1 Hour of Internet Per Workday Is Still 6 Weeks of Your Life

As a part of my renewed focus on creative flow and insistence on a balanced life as a self-employed artist, I made a major change to my daily schedule three weeks ago. Ready? I only engage in online activities for 60 minutes per day, usually in one sitting right before noon. On occasion, I’ll split my time into two, 30-minute chunks (morning and end of work day). And although it’s only been three weeks, I’ve experienced enough of a trend on Mondays to make one exception: Mondays I spend 90 minutes online. That’s the only way to deal with the backlog from the weekend, because of course, on the weekend–I don’t check email at all. (More on that in this Friday’s post.)Now, let me explain. This is different than unplugging completely, but the experience I had doing that in August (follow the link) taught me just how discursive and distracting access to wi-fi makes me feel. Likewise, assessing my business needs and time management, I found that even 1 hour of Internet per work day is 20 hours per month, or 240 hours per year, which is equivalent to six, 40-hour work weeks per calendar year. No one is paying me to check my email or be online. Would I work for free for someone for 6 weeks? Not checking email, I wouldn’t. And yet…even drastically limiting Internet time still only brings this annual tally down to 6 weeks. If that’s not worth thinking twice about, I don’t know what is.

Second, let me clarify: I’m being realistic and gentle with myself. Everyone knows the dieter who says “I’m not going to eat any sweets for 30 days!” is typically munching on Tootsie Rolls a week later. Or the meditator who says, “I’m going to meditate for 365 consecutive days” who then keeps it up for a month, but fails on day 31 and loses all inspiration because the “perfect” goal is no longer attainable. I didn’t want that to happen to me when I set about to rearrange my relationship to the Internet.

So I laid a few ground rules: First, turn wi-fi off on my computer when it’s not the designated Internet time. Second, treat my Internet time like an appointment–keep it, use it efficiently, and don’t run overtime. Third, if an exception is needed, make a game-time decision and be particularly vigilant. So here’s where being “gentle” comes in, and yes, a person can be gentle and vigilant at the same time. Also, be realistic–because when it comes right down to it, most things don’t warrant an exception. Most things, including people, can wait.

Let’s say I’ve already had my 60 minutes of Internet time for the day (and yes, that includes email, social media, and any surfing [of which I do very little]), but I finish a few critiques for my private students and it’s still before 5 or 6pm. Should I log in and send them their critiques? I make a game-time decision. If the critiques are due the next day or thereabouts, I draft the emails in Word while offline. Then I enable the wi-fi on my computer, log in, and literally hold my palm over most of the screen so that I can’t see my inbox. I cut and paste the messages into a new message box, attach the critique, and click send. All done? Sign off, quit, and turn off the wi-fi on my computer again.

But what about that brilliant thought you have a 4pm or that question you have to ask to get the job done, or that person who you know is checking their messages on their phone and expecting your reply, pronto? For the brilliant thought: Write in Word (I keep a file open at all times called “Emails to Send”), save it, and deal with it tomorrow. For the burning question: Same. Damn. Thing. YES, it can wait. Unless you’re on deadline, there is very likely something else you can do with your time that will be equally (likely more) productive that does not require Internet. For the person awaiting your reply: Anticipate a message from them when you log in the next day, asking if you got the message they sent 12 hours ago and if not, they’ve forwarded it to you again for your convenience. Then, when your Internet time begins the next day, reply to the requests and tasks at hand, and call it done. A few more exchanges like that, and people will learn that you don’t reply right away. And guess what? They’ll respect it.

“Ok, ok, but what about your blog?” you might ask. Well, I compose it entirely offline, then cut and paste during my 60 minutes of Internet, and schedule the post to go live whenever I want it to–and I have auto-links set up that will post to Twitter and Facebook when the post publishes, without me even doing a thing. So what am I doing at 8am on Tuesdays and Fridays when The Writing Life gets published, linked on social media, and shared online? I’m writing a short story. I’m listening to the rain fall. I’m sketching. I’m staring into the morning light and thinking about levees and upbringing the next move my character Paul is going to make when he drives to his 10-year high school reunion. I’m dreaming, in other words, but the kind of dreaming one does when they are very wonderfully, delightfully, creatively, awake.

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