THE BLOG

How to Stop Procrastinating: Spend Less Time Online

13/01/2014 11:39 GMT | Updated 14/03/2014 09:59 GMT

I crave spare time like a chocoholic craves a Cadbury's Dairy Milk, and yet when I get it, I waste it.

I have so many projects I want to work on, words I want to write, emails I want to send, books I want to read, but I'm so distracted by what's going on online that I can't seem to get started.

The internet has had a huge impact on my attention span. It's now so short that I even check how long the YouTube clip I'm about to watch of a dog pushing another dog around in a buggy is going to last in case it eats in to too much of my day. As if watching that could ever be anything but a good use of my time.

The millions of opportunities the internet offers - Tweets to read! Photos to like! 27 reasons why briefs are better than thongs for me to wholeheartedly agree with! - that I find it almost impossible to remain focused on just one thing in case I'm missing out on something better.

And the clever thing is that it makes me feel extremely busy. My brow is furrowed, my fingers tap away furiously at the keyboard, and for a while I really believe that I am up to my eyes in activity, but I'm not really achieving anything at all. And it means that when I do actually get something done, however tiny - like accepting an event invitation on Facebook or sending a text message to my mum - I feel both exhausted and disproportionately proud of myself for doing it. Hooray for me.

I've never been addicted to anything before. I don't smoke, I don't drink much alcohol, and I've never tried any kind of illegal substance (though I did once take a second dose of Ibuprofen before the recommended four hour gap had passed. Please don't report me.) And now that I have gone and got myself an addiction, it's the least sociable one of all. Nobody wants to come round and watch me scroll through Twitter, do they? Guys?

I'm not even sure what it is that I'm addicted to. Perhaps it's the constant access to content that might make me laugh or cry, or maybe it's the daily contest to see if anything I say on Twitter or Facebook will get a reaction, or perhaps it's just the feeling it gives me of always having something to do. Either way, it can't be healthy.

Of course there are good things to come of it: knowing what's going on in the world, regular exposure to good, interesting writing, a way to connect with people all over the globe that was never possible before, but too much of anything can be bad for you.

I've started to envy those brave, brave people who have never joined Facebook, who don't know how Twitter works, and who tell me they've spent the evening reading a book and mean it. I want to be like them, to sit down and watch a television programme without fooling myself that the world gives a damn what I think about it, and to remember what life was like before you could sift through photographs of your ex-boyfriends without having to hire a private detective first.

And so I've decided to cut down. I'm writing this now with the internet switched off, the 3G on my phone disabled and a damp flannel by my side in case I start to sweat. And I tell you what, it feels good. I feel liberated, calm, and able to get things done. Look at this, I wrote this didn't I?

But I'm not suggesting that I quit altogether - let's not be too hasty. As an online writer, leaving the internet would be a rather daft move, but a significant reduction in my usage is definitely in order.

I'll develop an incentive scheme: Read a whole chapter of my book without looking at my phone and win 2 minutes on Buzzfeed; write a 350 word blog post and win five minutes on YouTube. I'll feel better if I only go online when I have actually achieved something first, rather than just because I'm wondering if anybody has noticed the 140 characters I wrote about how funny TripAdvisor reviews can be.

Take this blog: I've written the whole thing internet free and reached over 700 words, so now I can spend a full ten minutes online, secure in the knowledge that whatever happens, today has been worthwhile.

Excellent. I think I'll watch that dog clip a couple more times.