I took a walk instead of going home immediately after my train ride yesterday. I originally wanted to get some exercise, but I took advantage of the time to think. One of the questions I was grappling with was “How can I stop wasting time when I am at the computer?”
I was thinking about it because I noticed that I could sit at my computer for hours, only to find that I had maybe 15 minutes of productive work. What was I doing with my time? What could I do to change it?
I realized that I would start using the computer without giving much thought to what I would do. Sometimes I could start working on game development right away, but other times I would start checking my email or recording my receipts in my accounting program. Sometimes I would remember to look something up, and it can be very easy to aimlessly browse the web. Sometimes I’d write a blog post. Sometimes I’d visit a forum.
In all of these cases, however, I didn’t have a plan of action. I just sat down and started doing random things. I might be able to focus on an important task, and doing so would account for the productive work, but I could do better.
Thinking about it, I concluded that it might be best to force myself to think before using my computer. I should ask myself, “What do I want to accomplish?” before taking control of the keyboard and mouse. No matter what I decide, I should also make sure to set a time limit. Whether I am programming, updating my accounting books, or checking email, I will give myself a set amount of time to do it in. I should also make sure to give myself time to goof off.
I wrote up some categories of activities:
- listening to music
- reading the news
I might add to or change this list in the future, but for now it gives me a good indication of the kinds of reasons for using the computer. Restricting the time for each task is helpful because I currently have a problem with task-switching too much. If I can focus on one task, I can get it done quicker and better than if I am keeping track of multiple tasks at once. Some people say that they can multitask, but the human brain has been shown to work best when it is not distracted. It is a key idea behind books like “Getting Things Done”.
Anyway, I hope that by determining my purpose for using the computer, I can use it in more productive ways. If I use it in an unproductive manner, it will still be a conscious decision. It will also be restricted to a specific time period. Today if I get distracted, I might think that I’ll stop in ten minutes, but in reality an hour can go by without notice. I just haven’t been good at enforcing it. I let a distraction change my focus rather than make the decision myself.
Asking myself why I want to use the computer should be a good habit. I should be able to increase the ratio of productive hours to total hours if I can remind myself that I have a purpose and that I can always do something else later. The most distraction I should tolerate is to allow myself to write down what I want to do so that I can remember it later.