I wonder how our father’s lived without the internet! The internet has been such a blessing to me. However the net can be a kind of double-edged sword. It can waste our time as it provides its benefits.

In this post, I want to look at how we can correct ourselves as we find ourselves drifting as we use the net. I am not an absolutely discipline person when I use it. I sometimes watch too many unproductive videos on YouTube. I follow Facebook posts till I ask myself where time went. However, I’ve found the tools I will be suggesting to combat drifting helpful. In fact I use them to guard myself from drifting in general. You might too. If you have suggestions, let me know. I want to learn from you also.

I said earlier that the internet has been a blessing to me. Here is why- this is the most important reason: I can study almost any topic that is of interest to me. I have read more books outside school. I read because I find really interesting ideas in them. I like practical books. The ideas of most books like that can be tested. An example of a book like that is the Checklist Manifesto. The writer, who doubles as a medical doctor, shares how useful having a simple tool like a checklist helps medical personnel to avoid accidents. He then extends his argument to the use of checklists to other fields. Generally, I like reading books by doers. I will read the works of an entrepreneur than read a consultant, or a management guru.

Reading is not the only way I have profited from the internet. I listen to podcasts. I must admit, in full transparency; I listen to few of them. The podcast I have found most useful is that produced by Tim Ferris on tim.blog. Check it out. He interviews doers, and people who are world-class at what they do. I tell myself listening to the podcast is expensive; so I often download transcripts of his interviews to read. Similar to reading, and somehow related to podcasts because you have to listen, I listen to audiobooks. I have been slacking on this recently, because of a problem I’ve identified with audiobooks. I have just recognised it as I am writing. I almost said I have been lazy procrastinating, but like most forms of procrastination it has an underlying cause. The problem with audiobooks is that you are unable to digest complex ideas. When you are reading text, you can easily pause to think about an idea. But with audio it’s difficult to do that. I use an app by name @Voicealoud to listen to books. It allows me to convert my books, which are in pdfs, into audio. Then I press play. It has different voices, pitches… it’s called settings these days.

I have started learning how to play the piano. I got the book I am using from the net. I got the pdf, and printed it. I know it’s not allowed. Please forgive me. I usually don’t do that. I have a drawing book which I will print when I feel the time is right. Sorry for the premeditation. It appears I am still not penitent.

I use YouTube for watching music videos, food channels (yes, I love food), debates, talks and wasting time. I waste time more often than watch the other kinds of videos. I don’t know exactly what I do. In the end, I find myself out of data. I am human.

As humans we will drift as we use the net. Let me use the personal pronoun from now on, because what happens to me might not happen to everyone. When I waste time on the internet, the internet is not necessarily the problem. I am. The best metaphor I can think of now to compare with the internet is money. Money is neither good nor bad. It is what I use it for that matters. I don’t think it is always a bad idea to waste time though. Sometimes intentionally wasting time is a good thing. I might write about this in the future. The problem is when we allow ourselves to surf on the net with no goal. Not even the goal to waste time. Whenever I do that I feel terrible. I begin to think of how short life is, and I am blowing quality time away. At least I could have used all that time to sleep.

In an earlier write up, I shared strategies on how to avoid wasting time on social media. Find it here. You can add the strategies I will be sharing now to the others.

There are two tools I want to suggest to you- journaling and personal tracking. With journaling, you keep a record of the happenings in the day. Not just happenings, but your goals too. To make things simple, it helps to answer these four questions:

  1. What happened today? (Usually a narrative. Be sure to be grateful.)
  2. What are my goals for today?
  3. What did I do well today?
  4. What can I improve? (This should also include things you are not doing that you can do, as well as things you are doing that you should stop.)

The ideal is to record twice in the journal, morning and evening. I am unable to do it twice. I feel lazy doing it. Even doing it once is a problem for me. I mean, I find it difficult to follow my own advice. As I was writing, I decided to check the last time I wrote in my journal. Two weeks ago. So I am slacking. But whenever I have written in my journal I have had clarity. I have also been able to make gradual improvements in my life. Deciding to resume writing this blog came to me as I thought of things I could improve as I was writing in my journal. I mentioned the clarity that comes from keeping a journal in passing, but it’s no small issue. When I write in my journal consistently I have a clearer idea of what I am doing with my time. I am able to question if my goals are even worth pursuing. Alan Grove, a former CEO of Intel, pointed out in his book High Output Management that the point of keeping memos during meetings is not to keep records as to clarify thinking. It’s the same with journaling. I know I am belabouring the point. But this is only to show how important I think it is.

This is just an aside. I even thought of not adding it because I don’t feel it’s really important. But I feel like adding it. The point is to write in the journal, not to have a beautiful journal. There is no point in having an expensive leather-covered journal, especially when you are not writing in it. I use a simple exercise book. Nothing fancy.

The other tool is the personal tracker. Peter Drucker, the management guru, once said that what you measure is what you improve. I find this to be true. And that’s where the power of the personal tracker lies. It allows you to measure how well you are doing things. You could measure based on hours, volume, pages, it depends on you. This is how my tracker looks like. I have rows and columns. Column heading based on the things I want to improve. I have as column headings- date, piano, scriptures, exercise, sleep. I could add more categories but I realized that the fewer the better. I had a column where I recorded pages of books I read everyday, but it started to feel like hard work so I removed that column. The problem is that I keep switching between books, so keeping track of the pages I read between books is difficult. The reward is not worth the work.

The personal tracker, if you’ve followed carefully, is a spreadsheet. But I do my spreadsheet on paper. I just had an idea, I could record it in an a spreadsheet app and do some analytics. That will be cool. You see the blessings of writing? It gives you ideas. So why don’t you start journaling?

Just like journaling, I sometimes get lazy doing personal tracking. I mean just taking a pen and writing less than fifty letters to keep myself tracked in a day. It’s sad. But all the times I have kept track, I have been able to make some beneficial changes in my life. An example is when I decided to exercise less and make changes to my sleeping hours. You might be thinking, really? Yes really. I am no body builder but I do some exercise. It got to a time when after exercising I felt extremely exhausted. So I decided to reduce the volume I was doing. I knew the volume that exhausted me. That was the blessing of keeping track. So I got feedback and I adjusted. The other example on sleeping is not what you think. It’s somehow similar to the exercise example, except that in the exercise example I toned toned down although I could consistently achieve my goal. So I decided to sleep less at some point in time. I wanted to do six hours. I almost couldn’t do it. I did it like five days in a row at some point. But the downside was that I felt uncomfortable in my wake. I also felt very sleepy during the day. I know six hours doesn’t sound like much work, but I couldn’t do it. For ego purposes, I want you to know that when I have to get urgent work done I can forgo sleep. But without that, from personal experience, sleeping less is counter productive. Some successful people advocate sleeping less. That you should work hard blah blah blah, I wonder if they track themselves. I wonder if they say that just to look good. There are a lot of smart people who advocate enough sleep like Naval Ravikant, James Altucher, and the guy who wrote the One Thing, sorry I have forgotten his name. To cut a long story short, I decided to sleep for 7 hours. I am the kind of person who can sleep for twelve hours straight even if I sleep in the afternoon. Based on my personal tracking, I realized I was sleeping between eight and nine hours more often than not. I thought that amount of sleep was too much. I could use the one or two hours I could save to at least read. I decided to try doing 7 hours and realized that sleeping for 7 hours is perfect for my body. So I know what is good for me. The challenge now is trying to achieve it. And my alarm helps. You must be wondering how a post about how to avoid drifting on the internet turns into a monologue about sleep. Although I used examples outside the internet as I went further into the tools I suggest, journaling and personal tracking, the formulae are the same; which is to have systems to measure your output, and know what you are doing with your time. Life is short.

Thank you for reading.

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