and productivity. I personally will always be more productive at the library than at home.
5. Take a break
There are moments when distraction is a good thing. Your brain needs breaks to synergize and process information, so when you start to feel stuck or overwhelmed, it’s a good moment to take a step back. Our best ideas actually come to us when our minds are relaxed rather than focused intensely. You’ll naturally find yourself losing focus — use these as designated times to relax or check Facebook (I know, you can’t help it).
6. Set shorter-term goals
We become disengaged with our goals when we passively observe or consume information without actively producing anything. A profitable online business and popular blog sound great, but what can you do within the next seven days — or today — that will get you even a little bit closer to that? Maybe writing once a week can help identify where you naturally flow. Think in smaller chunks to inspire actionable steps in your current stage of development, and be especially clear about the timeline to make sure it gets done.
7. Get rid of perfectionism
It’s practice that makes perfect. Gurus might have the proven experience that is important to your success, but no online guru can tell you exactly how to succeed. Sometimes you just have to decide on something (business name, web hosting, etc.), move on, and deal with it later. The worst thing that can happen is your learn from a mistake.
8. Review regularly
This makes sense for any objective and can be daily or weekly, but it needs to be constant. Review your time spent working, and consider what concrete action came of it or will be helped along because of it. Always link your effort to actions, and note how it got you closer to your objective, if at all.
9. Go offline
You need to disconnect. It is the only way you will gain clarity and direction. Go outside, sit on a bench, work, think or just be inspired by the environment. If you do need the internet, limit the time you spend. It is up to you to decide what you think is feasible.
10. Remember to focus first on real-life experiences, connections and resources
Whether it’s meeting someone with experience in your area of focus, attending a workshop or seminar in your city, or volunteering at a related event, offline environments are goldmines of opportunity, ideas and knowledge. We need to engage and seek them out, because nothing beats real-life experiences and connections.
11. Minimize and de-clutter
To tap into our unlimited potential of creativity, we need to minimize and de-clutter our minds and environment. Limit the number of tabs open on your PC (seriously), as well as the amount of things you are working on in a given week, day, or month, and you should notice a significant difference.
Less is more – eliminate the unnecessary.
12. Finish what you start
Always. This is a big issue when online. But if you have identified what your goal is and what needs to be done, then it becomes easier. For instance, this article took more time than expected, but I pre-determined that it had to be completed before anything else — and it sure feels great to be done!
Keep these tips in mind to help you better manage your precious time and energy when online, and watch the internet go from foe to friend in helping you reach your goals.