How to waste less time online and be­come more pro­duc­tive.

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What in­for­ma­tion con­sumes is rather ob­vi­ous – the at­ten­tion of its re­cip­i­ents. A wealth of in­for­ma­tion cre­ates a poverty of at­ten­tion.” So wrote the great so­cial sci­en­tist Herbert Si­mon, and his com­ment ap­plies in spades to cy­berspace. We are del­uged by tidal waves of in­for­ma­tion, and there have been few con­vinc­ing guides on how to avoid drowning in data or wast­ing our time online.

But help is at hand from an old friend – the 80/20 prin­ci­ple. You prob­a­bly know this is the ob­ser­va­tion that usu­ally at least four-fifths of re­sults flow from one-fifth of causes. So, with a lit­tle in­ge­nu­ity, we should be able to work out how to get more ben­e­fit from much less time, ef­fort and money.

I have a the­ory that most of us – my­self in­cluded – use so­cial me­dia and the abil­ity to read stuff online as a displacement ac­tiv­ity. My par­tic­u­lar ad­dic­tion is Twit­ter. It’s eas­ier and of­ten more fun to take a break from what I should be do­ing – in my case, writ­ing a chap­ter of my new book – and send a tweet or read ar­ti­cles high­lighted on my feed.

Hav­ing a pet web­site where you spend many min­utes a day is fine if you come back to your core ac­tiv­ity with new ideas or a re­fu­elled de­ter­mi­na­tion to pur­sue the ac­tiv­ity cre­atively. But much of the time go­ing online ends up a rather un­sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with rapidly di­min­ish­ing or even neg­a­tive re­turns. Some­how, though, we re­main hooked.

So what’s the rem­edy? I rec­om­mend an “online in­for­ma­tion au­dit”. Ask your­self these ques­tions:

Of all the time you spend online, where is the 10 per cent of most use­ful or en­joy­able in­for­ma­tion com­ing from? Is it a par­tic­u­lar site or is it a

dis­tinct type of in­for­ma­tion that cuts across many sites? Or within a par­tic­u­lar site, are there ar­ti­cles posted by a small num­ber of peo­ple that alone are re­ally worth read­ing?

Which sites or sources of in­for­ma­tion – de­fined as above – give you the worst re­turns of ideas and stim­u­la­tion? What is the 80 per cent that gives you at most 20 per cent of great stuff?

How much time do you truly spend online, and how do you as­sess the ben­e­fit of each chunk of time? For a week, put a sheet of pa­per next to your lap­top or have a lit­tle notebook with you when­ever you use your phone. For each chunk of time online, record the time, the site, the na­ture of the source (for ex­am­ple, what is it about?) and give the ben­e­fit from the time online a rat­ing from 0 (use­less) to 10 (ter­rific). Even if you only man­age to do this for a sin­gle day, I guar­an­tee that you will have some sur­prises that will start you think­ing.

What is the 10 per cent of your time off­line that gives you the very best re­sults – the value to your­self, your com­pany and other peo­ple? Now com­pare that to the value of the top 10 per cent of your time that you spend online. Which is more valu­able? Is the dif­fer­ence marked?

Try go­ing for a whole 24 hours with­out go­ing online. Dis­count­ing the with­drawal symp­toms, was that an ex­pe­ri­ence you would like to re­peat? Why? Why not?

How much time do you spend online in 24 hours? Now imag­ine that you were only al­lowed to spend one­tenth of that time online. Which few ac­tiv­i­ties would you re­tain? Try this one day as an ex­per­i­ment.

What would hap­pen if you only went online in your leisure time? Would that in­crease or de­crease your over­all pro­duc­tiv­ity? Your over­all hap­pi­ness? Again, try it as an ex­per­i­ment. Once you have con­ducted your au­dit,

write up the find­ings. Then take these ac­tion steps: Stop the bot­tom 80 per cent of time (rel­a­tive to re­sults) spent online.

Dou­ble the top 10 per cent of time spent online on those spe­cific sites or ac­tiv­i­ties that de­liver the great­est re­sults – pro­vided this time com­pares favourably to sim­i­lar time spent off­line.

Stop displacement ac­tiv­ity by a rigid regime you im­pose. For ex­am­ple, spend no time online un­til you have achieved the most im­por­tant sin­gle ob­jec­tive you set your­self at the start of the day.

Use the most plea­sur­able time online to re­ward your­self for hav­ing achieved im­por­tant off­line ob­jec­tives.

Once you have had two “plea­sure in­ter­ludes” online each day, al­low no more un­til you have “clocked off” from work. If you fol­low these steps, I prom­ise you will get far more from far less time online. Richard Koch is the au­thor of The 80/20

Prin­ci­ple. A re­vised edi­tion of the book is pub­lished this month

“We are del­uged by tidal waves of in­for­ma­tion and there are few guides on how to avoid drowning” “Once you’ve had two ‘plea­sure in­ter­ludes’ online each day, al­low no more un­til you’ve ‘clocked off’”

Koch: con­duct an online in­for­ma­tion au­dit of your in­ter­net us­age

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