It’s hard to be productive when continuously connected to the internet. When the whole world is in your pocket, how can you be expected to get anything done? Many people know that they compulsively check their phones more than necessary. But just disliking a habit isn’t enough. To break a bad habit, you have to put something in its way.
Habits are habits because the mind already knows the pattern of action and reaction. Organizational researcher Wander Jager describes this as a subconscious script. It’s a way to save mental energy for more important things, but it also makes habits hard to break. That means the best way to break a bad habit is to make it impossible or difficult. It’s the reason people recovering from addiction often have to abstain entirely from their vice.
Unfortunately for productivity, many of the devices and apps needed are also some of the worst distractions. It might actually be hard to completely get away from distractions such as emails and social media. However, while you may not be able to remove yourself from them entirely, you can put barriers in your way that will help increase your productivity.
These seven methods will help you put up such barriers and discourage productivity-sapping internet habits.
1. Don’t Use Automatic Logins
One of the simplest ways to break bad internet habits and increase productivity is manual logins. Hitting a login screen instead of your Facebook or Twitter newsfeed will give you a moment to consider whether you really need to check anything. You’ll be forced to remember your password before you dive back into the social media jungle. So removing automatic logins can increase your productivity by preventing unconscious internet wandering.
Some websites do not offer an option for automatic logouts after every visit. For these websites, one option is to make an effort to log out each time you use the site. Another option is to turn off your browser’s cookies so that websites won’t be able to remember who you are. On your smartphone, where automatically logged-in apps are standard, removing the app and relying on your phone’s browser instead is an excellent way to avoid the constant urge to check.
2. Clean Up Your Apps, Bookmarks, and Homepages
Cleaning up apps is a great way to cut down on your phone’s constant demands for attention. Most people need their smartphones with them at work or to keep in contact with people but that doesn’t mean you need all apps. Especially try to remove engagement-focused apps and only keep simple tools. Don’t work for your phone. Make it work for you.
Get rid of the apps you don’t need, and turn off all the unimportant notifications in apps you do need. If you rely more on your desktop or laptop, try to clean up the home page of your internet browser.
3. Block Internet Distractions Entirely
For the lucky people who don’t have to be on distraction-prone social media all the time, there are more extreme options to cut internet distractions and increase productivity. Use programs such as Cold Turkey and Freedom, to reduce the distractions entirely on both PCs and smartphones, making the bad habit impossible. Cold Turkey lets users block specific websites and apps for select periods of time. Freedom enables users to block the internet entirely. Be careful though; once you’ve blocked a site, it’s hard to undo, so don’t block anything you might need.
4. Set Aside Blocks of Time for Social Media and Email
For some tasks, the best way to increase productivity may be counterintuitive. Many people try to keep on top of their emails and messages constantly, but checking constantly can prevent you from being able to actually focus on your real work. Once your flow in a task is interrupted, it can be hard to get back into it. So if you’re always checking messages, it’s hard to get into a good workflow at all.
Instead, set aside set times throughout the day to deal with email. For example, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Of course, it will vary depending on your job, but the point is to confine it to specific blocks so you can focus on your actual work the rest of the time.
Also, when checking and responding to messages, try to take your time with it. It’s tempting to reply with the first thought that pops up, but by setting aside time to deal with messages, you’ll have time to give more thoughtful responses and avoiding future problems from miscommunication. Improving productivity doesn’t mean just doing things faster. Often doing things better also provides a better productivity boost over the long term.
5. Take Breaks from Your Devices
As another way to train your brain on better habits, set aside time to stay away from your devices entirely. A growing number of people are taking a so-called “digital Sabbaths” where they pick one day a week to avoid technology, generally on weekends. Some people unhook from the internet, and others avoid all digital devices entirely, sometimes locking them away out of sight.
Not everyone has the luxury of taking a whole day away from their connections to the world, but even an hour a day is an excellent way to give the brain a break. After some time doing this, the urge to continually check your devices should drop as your mind gets used to slower rhythms.
6. Discover your triggers
Sometimes putting a break between you and your unproductive internet habits might not be enough. You might quickly get used to typing your login information again, causing the action itself to become a habit. You might return to blocked websites once the timer is up, falling back into the well-worn tracks of old paths in your memory.
If you really struggle with stopping internet habits, it might be a good idea to think about if you have any specific triggers. Do you tend to want to distract yourself from something? Are you feeling lonely or concerned about something? It might be tempting to numb yourself by getting distracted.
Whenever you notice yourself trying to reach a blocked website, take a moment to reflect on what you’re currently thinking about. Journaling about your problems can be a good way to reach clarity and resolve worries and concerns.
7. The Last Resort: Digital Detox
If all else fails, and you cannot resist the constant internet distractions, you might need to take drastic measures to break unproductive internet habits.
Some entrepreneurs now make trips to remote, unconnected places for weeks at a time to get away from the very technology they helped create, such as one vacation examined by Fast Company that takes people away to the Moroccan desert for up to a month. Many of these vacations take their participants to far-flung locations out in the desert or forest, where only satellite signals reach.
However, you don’t have to go on a preplanned digital detox to break internet habits. There are much simpler (and cheaper!) ways as well. A camping trip or a cheap bed and breakfast in a remote area for a weekend can do the job just as well. But remember to bring some books and games.
Whatever you do, remember that just thinking about changing a bad habit isn’t enough. Put something in the way of your bad habits, and remind yourself to do something better and more productive instead.