The Top 10 Online Habits That Make My Life Simpler

by Henrik Edberg


Image: Steve Keys / License

“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Albert Einstein

After having spent over 3 years with writing on this website – thank you all for the support during the years! – I have done much work online and like to keep my life here simple.

I do things that way because I want to spend most of my time doing creative stuff like writing. Or hanging out with friends and people close to me. Or just relaxing. So I want to keep my life as simple and relaxing and free of unnecessary negative stuff as possible.

  1. I write short emails. I tend write emails containing only a few sentences, usually between one and five. If you focus on keeping it short and focused then you’ll probably discover that this is a good solution in most cases.
  2. I check blog comments, email, Facebook etc. only once a day. Having a pretty strict routine with all the checking you can do online reduces not only how many times a day you check the same sites. It also reduces aimless online browsing a lot in general in my experience. I usually attach this routine after my regular morning routine and at least moderate blog comments and my Facebook account during that time. This keeps things consistent.
  3. I don’t subscribe to feeds by using a RSS reader. If you don’t want drop all your RSS-feeds completely, consider trimming them. Perhaps to just the 10 feeds that you read the most?
  4. I subscribe to very few blogs or newsletters via email. This reduces clutter and distractions in my inbox. There is usually an unsubscribe link at the bottom of newsletters etc. Spend just five or ten minutes to click those links and unsubscribe from the those emails you never read anyway.
  5. I singletask to not become distracted. I do for example not moderate comments while at the same time having the newspaper and email inbox open in other tabs. I do one thing at a time and finish that one before moving on to the next one. This stops me from letting hours of time each week disappear while flicking around between all those open tabs and windows in my browser.
  6. I’m careful with Instant Messaging availability. If you are available on MSN Messenger, Skype or the chat function for Facebook then people will probably want to talk to you. This can create a lot of interruptions and you spend a lot of time with catching up or having random discussions. Nothing wrong with chatting of course, but make sure that it doesn’t steal focus and time away from your most important things. Focus on your work when you are working and focus on instant messaging when you have time for that.
  7. I very rarely visit online forums. This habit is not for everyone of course. Online forums can be great support groups and so on but consider your forum use and how you can improve your forum habits. Perhaps you can just check your favorite forum and post once a day? Or unregister from the ones that you just spend time on but don’t really get that much out of?
  8. I use Teux Deux for my to-do list. I use this free online to-do list and I keep my list short each day. Only the two or three most important tasks. This keeps me focused and helps me to just remember what to focus my time on today. I then use the tool in the tip below to allot time for the different tasks and other activities.
  9. I use Google Calendar for my schedule. This one helps me to actually get started with doing something at the right time. And to finish it within perhaps an hour instead of letting the task take all afternoon (or in some cases all day). It also helps me reduce procrastination and aimless browsing because it tells me what to do next when I get lost in daydreams or feel like checking the Oatmeal for way too long.
  10. I set time limits. This is usually shorter time periods that I don’t have in my schedule. I can for instance find such a time period if I finish a scheduled task early or just need a break. I do for example check Twitter a few times a day – two or three – for just 5 minutes each time period. This does of course expand into more time from time to time but generally I stay within those limits. It may be hard to do so in the beginning but after a while your discipline becomes stronger.

3 quick tips for adopting these habits

Here are three simple things that make it easier to adopt these habits and to stick with them.

Use small, invisible barriers to quit a website.

I have removed the websites I got a bit too fond of from my bookmarks in Firefox. Now I have to type in the address or google for the websites. This extra, very small barrier has helped me to check the websites far less than I used to. Oftentimes I forget to check them for many days and realize that they weren’t really that important after all.

Do the right thing.

Procrastinating usually makes you feel stressed and kinda lousy about yourself. But if you do the right thing each day and focus on finishing the most important tasks in your life then you feel good about yourself. Your self esteem goes up and over time your sense of what you deserve in life goes up too. This is a very powerful motivation for me at least to stick with these habits each week and to not get stuck in procrastination.

Have better things to do.

I usually don’t feel much like spending a lot of extra time online. It’s simply more fun and exciting to do other things. I have been writing about just getting a life quite a bit lately. But I feel that if people just have more exciting lives in general – and that don’t have to mean skydiving each day, just perhaps getting a hobby or signing up for some local course – then many problems with overanalyzing things, needless drama and complications and aimless online procrastination would decrease or go away.

Because now you simply don’t have the time or energy for that anymore.

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{ 28 comments }

Ryan April 8, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Henrik, I like your tips buddy! I’m partial to setting time limits.

I write in a Wordpad what I am going to accomplish in an hour, and when it’s expired I hit a hard stop. No exceptions. This keeps me in an orderly state of mind which makes life more pleasant.

I also check blog comments, FB comments, etc once a day. Chatting with others is great but it can get distracting. My #1 goal is to create and it’s tough to write blog posts are inspirational tweets when I’m chatting all day.

Christine Simiriglia April 9, 2010 at 2:04 am

This post is right on the money. Technology is great, as long as we control it and it doesn’t control us. There is a related post about managing distractions that your readers might find interesting here: http://www.organize-more-stress-less.com/home/2009/7/10/from-distraction-to-opportunity.html

Gregg April 9, 2010 at 2:27 am

Hi, Henrik:

This post really resonates with me as someone who struggles with massive anxiety issues and who uses the internet as a tool for procrastination.

I’m curious to hear some of the details on 8 & 9 in your list if it’s not too much trouble. There are two specific things I’d greatly like to hear more about.

The first is how would you use a simple to-do list like Teux Deux to help you do more complicated tasks. One of my issues is that I stumble upon bigger tasks like “paint bedroom” and benefit greatly from breaking these things down into small chunks. How do you handle your larger projects?

Secondly, I’m curious to hear how you use Google Calender to schedule in specific work. Right now, I only use it for specific appointments, but I’ve recently realized the benefit of “scheduling” both break times and work- and personal-related tasks into scheduled periods to do them. Can you talk a little more about how you use Google Calender as you mention in 9?

Thanks! I really appreciate your blog!

Henrik Edberg April 9, 2010 at 10:55 am

Hi! Thanks!

Sure, no problem.

I usually don’t have many complicated tasks or projects running at the same time. My one big project now is finishing my next ebook. So I plan to write one chapter each day when I don’t have to many other things going on (writing blog posts, newsletters etc.) . So I have that in my to-do list for a day and then I plan in a few hours in the afternoon in Google Calendar to accomplish that for example.

I use the left column of the Someday section of Teux Deux to remind me of the big projects. You could use that for painting the bedroom and then put “buy paint” on the to-do list section for today. And then for example preparing and painting two walls on Monday and the other two walls on Wednesday.

I use Google Calendar for a schedule similar to a school schedule. Yesterday I planned in lunch, then a few hours to work on my book, then an hour between 16-17 to work out. Then I had dinner scheduled and then to write this post between 18:30-20:00. I usually take breaks when I feel I need them or when I finish something early.

Hope that helps!

Matt April 9, 2010 at 6:49 am

Nice list. This post inspires me to purge the wasteful time I spend on the internet. I found #2 and #3 most relatable to my bad habits.

Lucky Balaraman April 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

Excellent tips, Henrik , many which are already in my toolbox.

Question: Do you have a separate time manifesto for weekends?

Henrik Edberg April 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

Thanks! I usually don’t schedule or plan that strictly for weekends. I just hang out with people, relax, workout etc. But sometimes I do a normal workday on a Sunday or Saturday too if I haven fallen behind with work or just feel inspired.

Spiral April 9, 2010 at 10:11 am

Great tips! I have been lessening my online presence over the last few months and it has really made me feel more productive and happy. I get so much more artwork completed and I feel a lot healthier for not sitting around in front of my screen all day. The google calendar tip really interests me, I’ve never tried to use it but since I have got an HTC phone it would make a lot of sense.

Thank you, as always, for the helpful information and inspiring blog posts.

Hilary April 9, 2010 at 11:17 am

Hi Hendrik .. thanks – really useful to know how someone who is busy and has a ‘good’ following conducts their on line life .. the discipline of keeping to schedules and staying focused.

Thanks and enjoy your weekend .. Hilary

Scott April 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Henrik – great post. Im not sure I completely agree with eliminating the RSS feed though. Properly managed (which is the key) it allows one to know when new content has arrived so you dont need to go check. I’d rather consume content Im interested in than look for it. Case in point thats how I knew you had a new post today. The flip side is purging the sources from your feed that are nothing but huge time sucks. Similar to what you have recommended for email.

Dena April 9, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Hey Henrik,

Great post! I just want to let you know that I featured it in my weekly Friday Carousel of links here: http://evolutionyou.net/blog/carousel-040910/. I think that my readers will really enjoy this.

Have a great weekend!

In love & light,
Dena

Christopher Foster April 9, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Henrik, I want to thank you for this post and for your blog. Your various tips are all good. I partcularly resonate with your emphasi on the simple requirement to “do the right thing.” This really simplifies the heck out of life. I’ve found time and again that if I say to myself something like, “What’s the right thing here? or “If it’s right, it will happen” — life really opens up and flows for me.
I also really appreciate the discipline obviously part of your approach to life. I recently realized how important it is to do some commenting — share a bit of myself with others in this way — and requiring I leave a minumum of two comments a day really helps me stay on track with this. All the very best to you Henrik.

Clinton Skakun April 10, 2010 at 11:16 pm

“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Albert Einstein

A good question I asked myself once was, “is this really important enough to do often?” things like social networking, or anything that doesn’t keep me focused on major goals I deprive of “oxygen” or in other words my time.

Henrik Edberg April 12, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Thanks for adding all your insights and own tips for making life simpler and better. :)

rob white April 12, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Great tips Henrik. Especially pertinent these days is: “I singletask to not become distracted.” I recently saw a Frontline episode that followed MIT students who are so caught up in ‘multitasking’ that the professors have to dummy down the curriculum. It turns out they are Facebooking, Youtubing, etc so much that they are performing worse and worse. They have the illusion of productivity but the reality is far from it.

Marysa Sheren - Fresh Living April 13, 2010 at 4:32 am

As many of us become increasingly computer-centric and enjoy the benefits of the internet and technology, we also face added challenges to productivity. As you stated, not “doing the right thing” makes us feel terrible about ourselves. These guidelines and tips for increasing productivity are so helpful, and really relevant to our daily lives. Thanks so much for the wise words!

Dr. Samantha April 13, 2010 at 4:39 am

Great tips! I have one to add: don’t open an email unless you are prepared to respond to it (if it takes 5 minutes or less). I used to find that I would browse through emails just to see what I got, but would wait to respond until later because I was lazy… which means double the time is spent on emails since I need to re-read when I finally respond.

Baker April 13, 2010 at 7:45 am

I found this post very helpful. I particually like the idea of checking comments, facebook, and email only once in a day. This takes a lot of discipline, but I do see how the results can be very dramatic when one practices this daily.

Megan April 13, 2010 at 10:51 am

First of all, I love that quote from Einstein. And you’re right. Many of us complain that we don’t have time to do the other stuff we couldn’t do. But if we don’t have the discipline to control the time we spend online, we wouldn’t really have the time for anything else. I agree, it’s all about time management and prioritizing. Personally, I never liked RSS feeds. I feel like it’s just like people spamming my email. And let’s face it, we don’t read all of those feeds. Not that I’m saying it’s not useful. It’s just sometimes, it’s added clutter and distraction.
The important thing is to stay disciplined and stay focused. Here are some tips on staying focused http://budurl.com/2jdz

Christian Louboutin April 17, 2010 at 6:02 am

Agree with you.

Melinda Neely April 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Thanks for the constructive suggestions for someone who is helplessly disorganized. Next week, I will link to this in my post: 10 Memorable Tips for the Forgetful Parent.

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks April 19, 2010 at 7:32 am

As a fairly new blogger, I’m trying to find balance with online time v. focused work time. I’ve slowly been reducing the number of times to check email, Facebook, comments, and stats. It does make a difference in my productivity when I stay on task.

Question: Do you have any particular tips for new bloggers? I’m in the food blog faction and the vast number of online food networks and social networks is a bit overwhelming. Any thoughts are appreciated?

Henrik Edberg April 20, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Hi, you can read what I learned during my first year as a blogger in this article:

http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2007/09/24/how-to-build-a-somewhat-successful-blog-16-lessons-i-have-learned/

Hope that helps!

Jeroen April 20, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I just LOVE how you write an article about efficient online habits, including tips like “don’t subscribe to too many RSS feeds” and “don’t get too many email registrations”…

and below the article….

is an RSS feed
and an email subscriber :D

DaveUrsillo April 22, 2010 at 3:52 am

These tips are so simple but that’s what makes them such helpful advice. I get distracted working online all day with clicking around to different sites. I need to better regiment when I do what and for how long. Maybe its a product of a short attention span, or simple boredom from working alone all day every day. But I will take these tips to heart, so thank you for them!

Glad to have found you blog.

Best,
Dave

Michelle @ Following Your Joy April 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Hi Henrik,

It’s nice to see someone taking a stand about minimizing all the incoming distractions! Those distractions certainly abound and will not be going away any time soon (in fact, I believe that our world will only get “busier” and more distracted as time goes on).

Something I did recently was unsubscribe from all (yes, all!) e-newsletters; I no longer receive any subscription emails. Instead, I choose to keep up with those folks I admire via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and my Google Reader/feeds. That way, I can ‘go to’ the information when it’s good for me…rather than it coming to me at a time when I’m involved in something else. This eliminates the need to make the decision on the spot: “What should I do with this email now?”

Appreciate hearing your insights on the topic–sounds like you’ve got a good thing goin’ on!

Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com April 28, 2010 at 10:07 am

Swallow that frog as they say! Getting rid of the hardest task first always allows you to move onto something easier next. This is a great way of starting the day.

Aileen June 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

Simple yet very informative. This post really made me think of how I, most of the time, waste hours checking Facebook updates, etc. I personally check Facebook for i don’t know..gazillion times in a day maybe. I now realize that I was just seeing the same updates over and over, there may be a few new added updates but they’re mostly from Facebook applications and games.

Your blog post is something I should have read a long time ago. I’ve been too preoccupied with so many unnecessary things, letting them take control of my way of living. You just made be see how simple life can be. All we need is willpower. This also reminded me of what my Dad used to tell me when I was a child… “Less is More”. In this case, less procrastinating, more time for important matters.

PS: Click on http://sn.im/wyeyb and know more on how to make your every day a simple yet great day.

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