It took me six hours to write this because I had 37 tabs open.
Here is a brief list of things I did to avoid writing this piece: checked all three of my email addresses, went through my entire Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify, booked a work trip and, Beyonce help us all, checked my credit card bill.
Why after typing two words did I suddenly have an urgent need to do these things? Simple. The internet has broken my brain, and according to a little thing called, I don’t know, science, I’m not the only one. According to the Pew Research Center, a fancy place that studies all the things, 81 percent of Americans go online every single day and approximately 3 in 10 describe themselves as “constantly” online.
Not sure this topic applies to you? Are you skimming this blog because you really need to hurry up and get on Instagram to check what country the Bucket List Family is visiting? Congratulations, you have a problem.
Here’s the thing about the internet: it’s not going away. If you’re like me, your job requires you to use it in some capacity. So here I humbly offer a few suggestions for saving your internet-broken brain and becoming a fully functioning adult again.
(Yes I understand the irony of addressing an internet focus problem with a piece on the internet. Please send your hate mail to email@example.com.)
Turn off your phone for set periods of time
As I was typing this sentence my distraction was pulled by a group text about choosing a date for our next book club. All I can think about is the potential that if I don’t open that thing immediately I will miss out on the opportunity to finally find out what a crawdad is and why it sings.
The solution? I turned off my phone. I didn’t mess around and put it in airplane mode because unless the WiFi is off those texts will still come through. The next time you need to focus deeply on a task, turn off your phone and set a timer. Right now I’m setting one for 30 minutes at which point I will take a break from blowing your mind with how much work I have to do keep myself away from the internet and hope the crawdads are still singing.
Get an internet blocker
You don’t have to be a parent terrified of your teenager discovering the dark corners of Reddit to make use of internet blocking services. They’re a great tool for shaming you into getting off of time-sucking sites. Personally, I use a Google Chrome extension called Block Site (not an ad, I’m just weak-willed). You can add an extension to your Chrome browser and block individual URLs for set periods of time or permanently. Freedom is another good option. It’s a paid subscription service used by creatives everywhere to completely disable the internet for set periods of time.
Unsubscribe from EVERYTHING
Do you need to receive an update every time your third cousin Sharon posts to her Enneagram blog or your friend from college shares a caption written from the perspective of her baby? Probably not. Purging your email of all those pesky
company emails promising you great deals (spoiler alert: it’s never that great), random newsletters, and social media alerts will help keep you out of the rabbit hole.
Get rid of apps
Are you sitting down? I’m about to say something drastic: you do not need social media apps on your phone.
Seriously. You don’t. Run a Facebook account for your job? Do it from a computer like a normal person. Need Twitter for the news? No you don’t. Need to check in on Caroline Calloway’s Instagram meltdowns every two minutes? Get a real job.
Deleting time sucking apps from your phone will keep you from mindlessly tapping it to check in. To access my Instagram I have to log in to it on an actual desktop computer, which is so much work that by the time I get to it, I’m usually asleep.
If this feels too extreme consider starting small: turn off notifications from social media apps so your attention isn’t distracted every time your grandmother leaves a nonsensical comment on your Facebook update.
Write it down instead of looking it up
Technology has given rise to the phenomenon of cognitive offloading, which in the simplest terms, is relying on technology (aka the internet) to act as your brain. Example: today I was going nuts trying to remember the name of that weird movie where Johnny Depp kept crying about lightning? Instead of letting my brain sort through the mountain of my memories associated with terrible movies (if you don’t trust the opinion of someone who once watched The Kissing Booth three times in one week stop reading now), I just Googled it. It’s called Cry-Baby and now my mind is at peace.
A study published in the scientific journal Memory found that “the tendency to rely on things like the Internet as an aide-mémoire, increases after each use.” What is an aide-mémoire you might ask? I have no idea because apparently Googling it will ruin my brain.
You can rebuild your brain’s memory capabilities–as well as your focus–by resisting the impulse to mindlessly Google. I keep a sticky note by my computer and jot down questions or internet to-dos as I work. A few things on my sticky note at this very moment:
- How many people die in grain silos every year?
- How do you start a fire in the rain?
- Look up that one annoying girl from high school because a recent Instagram post made it seem like her Too Hot For This World boyfriend dumped her and if so I need to do a three hour deep dive into their relationship history.
At the end of a work session I go through the note and identify what I actually need to use the internet for. As much as I want a specific number for grain silo deaths because I live in constant fear of drowning in gluten, I decided to cross that one off the list.
Would this even be an advice piece if meditation wasn’t included? According to every podcast ever recorded about mental health, diets, parenting and spiritual growth, meditation is apparently the cure to all human ailments. So you should
probably be doing that, I guess.
In conclusion: assume you are a child with no willpower who needs strong internet boundaries.
I love whiling an afternoon away reading about serial killers on Wikipedia as much as the next girl, but guess what? I’ve also got shit to do. And so do you. Letting the worldwide web turn my brain to mush is not an option.
What about you? Raise your hand in the comment section if you’ve ever been victimized by an internet black hole. Got any tips for freeing your brain? Please share. Seriously. I need all the help I can get.
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