Anytime you work online, you risk productivity wipeout. With a world at your fingertips it’s hard to stop from clicking on links (upon links, upon links). Avoid throwing away your precious time by making every click of the mouse a purposeful one.
In The Matrix Reloaded, Agent Smith said:
“It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us, that defines us, it is purpose that binds us.”
Purpose is key to productivity. It’s pretty powerful stuff. And the web is a pretty powerful place. Combine the two the right way and you can do some pretty powerful things.
Define Your Purpose
To make the best out of web surfing, you’ll need to start with some soul-searching. Otherwise, you’ll surf blindly and without reason.
Answer the following questions:
- What’s your purpose in life? (Hint: Your purpose is what you decide it is — not what someone else tells you.)
- What is it that you want to do with your life?
- What do you want to accomplish? By when?
- What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Keep these questions in mind for the next section.
Write Out Actionable Steps For Fulfilling Your Purpose
Now that you’re clear on what your purpose is, brainstorm the ways in which you can take actionable steps to reach your goals.
- Do you want to have your first book published by next year?
- Are you hoping to save enough money to start your own freelancing business?
- Do you want to travel the world before you start a family?
- Would you like to start a nonprofit before you retire?
Each of these are long-term goals. In order to achieve them, you need to do two things well:
- 1. Plan ahead (and revise that plan as needed)
- 2. Take action now according to plan
So start writing your plan and list out as many actionable steps as you can. Think of it as your “Life Business Plan.” If you already have a plan in place, great! Pull it out and update it.
Go Onto The Web With Clear Purpose
Photo by Kevin N. Murphy
Once you have a working draft of your Life Business Plan, it’s almost safe to start web surfing. To ensure a productive session, do these three things before you log on:
1. State your purpose: Be specific about why you’re going on the web. Here are some motivations for logging on:
- Doing work
- Checking/responding to email
- Reading up on your favorite blogs
- Looking up something you heard about during the day
- Answering a question (such as, “What’s the best way to get from z to a?”)
- Passing the time because you’re bored
- Spending your free time
You might be logging on for a combination of reasons, or for a reason you don’t yet know. That’s okay, just be honest. You can still follow the next step.
2. Set a time limit: Based on your designated purpose, decide on how much time is reasonable for you to surf. Take into account your other obligations that may be work, family, or cat-care related. You can always renegotiate the allotted time; the important thing is to start out with a concrete limit.
3. Start the timer: Use an actual timer — it’s too easy to “forget” to look at the clock. Test it out first to make sure that the alarm goes off loud enough for you to hear and pay attention to.
4. Take a break when the timer goes off: After your time is up, physically remove yourself from the computer. Take a stretch break, rest your eyes, or get a drink of water.
5. Take a deep breath before going on to the next task: Then decide on what you’ll do next. Will you get back to work? Get ready for bed? Spend just five more minutes finishing that article? (And will you use the timer to make sure you follow through?) Take a deep breath and be purposeful in how you proceed with your next task, whether or not it has to do with the web.
Take Purposeful Action When Visiting Each New Link
Photo by mikebaird
During your web session, you need to make sure that each link you click on is the right one. Meaning, one that somehow relates back to your Life Business Plan. Keep in mind that while surfing the web for entertainment purposes, it’s perfectly fine to click on links that are interesting or amusing. Because ultimately they relate back to your purpose — of enjoying your hard-earned free time.
Make sure that after you click on the right link, that you follow up with some action. Remember those actionable steps you listed in your Life Business Plan? Well, it’s the same principle here. Determine what actionable steps you can take after clicking each new link in order to carry out your stated web-session purpose.
Here are some examples:
- If you’re looking for a good place to stay and you find a hotel that suits your needs and budget, bookmark it so that it’s easier to find again.
- If you read a news story that relates back to a discussion from work, email the link directly to your co-worker so that the next time you see him you can carry on the discussion.
- If you come across a comic strip that you’d like to share with your friends, post it on your Facebook. So everyone can see it.
- If you’re surfing the web to brainstorm new blog post ideas, print out the articles, discussion threads, or studies to refer back to them later on when you’re ready to write.
Anytime you come across a new link, you can respond to it productively by taking action, such as:
- Bookmarking the link
- Printing it out
- Sharing it with others through email, chat, text, or social network updates
- Adding to some organizational document you have stored elsewhere, like a list, chart, or calendar.
- Creating something new (e.g. blog post) in response to it
- Taking some kind of action (e.g. getting into your car to go from z to a)
The important thing is to take some action, no matter how big or small. Even if you just say out loud to yourself, “I completely disagree with this editorial and won’t be wasting my time reading the comment discussion that follows” — that’s action.
Ride the Big Waves Like a Pro
Productivity is all about acting with purpose. Action helps you move forward with purpose. Action helps you create closure. And move on from things that don’t ultimately increase your productivity in some way.
To successfully surf the web without wiping out, you need to not only start and and surf with purpose — you need to end the session with purpose too.
When you do, you’ll find that riding the big waves helps you take action toward your goals. Here’s to web surfing like a pro.
Melissa Karnaze is an experimental psychology masters student. She's interested in how we can use technology with greater mindfulness, writes about emotional productivity at Mindful Construct, and loves how the web is changing the world.
- Published 08/10/10