Monday, April 27, 2009

Fighting my Internet Addiction

As I talked about yesterday, I recently decided to break a bad habit of spending hours reading political blogs. As this started to reveal to me the incredible amount of time I've been wasting online, I started working on trimming back other sources of unnecessary time.


I've never had good email hygiene. In fact, when I looked at my inbox yesterday morning I had 7153 unread messages. Most of those email messages I had skimmed the title, felt it was not worth my time, and let it drift back into the ether of my inbox, buried by incoming mail, while some smaller but still significant portion I missed completely and have never seen. I'd spent some time a few months ago creating filters to reduce the amount of stuff coming straight to my inbox, and have been mostly keeping up since, but in general it was still a mess.

Today my inbox looks like this:

I declared email bankruptcy. Conceding that I would never go through all of those emails, I glanced through the first page to make sure I didn't have any pending responses, and then archived everything. Luckily, since it's Gmail, they're still all searchable so if I need anything I'll be able to find it. I've also been going through and systematically unsubscribing to email lists that I don't get much value from.

What I didn't realize was how big of a difference having an empty inbox would make in the feel of checking email. It not only makes email seem less frantic and cluttered, but it makes it way easier to check quickly if there is anything new, and then go away again if there isn't. I don't know why, but it also seems to make the act of looking at and processing every incoming email immediately easier as well.

RSS Feeds

I've also been going through and removing some of the RSS feeds that I've gotten behind on. Certainly not all of them; there are feeds that I'm behind on that I love to read, and would by no means stop following. The criterion has become: Does the idea of reading all of these posts excite me or discourage me? If the answer is discourage, I'm getting past my aversion to getting rid of things and stopping following them.


Reducing the amount of time I need to keep up with my life online is really important for my trip to Guatemala, because we're not bringing laptops and will be completely dependent on Internet cafes for online access. Since I'm planning on trying to maintain this blog at roughly a post a day throughout that time, any extra time I can trim away is extremely valuable.

Longer term, I think that this sort of adjustment will be tremendously beneficial for my personal productivity and wellbeing. This morning, when I got up, I took 10 minutes to check my email and all of my RSS feeds. That process (when including the political blogs that I'm in the process of kicking entirely) used to take between 30 minutes and an hour! Since I do this roughly twice a day, and adding in all of the small time savings when checking email, no longer flipping to political blogs, etc, I'm saving somewhere between 2 and 3 hours of time a day!

This morning, this was actually a little uncomfortable! I had a moment of feeling something like "That's it? What do I do now?", but after a few minutes of unease I realized that this was now almost an entire hour extra that I could use for writing, thinking, meditating, or exercising at the beginning of my day. In other words, things that are actually productive rather than passive intakes of information. As my friend Brad recently wrote: Consume Less, Learn More, Create Most.

I'm not confident in my ability to stick to this reduced-information-consumption diet; as I mentioned, it's actually a pretty uncomfortable adjustment. Hopefully the shock therapy of having 3 months in Guatemala without an at-home internet connection will help me form the habit, and the increased productivity and free time will give me plenty of motivation to learn to adjust.

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  1. This email bankruptcy thing is such a good idea! After reading your blog this morning, I did a similar thing -- went through the first couple of pages in my inbox, responded to everything that needed a response, starred everything that I would want to find more easily, and then archived the lot. So nice to have an empty inbox! I've resolved to deal with and archive all messages on a weekly basis, which should make email much less time-consuming and disorganized! So, thanks for the idea!


  2. Hi Elaine,

    Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm glad this was helpful for you. Its so easy to get behind on email or reading blogs... I sometimes felt like I was on a treadmill trying to keep up. I'm hopeful that I can continue being on top of it.