I have written before about what a distraction I find the Internet to be, and how much of a lure it can be to pull me away from work. I have even logged a sort of self-challenge, with the idea of making myself accountable for Internet usage (very much like a Zen Habits forum Monthly Challenge). Well I have been contemplating blogging about my current (very successful) solution for a while now and Zen Habit's recent post on a similar topic has reinforced the idea.
I realized that both the tools and the practices are important aspects, but posting about both in one long entry would be a bit long-winded, so I'll split them. This post will just outline the practice, and i will detail the tools in upcoming posts.
1. Plan ahead for your day
Many self-help organizational gurus recommend you plan every day for the following day, and it makes a difference as your priorities are predetermined, rather than being worked out on-the-fly. Whether you spend the last five minutes at work planning for the next day, or wait until you get home to do it so your mind has had a chance to clear out all the work distractions (as I do) it is time well spent.
2. Don't connect first thing when you get in
Checking your email, (auto)starting instant messaging and checking feeds, forums and websites when you first get in and sit down at your desk sets the tone for the rest of the workday. Make the first work-related thing you planned for the day before your number one priority in the morning and you're already off to a good start.
3. Schedule your web time
Treating your web time as you would work appointments helps you to limit them because you're specifically mindful of their start and end time. I check my email at 10am as part of my tea break, do my browsing at lunchtime and inly turn my IM on when I need it for work or it hits 4pm. One catch here is to treat web appointments as low priority, so if you're in a zone working on the first item of the day (as planned and started above) you don't end up interrupting that flow because you 'have to' check your mail.
4. Kill it if you don't need it
Having to start an application can be a useful deterrent while leaving it open makes it easier to get distracted. When you are done with your email, or have achieved what you needed to with your IM or browser, close it. This extends to widget based desktop tools as well, if it will distract you then keep it closed.
5. Kill all notifications
Your time should be yours to control, notifications take that away from you and have the potential to start you stumbling from one distraction to another. You don't need to know the moment an email comes in, a new instant message arrives or a new item appears on a website. If it's not practical to turn off web applications, by turning off all visual and audio notifications you regain control over your time.
6. Break up the web work flow
The ease of stumbling from one online distraction to another is one of the reasons it is such a huge time waster. Rather than click on links in emails in instant messages, add them to your todo list so that you can check them out at your scheduled browsing time and reserve email time for checking and responding to emails.
7. Use RSS to take control of your browsing
Websites today are cluttered with links just begging to keep you stumbling from one site to another. That uncontrolled browsing is time wasting and for the most part completely pointless. RSS feeds present you with the content of websites, without all the extra junk. Pick a good RSS client, add the feeds of your favorite sites and you will be able to do all your browsing in one place and much more efficiently with far less load time. Managing RSS feeds is a topic all it's own and I'll cover that in a future post.
8. Use and respect IM status
Status messages are a common but frequently neglected form of web etiquette that can actually save you from enormous amounts of wasted time. If your IM must be on for work purposes, set your status to busy when you don't want to be disturbed and if possible set a more detailed message that strongly reinforces the message. If someone ignores this and tries chatting anyway, ignore them. You in turn need to respect your and others' IM status by not disturbing people when their status is set to busy and not initiating chats when yours is set to busy. People will quickly learn that in your case at least, busy means busy.
These simple guidelines will save you heaps of web time, an din future posts I'll go into more detail about tools and practices for specific sites.