Using the Computer Purposefully

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:

  • programming
  • email
  • blogging
  • gaming
  • accounting
  • listening to music
  • researching
  • reading the news
  • leisure

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.

5 comments to Using the Computer Purposefully

  • Good read. 🙂

    I find myself loosing a lot of time behind my computer as well, and I recognize the lack of goal. But I also believe it’s often an attempt to ‘escape’ the things I really should be doing (which, of course, adds a lot stress later on).

  • Procrastination rears its head again. B-) Of course, one of the best ways to fight it is to have clear goals. They’re easier to focus on than vague, nebulous ideas.

  • That definitely helps. I’ve been creating a small php-based tool to help me keep track of my projects and the tasks they are composed of. The tool isn’t yet that finished to be of great use, but simply writing down the things I have to do makes me focus on them more. Being able to scrap something from your list because you finished it gives a great feeling. 🙂

  • I just have too many ideas, and find myself switching between them. So I never get that much done because i have too many good ideas. Either I want to switch alot or I can’t pick what to choose so end up doing nothing whilst deciding.

  • Heh, so far this week I found that I haven’t been using the computer much at all. I’m not sure if I can say that I have increased my productivity. At the very least, I know that when I did use the computer, I was using it for one task, finishing it, and moving on. There was no lingering, idling, or random checks for email.

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