Growing up in my suburban neighbourhood, high school students often loitered outside the local convenience store. Although it was possibly good for socializing, it was not the most productive use of time. (They could be playing road hockey, or video games! Or doing homework.) About 20 years later, people of all ages forgo the 7-11 sidewalk for another location for loitering: Cyberspace.

Apu Slurpee
Cyberspace may be great…but in the world of Slurpees and chocolate bars, convenience stores still reign.

Everybody needs regular breaks, but brief web surfing sessions can easily extend 30 minutes or more. This represents the transition from a rejuvenating break to a “cyberloafing” episode. Improved effectiveness in the workplace – and at home – could result from more efficient or limited breaks on time-draining websites.

One great strategy is the use of apps (for phones) and extensions (for browsers) that limit use of specific sites. These apps/extensions are customizable: You can choose which websites to apply your filter; how much time per day you get on these defined websites; and whether you want your time limit to apply to certain hours (e.g., 9-5) or days (Mon-Fri). My Google Chrome extension also has a “Nuclear Option”, which completely blocks chosen sites for a defined amount of time.

For me, the main time sinks are Facebook, Globe and Mail, and Flipboard. My apps (StayFocusd, Chrome; Stay Focused, Droid) have probably wrestled back about an hour per day for other tasks. I still check these sites/apps, but now my surfing is more brief and efficient. (Which George Takei post looks funnier? I can see Jill’s baby in the thumbnail; no need to click.) My settings allow 10 minutes per day on my phone and computer on these websites. At the end of alotted time, a slightly annoying reminder shows up (“Shouldn’t you be studying?”). Begrudgingly, I admit defeat for the day and turn to more important missions, such as writing grants or scooping dog poop.

If only my dog could scoop his own poop…

Overall, I would highly recommend setting a reasonable limit for surfing time-sucking sites by using Focus apps. These have several upsides:

  • Improved focus at work;
  • More time for missions around the house;
  • Enhanced attention for friends and family; and
  • More presence and mindfulness.

Moments of awe await in the real world.

As for me: I’m off to get a Slurpee.

Cyberloafer? Use Focus apps to enjoy web surfing breaks – without going overboard