Sisyphus should not be your role model! (Or, what to do if you’re distracted by the Internet.)

Wasting too much time online? The solution is actually easy: disconnect. At various times, and in various situations, I’ve done all of the below—and sometimes two or more at a time:

  • funny-pictures-sisyphus-cat-watermelon-waterIn households where others needed WiFi access, I’ve chosen not to give myself the WiFi password. That meant that while everyone else could access the Internet freely from any location, I had to take my laptop to a specific location (usually, in another room from where I was working), and plug in a cable.
  • In households where I was alone (for instance, when everyone else was out at work), I unplugged the wireless router. (Note: not the modem, which can cause IP address hassles!)
  • I blocked my PC’s access to specific problem sites (like addictive games). It’s easy! Just Google “How to block a Website in Windows [or Mac or Linux]” and follow a reliable-looking set of instructions.
  • I worked on a “vanilla” PC from which all Internet access, email, games, and other distractions had been removed. (And used a separate PC for those activities.)
  • I worked in a location without Internet access.

Easy peasy!

Here’s what doesn’t work: grimly struggling to do your work at the same time you’re battling constant temptation.

Sisyphus wasn’t meant to be a role model!

I’m also not a huge fan of software solutions that temporarily limit Internet access because you can defeat them simply by rebooting. However, if they work for you that’s fine!

When I tell students in my productivity classes to disconnect from the Internet, some react with a Homer Simpsonish, “Doh! Why didn’t I think of that?” while others give me the hairy eyeball, implying that I’m suggesting something weird, radical, or otherwise unthinkable. That’s when I bring out the supporting troops:

  • Zadie Smith: “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet.”

  • Jonathan Franzen: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at  his workplace is writing good fiction.” (A bit snobby, but makes its point.)

Plenty of people disconnect.

The main pragmatic objection I hear to disconnecting is that, “I need to do research while I’m writing.” My answer to that is, “Don’t.” Generally speaking, research competes with the writing process, and it is also a primary form of procrastination mimicking productive work.

Ultimately, disconnecting is a gift you give yourself—a gift of time, privacy, freedom, peace, and mental space. It helps you reclaim your creative soul. It’s a particular godsend for writers and others who struggle to fit their creativity into an overcrowded schedule, since you can get a lot more done per hour disconnected versus connected.

A pretty big payoff, don’t you think, for delaying a few tweets?

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