I'm Intentionally Using the Internet...or Not at All
This week I announced on Instagram that I am starting a new experiment: For one month (at least) I am only going to use the internet during pre-determined periods of time.
This is a strategy that I recently learned from Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work. It’s one of those strategies that, once I heard about it, I couldn’t believe I never thought of myself. Cal Newport is great at uncovering clever productivity hacks. If you haven’t ever read his books, I highly recommend all of them (all of the ones I’ve read and loved are in my Amazon store ).
In Deep Work, Cal argues that our brains are being wired to crave novelty and distraction, making it difficult—if not impossible— to do deep work, which is the work that adds value to the world and advances your career.
The worst distraction, of course, is the internet and all of the fun tools that come with it like Facebook and Instagram. Admittedly, I have spent entire work days zipping between social media platforms engaging in conversation under the guise that it was “work”.
Cal Newport recommends a different approach to plugging in:
“Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed—no matter how tempting.”
I’m an online business owner. That obviously necessitates using the internet. It does not, however, necessitate constantly being on the internet. As such, I like this approach.
Before reading Deep Work, I’d been lamenting for a while about the fact that the internet had taken over my life, but I thought I was doing pretty well because I’d had the following habits in place:
On the weekend I often take a 24 hour break from the Internet
I already delete the Instagram app from my phone every single night from about 8pm until 8am.
I’ve long had all notifications turned off
I often leave my phone in another room on silent for hours at a time
I’ve put so many boundaries around email that most people don’t know how to contact me
But the truth is that I’m still as addicted to constant connectivity as everyone else.
I might delete Instagram from my phone every night, but I literally CANNOT WAIT to re-download it in the morning. Last week I broke my 8am rule almost every single morning.
I may not have an apple watch, but I do have an iMac, a MacBook, and an iPhone.
I may not respond to emails, but I still check my inbox several times per day in hopes that I’ve received something juicy and exciting.
Every time I take one of these actions, my brain gets a rush of dopamine. It feels good when I see 25 new likes on a photo, so my brain wants to keep checking again and again and again.
Given that I was already aware of this so-called addiction, when I read Cal Newport’s suggestion to ONLY use the internet during pre-designated times, I knew I had to try it.
It’s important for me to emphasize that this is the exact opposite of a digital detox.
Cal argues that digital detoxes are fine, but ultimately leave you just as hooked to your devices once they’re over without helping you to establish a new habit. The idea is that instead of taking breaks from the internet from time to time, we need to overhaul our habits around using the internet altogether.
One thing that I love about Cal’s approach is that he doesn’t prescribe a certain amount of hours of internet usage.
This is not about counting internet calories. There is no prescribed amount of time that is healthy to be online. Each of us has a unique set of responsibilities that require varying amounts of access to the web. It’s about being mindful and intentional about when you do choose to log on.
The point is to figure out what you DO need to use the internet for and schedule time in your day to do those things. For me this includes things like…
Research and reading
Communicating with my team
Tasks for running my business (these tasks are mostly predefined)
Engaging in Facebook groups for programs I run/am a member of
Using social media for business (posting, commenting, engaging on Instagram and YouTube)
There are, however, a few things that Cal recommends we all stop doing. Here’s a list that combines his recommendations sprinkled with my own:
Convincing yourself that you need to hop on to do “research” in order to finish a project. Make a list of what you need to look up and do it at a designated time.
Binge watching Netflix.
Scrolling your Facebook Newsfeed. There is literally no actual value in this.
Mindlessly surfing the web for entertainment
Here are some strategies and tools I am using to implement intentional internet use:
Delete tempting apps whenever you aren’t pre-scheduled to use them. I don’t have Facebook or YouTube on my phone and I delete Instagram multiple times per day. You might think it sounds crazy to delete and re-download an app so often. I think it’s crazy that you’re letting Instagram steal so much of your valuable time.
The Self Control App can block entire websites or even the whole internet on your computer for set periods of time. I use this when I need to get something done on the computer (like writing a blog post) but don’t want to get distracted by the internet.
The Newsfeed Eradicator. I need to use Facebook for work, but I find it challenging not to get distracted by the newsfeed, so I’ve downloaded this app on both of my computers (I don’t have the Facebook App installed on my phone).
If you want to go on the internet, but don’t have a time planned, wait FIVE minutes. Cal argues that this short gap is enough time to allow you to be in control rather than succumbing to impulse.
Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work. Honestly, it’s a great antidote to the superficial nonsense that most of us stew in on a daily basis and has been a great kick in the pants for me to take my mission to become more self-disciplined to the next level.
So how is it going so far?
It’s been two-and-a-half days since I decided to stop using the internet and I must say, I already feel like I have more control over my time. Most of my brain fog has almost completely lifted because I’ve closed down several of the “open tabs” that were zapping my energy.
I’m already finding more time to read and focus on deep work like revising and editing my book. It feels powerful to wake up and get out of bed in the morning without looking at my phone. (I’d love to write more about the concept of deep work as I learn more about it and get better at doing it).
On another level, the anxiety I feel to “always be on” is diminishing. With each day, I am feeling less and less need to share everything I’m doing on Instagram stories. I love IG stories, so I hope that with time, I will get better at being able to mindfully consider what to share instead of allowing social media to be a distraction from my real work.
The desire to connect paired with the dopamine hit that comes with checking social media are powerful forces that are hard to resist. My goal is to train myself to use these tools for good and put them down before the bad kicks in.
Tell me in the comments:
What do you think? Are you interested in being more intentional with your internet use? What questions do you have for me about how I am using the internet?
P.S. Cal Newport has a new book that LITERALLY came out this week called Digital Minimalism. I just ordered my copy and you can get yours here!
P.P.S. The links on this page lead to my Amazon Affiliate Storefront. If you purchase any of the books I recommend after clicking the links, I will receive payment.