A solution to wasting time online: set up one computer for web access only, away from your work computer

May 19th, 2008 by jose

Paul Graham does it again. It’s great when you have a mind used to solve problems with simple solutions applied to time management. The more everyday problems hackers manage to solve (this time without use of fancy technology), the better for all of us.

The basic idea is simple: just make your body aware that you are wasting time. It’s even more radical than my interruptron idea of having a time counter growing in size as a function of wasting time.

I can find at least two problems with this idea. Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize that I don’t want them to pry ‘my precious’ internet from my tired fingers :)

  1. Software updates. I find that I quite often have to do a ‘sudo aptitude install’ or some such. At least a couple of times a day. Same for programming languages’ packages. It’d be a pain to switch on the internet for that, plus it’d be tempting to leave it on.
  2. Mail. I often have a quick idea and fire off an email to someone who may need to know or do something about it. My mail reader is integrated with my browser and sending a new mail is just one shortcut away. Again, a bit of a pain to move to a different computer to send a mail.

Still, the advantages are huge. Having no interruptions whatever online? Sounds great. In fact, when I’m really feeling like I need to get something done, I retire to a library with no wireless (and hopefully a comics section to fill scheduled rest time).

I’m interested in this method (2nd computer for internet only) enough to give it a serious try, say a full month.

It’d be great if more people wanted to join a trial, so we can do some n>1 testing on whether this works overall or not. It’d be also great to have some accountability (i.e., people knowing that you are doing this trial, so you feel ashamed if you are not following the rules). The problem is that productivity measures will have to be subjective: i.e., at the end of the month, do you feel you have gotten a lot done? More than any other month while you were online at all times?

What do you think?

PS: there’s a full thread commenting the article here.

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8 Responses to “A solution to wasting time online: set up one computer for web access only, away from your work computer”

  1. MikeNo Gravatar Says:

    I’ve been making use of a (mac only) program that seems to fall somewhere between this solution and simply turning off your wireless. Its called Freedom, and its donationware. Essentially it disables your wireless/wired ethernet for a given length of time (0-6h). The catch is there’s no way to cheat and re-enable the internet before the time is up, unless you decide to reboot your system. It seems to reach a certain no-cheating threshold that seems to keep me on track.

    I’ve been finding this program surprisingly useful. You can find it here:

  2. EdwinNo Gravatar Says:

    Nice thought, Microsoft couldn’t disagree more I’m afraid…

  3. VictorNo Gravatar Says:

    Back when I still had a USB dial-up broadband modem, I did something similar: I unplugged the modem before I started working, because plugging in again and dialing up would take so long that – before I could go online – I came to my senses and returned to my work.

    Once I had ethernet and WLAN, that trick didn’t cut it anymore. So I tried something else: I pledged to myself that, each and every time I caught myself surfing over to one of my favourite procrastination websites (news, movie reviews, gadget and tech blogs) between 10am and 7pm, I would donate 10 Euros to a charity. I only kept it up for two months. Those two months were quite productive, but my dissertation grant just couldn’t support that kind of lifestyle.

  4. Email Setup SolutionNo Gravatar Says:

    Great ideas…keep going.

  5. Pittsburgh Data Back-upNo Gravatar Says:

    Good idea, I find that I waste a lot of time online, looking at nothing, doing nothing, reading nothing important…good tips here.

  6. flowers from ecuadorNo Gravatar Says:

    working with your computer away from work you must make sure malware isnt performed because its easy to get your files corrupted which will lead into the companys network.

  7. busy la, werNo Gravatar Says:

    I set up obstacles for myself. For instance, I like to disable my wireless connectivity. Then, when I instinctively click on firefox, the no connection shows up, and its just enough of a hassle to re-enable it that I give up on internet. Of course, that’s just one way and its not too effective if you’re determined to waste time.

  8. RichardNo Gravatar Says:

    Despite having digital copies of books, I found that I had to buy the physical thing.


    Because it’s nearly impossible to complete a chapter at a pc. Despite having a truly excellent screen for reading on. The net is too distracting.

    Since I took over the dining table in a totally seperate room 4 months ago, I’ve managed to complete an average of 20+ hours a week of intense personal study and acquired a large pile of big books that genuinely get well used.

    This is from someone who didn’t do college A levels etc and wasn’t studying before.

    My personal tip? Do the main study on good old fashioned paper and books. Banish the internet except for very specific tasks indeed or rest/necessary jobs etc. No warranties for my tip…just what I’ve found.

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