Saturday, January 16, 2010

Resisting the Lure of the Web

For a writer, avoiding distractions on the web can be a challenge. I don’t know about you, but I can lose hours playing around online when I might otherwise be writing. Yet since a computer is now a publishing writer’s primary tool, the risk of online distractions is ever present. For any other writers out there who might need self-discipline aids, here are some steps I now take to manage my tangential surfing.

1) I set goals for online time. I don’t connect until I know exactly what I intend to accomplish by doing so: who I need to contact, what facts I need to check, and so on.

2) I prioritize my goals. I figure out which ones are most critical and address those first. Sometimes it helps me to write them out – yes, with pen and paper! – and turn them into a checklist.

3) I set a time limit. This helps especially when my goals are research-related. Chasing down links can send you on a websites-long trail of information, where you’ll likely find lots and lots of material related to your research question, probably all very interesting, but also probably of low value. When I use a time limit, it helps me control this by reminding me of my priorities and keeping me efficient.

4) I also set a lights-out limit. I do this for health reasons: staring at that lit-up video screen at night affects the pineal gland and suppresses production of melatonin, making it harder to sleep. I know of at least one expert -- neurobiologist Dietrich Klinghardt, MD PhD -- who recommends no video of any kind after about 8:30 p.m. if you want to sleep well.

5) Finally, I give myself some web play time – after my writing and research are done. All work and no play not only dulls us, it also precludes those serendipitous discoveries of strange and wonderful web items that only show up when you diddle around. Giving myself sacrosanct play time helps me keep my work time sacrosanct, too: if I don’t let myself play, I’m much more likely to cheat as I work. Plus it’s much nicer to surf without your inner critic's nagging voice guilt-tripping you about the article or next chapter you SHOULD be writing.

Which reminds me -- I have a bit more work to do before I hit my lights-out limit. Happy writing!

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