You might think it’s a really bad thing to lose your home internet connection especially if you work as an online freelancer. Yet I cut off my home internet connection – willingly. This action has easily one of the best things I’ve done to advance my freelancing career.
I still have internet access. I visit places with wifi like local libraries, restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores. But I can’t get online anymore at my home.
I’ve lost a lot of convenience. If I need to go online, I have to get in my car and drive to another location. But I’ve traded this loss of convenience for a much better thing: increased productivity. I estimate that I’ve improved my working efficiency by 50%. And that time includes all the driving I have to do.
How has this drastic move helped me so much? To answer this question, let’s start from the beginning.
A Book About Change
I’ve always felt like I could work more effectively, that I could get more done in a day than I was used to. I tried many different things including creating a schedule, breaking up my jobs in smaller tasks, keeping track of my hours, and following the advice of books like Getting Things Done. Those things helped some but they were difficult habits to make. Also, they only gave a small boost in productivity. I wanted a bigger increase and I felt like there was a lot of room for improvement.
I follow some of the top business blogs and one of them, The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, had an interview with Chip Heath. Chip and his brother, Dan, are famous for the bestselling book Made to Stick. I really enjoyed that book so I listened intently to what Chip had to say in the interview.
He spoke about his newest book, Switch, which is also co-written with his brother. This book seemed very interesting and relevant to my situation. The book is about change. It looks at the science and research of how people and organizations change successfully. Based on their research, Chip and Dan drew a couple conclusions for implementing change in your life.
I wanted to become more productive so I bought the book.
The book had several principles but the ones that caused me to cancel my internet connection were “Find the Bright Spots” and “Tweak the Environment”.
Find the Bright Spots
The first principle is about examining your past successes and then emulating them. I looked back at my three year online business career and tried to think of times when I was really productive. It was hard at first since my memory tends to be fuzzy. But I soon recalled one event.
It occurred about a year and a half ago. I had found a writing contest for a gaming site. I was between clients at that time so I was looking for some side income while pitching new clients. I felt like I could win the writing contest since I had a lot of experience with the topic.
For some reason, I decided to forgo the usual method of writing on the computer. I grabbed some notebook paper and a pen and went to my favorite bookstore.
I spent the next hour scribbling furiously an outline and then a rough draft. Then, I went home, typed and edited the draft for about an hour, and emailed it off. The final draft was around 1500 words. Depending on your writing speed, 1500 words in two hours may seem fast or slow. But for me, it was much faster than my normal speed.
I won first place in the contest and pocketed a couple hundred dollars for my prize. Not bad for two hours of work, I thought. However, at that time, I didn’t learn or change anything in my life because of that episode.
But now, armed with the knowledge that past successes are great case studies to examine, I analyzed the event to figure why I had such a big boost in productivity.
I thought for a while and realized that I was very efficient at the bookstore because I didn’t have the internet to distract me. The bulk of my wasted time was coming from internet distraction.
When I was online, I realized that I was always tempted to surf the web. Whether it was to check my stats, read the newest posts from my RSS feed, find out the scores of my sports teams, check for Facebook updates, or look at my email inbox, there was always something to would come to mind and sooner or later I would give in to the urge and stop the work I was doing. I was not good at staying focused and resisting the temptation to surf the web.
Studies show that frequent interruptions are the bane to productivity. That’s why it’s hard to get anything done in a cubicle job if your coworkers are always stopping by to chat. I didn’t have any coworkers to interrupt me but I didn’t need them. The internet was more than enough to keep me distracted from the jobs I needed to do.
I’ve always had an insatiable hunger for knowledge. I learned how to read very early in life. And boy, did I love to read. Growing up, my parents had a lot of books covering many different subjects and I read most of them. One day they bought three different used encyclopedia sets. Within a couple of months, I had read through all of them. I was still in elementary school.
Of course, bookstores and libraries were enjoyable places for me. In my teen years, I spent many summers at the library during my free time just reading. Now, I wasn’t antisocial. I had friends like any normal teenager, but I regularly had to get my reading fix.
By now, you probably realize the implications of having an online connection in my life. The internet is by far the biggest bookstore or library. I loved being online and spent many hours glued to the screen. If there is such a thing as online addiction disorder, I’m pretty sure I have it.
One other thing from Switch. The book talked about self-control, or self-supervision, being an exhaustible resource. In other words, it takes energy to fight temptation and we don’t have unlimited energy supplies. Each ounce of energy you use up to battle distraction and interruption is energy you can’t use to do your work.
Every time I got online, I had to spend some mental effort to avoid surfing the web and that lowered my ability to focus. Instead of spending that effort to do my work, I had to use it to keep myself from surfing the web.
Tweak the Environment
Once I realized that I was wasting mental energy to fight temptation, I decided to apply the second principle, “Tweak the Environment”. About two weeks ago, I canceled my internet connection.
Without the internet at home, I’ve been able to remove most of my distractions. I’m much more focused when I work and my writing speed has improved as a result.
You might think, don’t you get distracted whenever you have to get online? Yes, I still do. Old habits die hard. But my ability to avoid distraction has gotten much better because I’m training myself to focus during the offline work time.
Also, I only get online when work requires it. Most of my work time is offline. Therefore, I’m starting to associate my computer time as work time instead of blurring the distinction of work and play. This had made it easier to avoid temptation while I’m online.
Plus, it’s easy to limit my online time with a simple little trick. I often go to the wifi locations without my AC adapter. That means I only have two hours before my laptop shuts down. The short time period gives me motivation to finish my work quickly.
When I’m online, I look for all the webpages that I need for research. Then, I save them on my hard drive. At home, I refer to those pages to write my articles.
This process has an added benefit. It forces me to break up the writing process in smaller chunks and go step by step instead of being overwhelmed at the whole scope of the article.
Without a home connection, I’m forced to be strategic with my time. Creating a schedule used to be an easy habit to break but now it’s a necessity. I need to know which tasks require internet connection and which ones can be done offline.
You’d be surprised at how much you can get done without the internet. For example, this article was written entirely offline. I estimate that I only spend 20% of my time online.
Also, I thought I would miss the net but I’ve gotten used to it. And since I’m not wasting a lot of time surfing the web, I’m spending less time on the computer. I have more free time to hang out with friends. I’m finally achieving the work/life balance that many web workers struggle to attain.
I’m not advising you to cut off your home internet connection. Although, if you’re like me and struggle with being distracted by the internet, it’s not a bad idea to consider. But probably, you’re a different person than me.
Instead, think of times in your life when you were really productive and try to recreate that environment on a more regular basis. Basically, find or create an environment that disallows your unproductive behavior.
Maybe there are certain time periods when you feel more effective. Try to work during those periods more often.
Maybe there are places where you do better work. Visit them more often.
If you have small kids, you may want to develop the habit of waking up early or staying up late so the kids don’t distract you.
Some people use programs like Dark Room to stay focused on their writing and avoid distraction.
Maybe you realize that you watch way too much TV and it’s cutting into your work. It might not be a bad idea to sell the tube. Will you really lose a lot if you miss your favorite TV shows?
Paul Graham, a famous tech entrepreneur, has an interesting solution. He set up a separate computer for using the internet while his main computer is disconnected.
Over to You
What are your best productivity tips? Please share them below in the comment section.
This is a guest post by Dee Barizo. He works as a freelance writer for several different companies. His latest personal project is called The Best Degrees, a degree website currently in development.