Until recently, one of my favorite activities was chasing a pure white rabbit down a black hole of lost time. At times I would catch him and for a few moments illuminate my brain with pure inspiration or incredibly useful information. But most of the time bliss eluded me and I was only in it for the chase.
The first thing I’d do each morning was snap open the lid of my laptop and start surfing. Facebook status updates, catchy video clips others found irresistible, indispensable self-help articles, news stories, newsletters, art, jokes and household tips – I would chase them all. Hours later, I’d realize I was breathing through my mouth and hadn’t done any yoga yet. With the exception of personal emails which I answer with relish almost immediately, the words and pictures that flashed across the screen had little to do with me.
I began taking the pulse of my browsing history. In Google Chrome, history comes with the time you first access the site. A typical day would look like this: 6am – 7:30 Gmail, 7:34 – 9:05 – Facebook, 12:15 – 1:08 – New York Times, recipe sites, Facebook, Gmail. And so on.
I was plugged in for 5 to 6 hours a day, a third of it chasing down Facebook leads for the big ka-ching – that video that would make my day or even change my life. It felt a bit like gambling. My computer had turned into a slot machine. In between surfing, I shopped, cooked, gardened, did yoga, talked to friends and wrote.
Armed with my browser stats, I launched a campaign to recover those lost hours. Facebook was an easy target so I started limiting myself to one visit a day in which I clicked on my notifications and browsed my news feed. Within a few weeks, it became clear that the more I responded, posted and shared, the more notifications I received.
So I stopped commenting, stopped posting everything that came into my head. Oh, I still wrote the comments but then I would erase my words and back out before clicking send. It was painful, both the not sending and the re-reading of my own unsent words as I deleted them forever. This is hard to admit, but most of what I write is designed to show others just how smart I am. All those snappy, snarky, sarcastic and ironic comments were painting a picture of my own insecurities that my friends were better off not seeing.
Eventually I changed my notification settings in Facebook so that I receive an email each time one of my friends sends me a private message. And since I no longer had to check for direct correspondence, I was able to skip the site for days at a time. I rarely look at my news feed, preferring instead to look up individuals to see what they are up to. And if it’s something big, I write them an email.
Lately my big ka-ching comes from dropping into Facebook and seeing that I have no notifications and have all but disappeared from the Facebook landscape.
A funny thing happened as I worked to eliminate my main distraction. I began to lose interest in the news stories, self-help articles, Ted Talks and slideshows to the point where I wasn’t reading much of anything on my computer. I’d rather answer emails and read my friend’s blogs than chase that ole rabbit.
And so I recovered a few hours of lost time each day. Hours I fill with real flesh-and-blood friends and physical activity. After staring at my monitor for a few minutes, I close the lid, get up and cook something or run a load of laundry. I love having more time for yoga or wandering next door to chit chat with my neighbors. If the sun is warm, I get out the loppers and do battle with the boxwood that grew up above the roof line while we were in Africa.
I call this a win and just in time because any day now I’m going to go back to work and will need those hours so I can trade them for pay. The only down side to kicking my internet addiction is I’m going to have to dig a little deeper to come up with some 2014 New Year’s Resolutions.