Smarter Surfing – How to be a More Mindful Internet User

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Only recently have we begun to come to terms with the way in which the Internet impacts our various cognitive thought processes. Have we become more scattered, superficial thinkers as a result of our over reliance on tech devices? Do they help or hinder our ability to get things done? The Internet may be the world’s most helpful productivity tool, but it also can be the most efficient way to waste an entire day (or more) if you aren’t on guard.

Today, our online personas exist in such a way that they profoundly impact our outer, “analog” appearance, thoughts and behaviors. We’re accustomed to constant high-speed internet access, and with so many opportunities for distraction lurking out there in the brightly colored and highly animated corners of the web, it is easy to fall victim to the lure of, well, anything other than work. More often than not, it only takes one quick click to move your mind from spreadsheets to salacious photos of former child celebrities.

They say that time is currency, as such it’s crucial to make good use of all the moments you spend sitting in front of a glowing screen. While it might be easy to assume that only work-from-home types or self-employed creatives could benefit from an article on mindful browsing, the reality of the fact is we could all use a little help focusing our online attentions. First, let’s talk email.

Everyone has too many of them and no one likes organizing them. A great way to increase productivity is simply by eliminating clutter. Think about the amount of time you spend deleting newsletters, retyping the same response to several emails, and sifting through a bunch of unimportant messages. The easiest way to keep your inbox fresh is avoid subscribing to newsletters and other needless updates. Only keep the ones you have actually read in the last month if you must keep any at all. Be ruthless, and delete everything that doesn’t require a personal reply.

For those of you that are in creative industries, planning ahead away from the web can be extremely useful. Before you hop on the computer, take a few minutes to seriously think about your project and the online work required to complete it. Write down the ideas you want to achieve and questions you want to answer, putting the ol’ pen-and-paper method to use. Avoiding the distractions of IM and various social media platforms can help you form your thoughts more clearly and succinctly, not to mention free from the influence of the Internet hive-mind.

For those of us that do work from home, the isolated environment can work for and against productivity. We turn to our phones more often than not for instant companionship, and with the myriad of social networks at our fingertips, it’s always easy to find a way to put off whatever needs doing. Realize that your phone will be just fine if it’s on silent and out of sight or out of pocket – you can return to Instagram or Scruff the moment you send in your final expense report. Look to music for support instead, using Spotify’s offline browser or even – gasp! – CDs, 8tracks, cassette tapes, or vinyl albums.

This being the digital age, there are loads of apps out there that can block sites or social networks you find yourself powerless to avoid. Anti-Social and Cold Turkey both block those pesky time wasting sites for ascribed periods of time. Other apps can control notifications on your mobile device and even log and record sites you visit and for how long to fully monitor your own actions.

Modifying your online browsing habits takes time and practice, and in an era of false digital idols, the temptation is rarely out of sight. Social interactions are increasingly marred by the presence of small rectangular vortices, but that doesn’t mean you have to fall down the rabbit hole too. Take heed of your actions, and put the Internet at work for you – no machine should be the master of your productive destiny.

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