How This One Simple Technique Boosts My Morning Productivity

by John Soares on May 21, 2012

I’ll get right to the technique: no Internet before breakfast.

Let me explain.

I’m an early riser. I’m in bed by 10 and I’m up around 5. I use these early hours to get a power start to the day by getting a substantial chunk of a freelance writing project done before I eat breakfast around 7:30.

The Problem: The Internet

I typically do a quick e-mail check when I first get to my laptop. And then, try as I might to stop myself, I’ll also spend about 5 minutes to:

  • Check the weather forecast
  • Look at the stock market futures
  • See if there’s any really big news

Then I get to work. But frequently I’m tempted to check my e-mail again to see if anything truly important has come in, and sometimes I give in to that temptation.

Distractions = Multi-tasking = Decreased productivity. Even though I usually don’t give in to the temptation, the thought itself is a distraction.

The Solution: No Internet

First the backstory. I moved from a rural area near Mount Shasta, California to Ashland, Oregon two weeks ago,  which meant I went from being a country mouse to a town mouse.

Which meant I finally had to use those security settings on my wireless router so neighbors wouldn’t drain all my bandwidth.

Which meant spending an hour fooling around with my wireless router trying to figure out how to set up a network and make it secure.

The result: everybody else can see my wireless connection and use it if they have the password, but for some strange reason I can’t even see the connection.

So… I have Internet only when I physically connect the modem to my laptop, and that’s only when I’m upstairs in my office.

And now to the solution: I work downstairs in the kitchen in the morning, just me, my laptop, my work project, and my coffee. And no Internet.

The Results

I get a lot of work done in those two hours. I feel very good about my progress, and that good feeling carries into the rest of my day, meaning I accomplish more in all the important areas of my life.

I also have spent several afternoons working downstairs Internet-free with the same high level of productivity.

I’ll Be Saying More About Avoiding Internet Distractions Soon

Avoiding distractions, especially from the Internet, is a key concern of mine, and I’ve made major progress in this area. I strongly urge everyone to read Nicholas Carr’s insightful book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, which details how Internet usage changes the structure of our brains and decreases our cognitive function.

Your Take

How much does the Internet interfere with your work? What techniques do you use to keep yourself focused on your writing or other projects? Share with us…

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amy Scott May 21, 2012 at 5:07 AM

Sorry to hear about your Internet woes, but I agree that getting away from the Internet makes us more productive! Thanks for the book recommendation; it looks really interesting. I’m going to start unplugging more often too.
Amy Scott recently posted…Why I Haven’t Written a Book

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2 John Soares May 21, 2012 at 7:29 AM

The Shallows is one of the two or three most important books I’ve read over the last five years. I highly recommend it.
John Soares recently posted…Is a College Education Necessary to Be a Successful Freelance Writer?

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3 Samar | The Writing Base May 21, 2012 at 5:38 AM

The last time I lost my internet, I managed to write an entire ebook. Granted, the internet outage lasted 2 days thanks to the service provider but I still can’t seem to get over how much I wrote in those 2 days!

There’s freedom in allowing myself to insert little notes that research more/add link/insert quote etc. in brackets when I hit a snag in my writing. When writing with the internet connected – which is always, I feel compelled to fill in the blanks immediately.

In the end, not only does it take me longer to write, it also break my concentration.

I think I’ll try internet free writing again :)
Samar | The Writing Base recently posted…3 Decisions That Can Make or Break Your Freelancing Business

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4 John Soares May 21, 2012 at 7:32 AM

Several times a year I literally go out into the wilderness to write, away from the Internet and away from cell phone coverage. I get so much done, and I also clear the cobwebs from my brain.

With the Internet available, the temptation is always there!
John Soares recently posted…Nine Key Steps to Freelance Success on LinkedIn

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5 Vishnu May 21, 2012 at 6:45 AM

Hi John, Since I’m traveling outside the country at the moment, the access to wifi is only in certain locations during the day. When I’m in my cabin in the evening and night – no access to wifi which has been the best place to kick off my blog and starting writing articles from it.

The question is how to resist the temptation when the internet is freely accessible:) ?

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6 John Soares May 21, 2012 at 7:34 AM

Resisting the temptation takes willpower, which can be developed.

There are also software programs that help by blocking Internet access, or restricting access to social media sites. I don’t know much about them, but I bet some readers will discuss them in later comments.
John Soares recently posted…The Well-Organized Freelance Writer’s Home Office

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7 Anne Wayman May 21, 2012 at 9:50 AM

Turning off the net always means I get more done… even though I don’t do it often.

Looking forward to reading the book.
Anne Wayman recently posted…The Future Of Storytelling, According to The Crowd

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8 John Soares May 21, 2012 at 10:15 AM

The book is really important for preserving mental health.

And for those of you with children and grandchildren, it also examines how excessive time with computer games damages the ability of children to concentrate in school.
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9 Stef Gonzaga May 21, 2012 at 9:55 AM

Hi, John! This reminds me of the whole four days I spent at Singapore without any internet connection. The rates per hour were extremely expensive for my budget, so I had to get through the day without a single drop of internet access.

It felt great.

I got to read articles and books I haven’t been able to finish, spend quality time with my daughter, and observe the sights and sounds around me as I was in a foreign place. All in all, it helped a lot in replenishing my love and passion for writing.
Stef Gonzaga recently posted…Five Useful Tools for Freelance Writing Projects

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10 John Soares May 21, 2012 at 10:17 AM

What a testimonial for spending time off the Internet! Thanks for sharing your experience Stephanie.
John Soares recently posted…What Freelance Writers Must Know About Inbound Marketing

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11 Wade Finnegan May 21, 2012 at 9:01 PM

John, I need to incorporate this little trick. It’s not my laptop, but my iphone. I love it, but it gives me email, twitter, and google+ too easily. Summertime is my go time for writing, so the more productive I can be the better.

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12 John Soares May 22, 2012 at 12:21 PM

Wade, that’s the primary reason why I haven’t gotten a smart phone. I don’t want to be tempted 24-7 to check my e-mail, or any other of the ten thousand things.
John Soares recently posted…What Freelance Writers Must Know About Inbound Marketing

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13 Dave Doolin May 21, 2012 at 10:21 PM

When programming, I don’t have that luxury anymore. The technical scene is just too complex and fast moving now. Books are awesome and get me 95% of the way, but 95% isn’t “done”, and the stuff which is obsolete in the book is usually in online errata.

What I have found is I have the ability to *absolutely* tune out the internet. I never read news, check stocks, or look at facebook. I use twitter maybe twice a week. Email, often I just ignore. Yes, it stacks up, so be it. I do have a few web comics I read, but those are fast.

This may be a function of exposure: I’ve been online continuously since 1992. =)

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14 John Soares May 22, 2012 at 12:23 PM

Good on you Dave. You’re an excellent role model.

I find that when I’m absorbed in my work, I have little or no desire to check the Internet for anything.

The key is finding work we love enough, or is challenging enough, that it truly absorbs us.
John Soares recently posted…Are Freelance Writers Introverts?

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15 Dave Doolin May 22, 2012 at 1:28 PM

After I commented, I reflected that I didn’t support your premise, which I completely agree with when possible. I’ve done what you’re doing, and it works *really* well.

Also, email being my only real downfall, I’ve been known to ignore email completely for days at a time. By “ignore,” I mean not checking it at all.

It turns out that when I come back to it, parsing several hundred emails goes pretty quick, 30-60 minutes, because I just want to get through them. Net time savings is 2-3 hours direct email involvement, and possibly a couple more hours productivity gained from not needing to switch contexts.

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16 Reina May 21, 2012 at 10:22 PM

So true! I wrote my first books (quickly) before I was even thinking about publishing, and I was not on any social media. I even wrote the first book by hand in notebooks. That productivity is gone since I’ve published and am managing social media for 2 pen names. Thanks for this reminder that sometimes we need to just unplug. I’m thinking of having my own “screen-free” days, like I have for my sons. :)

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17 John Soares May 22, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Reina, I usually set long periods during the day where I won’t check the Internet at all.

I also try to have at least one day a week that’s computer-free, but sometimes I’m very busy with projects for clients and have to forgo it.
John Soares recently posted…Nine Key Steps to Freelance Success on LinkedIn

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18 Kat Tate May 21, 2012 at 10:29 PM

Great tips (again)! Funnily enough, I wrote a post today about minimising distractions to find more time to write. The internet and other devices is high on my list of time-suckers. It’s just too easy to plug in and tune out of the tasks we need to complete. I’ll be keen to hear your distraction tips!
Kat Tate recently posted…How to find more time to write

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19 John Soares May 22, 2012 at 12:28 PM

I really like your post Kat — just tweeted it!
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20 Kat Tate May 22, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Thanks John! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed reading it.
Kat Tate recently posted…How to find more time to write

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21 Cathy Miller May 22, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Hey John-I didn’t know you moved to Ashland-welcome -we’re getting closer as neighbors-almost. :-)

Here in Idaho, we’re reputed as having one of the lousiest internet connection. It can get very frustrating. So I feel your pain to a small degree. But, I had a similar experience. During a longer than usual period of down time, I got a ton of work done on projects.

My other challenge for my productivity is interruptions once my Mom gets up so I adjusted a while ago to use my early morning to zoom through work. Like you, I stay off the internet – or at least try to. I am also up at 5 AM.

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22 John Soares May 22, 2012 at 12:32 PM

It’s such a good feeling to get up early, greet the dawn, and get some solid work done while everyone else still slumbers.

And we are getting closer, although it’s unlikely I’ll move any nearer to Idaho. (Although Bend is quite the attractive town)
John Soares recently posted…Nine Key Steps to Freelance Success on LinkedIn

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23 Megan Harris (MeganWrites Media) May 22, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Given that much of my work involves communicating with clients and using social media for them, I tend to use the Internet frequently throughout the day. However, maybe you’re onto something, John! I think if I unplugged during the day (likely mid-morning and early afternoon would be best for my schedule) I could get more done. I’ll have to try it and see how it goes!

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24 John Soares May 22, 2012 at 12:33 PM

Please do try it Megan, and then give us a report!
John Soares recently posted…Is a College Education Necessary to Be a Successful Freelance Writer?

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25 Megan Harris (MeganWrites Media) May 25, 2012 at 10:39 AM

I’ve been doing it the last two days and feel SO much more productive! I limit the Internet to just having Pandora stream, then set out to work for a while. Amazing how much you can get done with minimal distractions!

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26 Steve Smith May 23, 2012 at 7:15 AM

John, thanks for posting this. It is one of the main things that has been keeping me from doing any real work lately. Have been so tied to the Internet that no writing has been happening. You inspired me to create an Internet phone free zone 2 hours a day. Thanks.
Steve Smith recently posted…Gene Burnett Sharing Leveling and Uprighting

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27 John Soares May 31, 2012 at 8:25 PM

I’m glad I helped out Steve. I do hope you’ll keep sharing your martial arts insights on Facebook!
John Soares recently posted…The Well-Organized Freelance Writer’s Home Office

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28 Amelia Ramstead May 23, 2012 at 10:18 AM

I don’t know if I could get away with actually turning off the Internet, but I’ve had good luck so far with the Pomodoro technique. Knowing that I have a short break to check my email and hop on Facebook helps keep me focused and I don’t have that compulsion to go wandering off anymore.
Amelia Ramstead recently posted…Death of a Coffeehouse

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29 Lynn May 23, 2012 at 1:54 PM

Duh! Why did I not think of this?! Such a brilliant tip. One drawback to relying on wireless internet at the house is that I’m always connected, so I’ll have to make a concerted effort to turn AirPort off. I bet I could not only get more writing done, my house would be cleaner! :D

Thanks for this!
Lynn recently posted…How a Baby Turtle Changed My Perspective

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30 Joe Bailey May 24, 2012 at 12:41 AM

It takes a lot of discipline to not check the Internet before breakfast, or whilst having breakfast, or within the morning either. But it is true that by separating your Internet consumption from your other routine tasks it gradually becomes easier.

When I worked from home I fell into the trap of checking the net first and then not jumping off all day!

Deary me. I’m better now though, the Internet has its own room now!

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31 Dawn-Renee May 25, 2012 at 1:05 AM

I agree that “unplugging” is very important. However, for me, getting on the internet in the morning is my way of “waking up” my brain! I’m not a morning person and usually my bedtime is around midnight. I get up around 6am only because I have to get my teens to school in the mornings, otherwise during the summer I will sleep until 7 or 9am. It usually takes me a while to get the “fog” from my brain and that’s usually by getting on the computer and spending some time on Facebook, checking the news, and catching up on emails.

The trick is that I learned how to “time block” when I worked as an administrative assistant. I don’t schedule myself to death, but I do have set times throughout my day where I devote it specifically to writing projects. When I’m doing those, let’s say from 10am – 12pm, I do not get on the internet or check my email or phone no matter what, unless I have to use the net to research something for what I’m writing. Then, I quickly get off the internet.

Another trick that I use is that I take time in my day to unplug and go work out, have lunch, read a book, etc. Then, at 9pm on the dot, I’m off the computer/smartphone altogether because that’s the time that the hubby and I agreed on so that we can “connect”, if you will. It’s a great system that usually works. It’s not always ideal, but it does work for the most part and keeps my stress level at bay.
Dawn-Renee recently posted…To Blog or not to Blog? That is the Question!

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32 Frank Farmer May 31, 2012 at 7:47 AM

John,
First, let me say that I really appreciate your insightful website. This is the first comment I’ve made even though I am a long-time “lurker” on your blog.

This post touched a nerve with me, particularly the book recommendation. In my work as a Psychologist with our local school system, I see first-hand how the internet has impacted this generation of young people, especially the way they approach their academic responsibilities.

I recently had a conversation with a high school senior about how I managed my way through high school and college back in days before the internet was at our fingertips. After I mentioned this, she asked, “Mr. Farmer, how did you write papers and do projects for your classes with no internet? What did you do?” It just seems like the internet, to some degree, causes us not to have to work as hard, think as deeply, or make as much effort as we once did. This can be both a good thing and a not-s0-good thing, depending on how we manage our usage of it.

Keep up the good work John,
Frank in Tennessee

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33 John Soares May 31, 2012 at 8:28 PM

Thanks for writing Frank. I’m also quite worried about what the Internet and cell phones are doing to kids. Their ability to concentrate is way down, and they interact less with the real world, including nature, but also just paying attention when walking down the street while texting.

Technology has its place, but I think in a decade or so we’ll really get good data on the harm excessive use has done to many of us.
John Soares recently posted…Is a College Education Necessary to Be a Successful Freelance Writer?

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34 Gaori June 15, 2012 at 12:12 AM

I totally agree with you! With internet, it’s easy to give in to various temptations like checking mails, googling something or the other.With so many distractions, it takes much longer to finish what you initially set out to do.
If you schedule ‘internet free hrs’ in your routine, you can focus on one thing at a time and get it done faster. It boosts your productivity and leaves extra time at your disposal too!

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35 Clinton Wu August 26, 2012 at 7:56 AM

This is a nice solution. For email distraction, I’ve also found that setting up an auto-responder can help ease the distraction to check by making you feel more accountable to live up to the auto-response.

Mine is set to respond with the following:
I try to only check email about three times a day so I can better focus on other things. If you need to reach me before I respond, you can always call me at the number below.

Clinton Wu
Co-founder, Skim.Me – Productive Browsing

I find myself now wanting more time to elapse between when an email is received and when I actually respond or take action. Otherwise those that receive a response within a minute think I’m still just sitting there with my inbox open! It’s helped me check email when I’m ready, not when my brain has the pulling desire to distract me from something more important and meaningful that I could be doing.

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36 John Soares September 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM

Clinton, I’ve considered the auto response, and I can see how it can be useful in some circumstances. I choose to use it when I know I’ll be a day or more in responding to an e-mail.

Totally agree with you about only checking e-mail 3 times a day. I try to do it when it can serve as a good break from a writing project.
John Soares recently posted…How the Web Changes Your Brain and Hurts Your Life

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37 Donna Brown September 3, 2012 at 6:46 AM

I agree with the fact that the internet is such a time drain. I actually love those days when the computer is down so that I am forced to focus on my offline work. I guess what I could do is plan hours during the day when I do not use the internet, during that time if I have something I want to research, put it on a list to do later. If I could designate 4 hours (2 hours in the morning and 2 in the afternoon) every to unadulterated writing without the internet, I know would see my word count grow!
Donna Brown recently posted…Except a Grain of Wheat Fall

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38 John Soares September 4, 2012 at 10:42 AM

Donna, I actually plan time completely away from the Internet so I can focus singly on my writing projects. I get so much more done!
John Soares recently posted…How the Web Changes Your Brain and Hurts Your Life

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39 STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) February 1, 2014 at 5:30 PM

John this has now become a Big problem. I mean it has impacted the way I practice law and it is down right annoying. I like your idea very much because the distractions and the constant emails drive me crazy especially since I am such an organized and tidy person. So your suggestion is a good one but I am still trying to figure out other strategies to get my life back. Just kidding, but not really!

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