Does this sound like you? Last year, I would use my time like this:
If I had an hour between work and dinner, I’d read some good blog posts.
If I had twenty minutes before a meeting, I’d check Facebook, Instagram, and so on.
It seems harmless, but at the end of each week I had spent a total of 18-20 hours either surfing the web, reading tons of blog posts, or checking social media. That’s 80 hours each month. That’s nearly a thousand hours a year–which, if my math is correct, is 40 days.
Forty days. Over a month out of my year.
I get a lot of value out of of reading blog posts, being on social media, surfing the internet. It’s not that these things are ‘bad’. But do I want to spend over a month of every year doing these things? No. That’s a big chunk of my life spent on things that, to put it bluntly, are not directly moving my life towards where I want it to go. That’s a ton of hours where I could’ve been reading actual books, deepening my skillset, spending time with family.
Then I re-read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. Newport says most people try to kick their internet time-wasting habits by scheduling times to focus–set aside an evening for just doing your work, just reading, etc. He suggests doing the opposite of this: schedule time to be distracted.
Here’s how I used this: for 30 days, I gave up all social media, blog post reading and internet-surfing from Monday to Thursday. During those 4 days of the week, I didn’t log into any social media, didn’t read my Medium articles that came into my inbox, didn’t go on the internet. For work, when I needed to use the internet to google programming stuff, I did, but I avoided sites that were off-topic.
Then on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, I set aside 4pm to 5:30pm, and I went crazy. I endlessly scrolled down my Facebook feed, I read all my favorite bloggers, I surfed the web to my heart’s content. This was a solid 90 minutes for three days in a row. Once the time was up, I waited until the next week. Monday-Thursday were my days to focus entirely on work and read real books at night.
A few wonderful things happened:
I got much of my time back. From Monday to Thursday, I felt clear-headed and focused. I did my work and ended the nights with a good book. I suddenly had so much more time. When you impulsively just check Facebook for five minutes, it can often turn into an hour, and before you know it you’ve lost your day. By restricting myself, I uncovered so many extra hours.
And unexpectedly, I began to enjoy my distracted time on a level I never had before. Blog posts and social media and internet-surfing were my rewards for a focused week of work. When Friday came and I had my 90 minutes, I truly relished new blog posts and Tweets in a way that I hadn’t before. I learned how to use them, and not let them use me, and they felt so much sweeter.
When I schedule the times I’m going to be distracted, I easily create time in my day to do what I really need.