Recently, I have seen a lot of chatter about how to exercise self-control with online activities. Of course, these conversation are happening online, and of course, there’s an app for that.
The problem with advances in technology is that, as technology advances, supposedly to make our lives easier, it actually somehow makes us need it more. Depending on which study you read, individuals spend anywhere from 3-5 hours online every day. Zoom out and that’s 21-35 hours a week. That means that for every week, upwards of one entire day is spent online.
Many people find themselves dependent on technology to succeed at their careers. As someone with an online ministry, I can often fall into the trap that time spent online is time well spent. After all, my audience lives online, so I should be online. However, being online doesn’t mean I am actually accomplishing anything. In fact, more often than not, I accomplish nothing.
Many people fall for the false feeling of productivity technology gives us. Because we are constantly connected, have apps for everything, and everything is streamlined and efficient, we feel like we must be streamlined and efficient as well.
We feel we are accomplishing something simply because we are online. Hours later, we may feel like we have accomplished much, when in reality, we have responded to one e-mail and set up one meeting that could have taken us a half hour, and did not require us to be online at all. The rest of our time was spent sitting there watching our e-mail or Facebook, just waiting for someone to ‘interact’ with us.
My friend, Sheila Gregoire, put it this way:
“Being online is essential. Spending all your time there is not—and, indeed, you shouldn’t spend all your time online! You have other things to do—even just spend some quiet time with God. And if you’re not careful, social media can start to take up all your time, making you feel productive without actually accomplishing anything.”
It’s tricky, though, because we can fall into this trap without even noticing it. We can be frustrated by the lack of our productivity and not even make the connection between our online habits.
Worse yet, idleness combined with lack of online self-control can lead us into dangerous places. The longer you are online, especially without clear purpose and direction, the more likely you are to be exposed to or fall back into pornography.
Setting Real Priorities
Productivity boils down to priorities. We will devote time to what matters to us. A lack of self-control demonstrates a lack of clear priorities. None of us wakes up one morning saying, “My family isn’t as important as ‘working’ on the computer” but, over time, unchecked habits can lull us into that state. We spend time online convinced we are doing something important, when, in reality, our time could be better used for more important (and valuable) things.
Here’s some tips for breaking that lull and practicing self-control over your online use.
1. Set your homepage to your ‘business’ page. Even ‘neutral’ pages like search engines can lead to distractions. If you are like me and manage a blog, set your homepage to be your blog’s administration panel. Perhaps it’s an actual business website or e-mail. When you open your browser or turn on your smart phone, let the first thing that greets you be business. The first thing you see helps set the tone for how you will spend the rest of your time.
2. Get rid of the app—or at least hide it somewhere. The more convenient something is the more dependent we are on it, regardless of how good it is for us (think fast food). If we make something inconvenient or, better yet, impossible, then we are less likely to do it when we click into mental autopilot. It forces us to think about our choices, and hopefully, make better ones.
3. Have a purpose. Being aimless is dangerous, especially online. Without purpose, we lose awareness of time and productivity. When you get online, have a goal: “I need to write an e-mail and a blog post” and stick with that. Determine why you are online. If it’s just to relax, pick up a book or go for a walk instead. Treat your time online like a job. It shouldn’t be your leisure time. Look at technology like an energy-sapping nuisance (and I don’t mean electrical energy).
4. Set a time. Either pick a specific time of day to go online or set a time limit.
There are some neat apps for this (yes, we have pieces of technology to depend on to keep us from becoming dependent on technology). One that I use is StayFocusd—it helps limit your time on certain time-wasting sites during certain times of day (for instance, when you should be working).
5. Go offline. Remember pen and paper, day planners, and Word Processors? Sometimes it can help to write out e-mails and blog posts first before going online. Then, all you have to do is copy and paste! You’ve accomplished the same goal without the added chance of distraction. Need to set up a meeting? Can you call instead of e-mailing? We all know that e-mail really isn’t faster than phones; it’s just easier. Look for ways to go offline with what you do.
Technology isn’t bad, but without self-control, it can destroy our lives, productivity, and relationships. Do a time inventory and see where your priorities truly lie. Then, do what you can to set limits.