“I am NOT addicted to Facebook!”   I can hear some of you shouting…  But regardless of whether you call it an addiction, a hobby, or something you do when you’re bored, most of us spend too much time on sites like Youtube and Facebook.  That’s time that could have been spent on something creative, something productive, something outdoors…  While I’m not saying those sites are evil, I am saying we have to be careful to make sure these time sinks aren’t getting in the way of us living healthy, productive lives.


Cut Out the Time Sinks

Facebook and Youtube are two great examples of what I’m calling a “time sink.”  A time sink is any activity that consumes a significant amount of time.  The internet is full of time sinks (I won’t distract you by listing more examples), so the first thing you have to do is identify what sites you visit that could be classified as time sinks.

Make a list of the top three websites that you spend the most time on.  Don’t include websites you have to use for work or school.  Then look at the items on your list, and write an estimate of how much time you spend on each site in a given week.  Now add up those estimates to get a grand total.  Check the table below to compare your results:

0 – 3 Excellent Keep doing what you’re doing!
4 – 6 Pretty Good Think about ways to minimize usage.
7 – 10 Needs Work Consider making noticeable changes to your schedule.
10 – 15 Danger Zone Careful — try going on a fast from your top time sinks.
15+ Addicted This is enough for a part-time job! You need to make major changes to cut back.


Now that we’ve identified how much time we’re actually spending on our top three time sinks, let’s talk about ways to shrink that number.


Go On A Facebook Fast

One great way to cut back is to go on a fast from your top time sink(s).  Think of it as “dieting for web surfers.”  Make some rules to limit yourself, and then put in some checks to help you follow those rules.  For example, you might make the following rule: “I will only watch Youtube videos on Saturdays,” or “I can only go on Facebook for 20 minutes each night.”  You could even apply time restrictions to your rules: “I will only check Facebook between 12pm and 1pm.”

Now that you’ve made some rules for yourself, you need to make sure to follow them.  While some people have enough self-discipline to regulate themselves, others need additional help.

One way to do this is by recruiting a friend or family member to keep you in check.  Decide how often they should check in with you (probably daily or weekly), and then you’ll know you have to answer to them.  If you are up for it, you and your helper can up the ante by adding rewards (“dinner’s on me if you make your goal”) or by adding punishments (“you owe me a sit-up for each minute you go over”).  This requires having a friend or family member that is committed to helping you succeed.  If you don’t have someone who can help you, you can still set up positive and/or negative reinforcement for yourself, but that does take more self-discipline to follow through.


Victory Through Forced Compliance

Another method to reach your goals is by putting up obstacles for yourself.  There are many tools available that limit your access to websites that you specify according to certain schedules and rules.  There are free tools (such as mTime) that block all internet access according to a schedule, as well as paid tools (Internet Lock, iNet Protector) that give additional flexibility for specifying specific websites.  My personal recommendation would be to use the Google Chrome browser, since it has many helpful plugins that are free.  Two helpful free Chrome plugins are Facebook Nanny and StayFocusd.  These tools will help force you to follow the rules that you set for yourself.


Replace Time Sinks with Productive or Healthy Activities

Now that you’ve freed up your schedule, what should you do to fill the time?  Well, trimming the fat (in terms of web surfing) should allow you to stay on top of other things, such as paying bills or responding to lengthy emails.  That alone would make many of us feel less stressed.  If you still have extra time (maybe you really were an addict), then I recommend doing one of those things you say you’d like to do someday… You know: learn to play the guitar, start jogging again, organize your DVD collection, spend more time with your kids, get more sleep…  I’m sure you can think of something positive to do!