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Distracted Distance Learner: 25 Ways to Break Your Online Procrastination Habit

The Internet is full of all kinds of valuable tools that can make researching, writing, and studying easier than ever. But at the same time, the Internet can also be a huge source of distraction. While a little diversion is fine, excessive cyberslacking can have a big impact on your studies and performance if you're not careful. These are 25 methods for curbing your Internet usage and staying at the head of the class.

  1. Install an online time tracker. It's easy to while away hours of your day on addictive sites only to wonder later what happened to all the time you had to finish a project. Try installing a program like MeeTimer to keep track of where you're spending your online time. It will allow you to see what sites make up the bulk of your browsing time, and for the weak-willed, there is even an option to help deter you from using those sites.
  2. Turn off IM programs. Even if you have an account set up just for work, instant messaging programs can be a big drain on time when you're supposed to be productive. A polite question about what a coworker or client did over the weekend can easily spiral into a lengthy conversation that has little to do with work. Encourage those who want to contact you to use email or phone calls instead of IMs and you'll save yourself the temptation.
  3. Remind yourself of the consequences. It may seem harmless to browse the Internet when you're supposed to be working, but in reality there can be many costly consequences. Wasting valuable work time can cut into your personal life, leaving you stressed out from trying to complete work at the last minute. Post a small note on your computer to remind you when you're tempting to idly browse.
  4. Disable email notifications. Email can be incredibly disruptive to your work flow if you stop to read a new email every time one arrives. Turn off email notifications and only check emails at set times, perhaps after you've finished a certain amount of work, so that you won't be constantly disrupted.
  5. Change your attitude. The biggest obstacle to breaking your online procrastination habit is the way you think about your workday. If you're bored, unhappy, or just unmotivated, it can drive you to spend more time seeking out Internet stimulation than doing your work. Try approaching your job with more enthusiasm and reward yourself for a job well done.
  6. Turn on music. While music can be a distraction for some people, it can also be a great motivator for others. Instead of deriving stimulation from the 'net, use music to entertain you while you work. That way, you won't feel completely deprived of fun and you'll be getting work done at the same time.
  7. Create a separate user on your computer just for work. It can be helpful to create a separate user on your computer that has only programs used for work: no internet browsers, chat programs, or email allowed. If they aren't there, you will be less tempted to use them.
  8. Set up a news aggregator. To help you tame your idle browsing of news sites, blogs, and everything else, you can set up an aggregator. This will let you know when new content is posted so you won't have any excuse to log on just to check.
  9. Set your clock ahead. Part of the problem with idle browsing is the idea that you always have more time, so it won't hurt if you just look a little longer. You can help quell this urge by using a program like the Procrastinator's Clock. This clock is set 15 minutes fast, but randomly speeds up or slows down to keep you from knowing how much time you really have.
  10. Create quotas. You don't have to give up the Internet altogether in order to get some work done. Set up quotas for yourself so that if you complete a certain amount of work that you are rewarded with a certain amount of Internet usage. This way, both the need to get things done and the need for idle entertainment get met.
  11. Block your most-used sites. Everyone has a few sites that they just can't seem to stay away from no matter how strong their will is. Luckily, there are many programs you can use to block these sites during times you're supposed to be working. Try out LeechBlock to help you curb your addiction to your biggest time-wasting sites.
  12. Know your personal high and low productivity hours. Do you have a post-lunch slump? Hate mornings? Try to schedule your work around these low points in your day so that you'll be less tempted to go on the web as a pick-me-up when you're supposed to be working.
  13. Stick to a routine. One way to help you control your online procrastination is to create a daily routine. Get your body and mind used to working and resting during certain hours and you'll have a much easier time fighting the urge to surf the net.
  14. Use a timer. Whether you use a classic egg-timer or a more tech-savvy online version, timing your Internet usage can be helpful to keeping it in check. Simply set the timer for a specific amount of time and make sure when your time is up that you really do sign off.
  15. Let your computer nag you. For most people, the willpower to stay off the Internet just isn't there. So let your computer help you. Try installing a program like Webolodeon that will pester you if you try to use certain sites during working hours or aimlessly browse for too long.
  16. Create deadlines. Sometimes it can be hard to stay on task when it seems like you have a huge amount of time to finish a project. Create smaller deadlines within this timeframe to help motivate you and keep you from looking to the web to fill your day.
  17. Set up acceptable Internet hours. It's unreasonable to expect yourself to give up the Internet altogether, so set up times when you're allowed to use the 'net guilt free. A few Internet breaks throughout your day will allow you to keep up to date on the news or sports scores and still get your work done.
  18. Use other forms of communication. Spend less time on the Internet by spending more time making contact face-to-face or on the phone. Not only is this more personal, but you won't be tempted to do any shopping or read the latest gossip instead of attending to business.
  19. Let others help you. While it might be embarrassing to admit you need help, sometimes having other people look over your shoulder can be helpful. Ask a coworker or friend to give you a little nudge to get back to work, especially at times of the day when you know you're less productive.
  20. Eliminate uncertainty. A lot of random web browsing is due to not knowing what to do with your day or how to begin a project. Use a program like What to Do Next instead. This web-based program will store all the things you should be doing, choose something, and give you 10 minutes to get on task. That way, you'll never have to wonder what you should be working on.
  21. Stay organized. One of the biggest obstacles to productivity is disorganization. If you don't have to sort through stacks of papers, files, or your email inbox to get started on what you need to do for the day you'll be much more likely to get to the task. Making work painless makes using a diversion like the Internet less necessary, so give yourself a leg up by keeping your work orderly and easy to use.
  22. Make a schedule. While it might seem too restrictive for some creative types, creating a schedule can actually be quite helpful in curbing an Internet procrastination problem. Creating set times for breaks, food, work and even browsing the net can help give your day structure and discourage aimless activity.
  23. Don't become an addict. There are many sites on the Internet that are extremely addictive, whether they are games, social networking, or even the news. If you feel yourself becoming a little too attached to a certain site or to several sites, force yourself to take a break from using them for a few days or weeks. It's better to nip the problem in the bud rather than let it start taking over your life.
  24. Take structured breaks. There are many programs out there that can allow you to use the Internet as a form of entertainment for breaks in between work. Alternately, they can force you to take a break from the internet to get work done. Try installing a program like TimeOut to give you the break you need without letting it interfere with the rest of your workday.
  25. Unplug. If you've tried everything else and you just can't seem to stay away from the Internet, just unplug your computer. You don't have to go all day without it, but give yourself a few hours where you won't have the temptation.

The Internet can be a valuable tool for productivity--or a bane to getting any work done at all. It's all up to you in how you decide to use it. While some of these tips may not work for you, you can use them to get on the right track to responsible Internet usage.

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