Note: If this post is Too Much Information for you right now, you can read a summary of my TMI series by clicking here. For those who would like to tame their computer time or have helpful strategies to share, read on.

Days 365+100 TMI computer 4Spending/wasting too much time on the computer is probably my biggest challenge in terms of TMI. Since I am a writer and work at home, it’s not unusual for me to sit in front of my computer up to 10 hours a day. I am boss of my own time and happy doing what I do so this is not a problem, EXCEPT that I also like to be efficient. I take breaks (naps, walks, eat, do hobbies and chores) when I feel like it so I’m not glued to the computer. I have meetings, do workshops, spend time with my husband, travel, and sleep. I enjoy my life but it has been an ongoing compulsion of mine to decrease wasted time on the computer to make room for productive and meaningful time. So…in the interest of saving you all some time, I’ve spent several weeks researching how I use my computer time and analyzing how I might reduce some of the info clutter that beams at me from this device.

Your computer use, family circumstances, and personality might be drastically different from mine, but consider this a step to evaluating your own situation.

Following are the usual ways I use my computer:

Days 365+31 gmailEMAIL: On average I receive 42 emails a day. I only pay attention to about half of these. This is due to the beauty of Gmail’s tabs and filtering system. I glance at the social and promotional tabs maybe once a day and most of them can be quickly deleted. (Caveat: I also send out thousands of emails a week which often go into other’s “Promotion” tab. You can delete all but mine.) 🙂 Because of my stage in life (empty nest) my incoming primary email roughly falls into 1/3 work, 1/3 volunteer commitments, and 1/3 personal.

Time wasters:

  • Email replies “to all” that really only need to go to one person. Solution: I don’t do it myself.
  • Too many newsletters from causes, organizations, or businesses. Because I’m politically active I receive a lot of newsletters, many of them repetitive or asking for money. Solutions: I unsubscribe to most. I sign any petition that I agree with but never send money or inflict them on others. I skim the few newsletters and causes I care about and file those I want to keep in folders. The Gmail Promotions tab keeps them out of my sight.
  • Not being able to find a past email or address. Solution: Gmail has a good search function.

Time savers:

  • A good filing system. I have folders with subfolders for the primary categories of email I want to save. I program most of my emails to automatically go to the correct folder after I read it. I have Gmail set up to auto file or auto trash certain emails.
  • I try to keep my list of active emails few enough that I don’t have to scroll. On my monitor that means under 25. If it gets longer, I’ve got too much information and too much to do.
  • If it takes under a minute, I deal with it right away so I can file it or delete it. Anything from a relative gets priority.

WRITING: I write newsletters, blogs, articles, books, and update my website on my computer. I don’t know any shortcuts to make the actual writing more efficient.

Time waster:

  • Where I waste time is with technology that I don’t understand well enough. I spend some time contacting Constant Contact tech support. (Actually the time waster is the time I spend before I contact tech support trying to figure out the problem myself.) My current headache is trying to figure out how to put my Dreamweaver website on my laptop so I can make changes when traveling. Solution: Resign myself to only editing my website while at home.

Time savers:

  • Again having a good filing system helps me find past work.
  • Having Carbonite back-up my files relieves panic.
  • Being able to work on my laptop while traveling makes it possible for me to keep up with work commitments when traveling.
  • Having a son who lives close by to advise me on computer glitches is a blessing.

Days 365 + FacebookSOCIAL MEDIA: U.S. adults spend an average of 40 minutes a day on Facebook; less on Tumbler, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, Ello, and Linked In – in that order. I was heartened, therefore, when I timed my own usage at 20 minutes a day, almost all on FB.

Time wasters:

  • Frequently updated photos, pictures of food, parties at bars that I’m not at, and birthday wishes. Lest you call me a birthday Grinch, let me explain. Perhaps it is just my personality quirk but I’m not a big fan of wishing people Happy Birthday on FB. I celebrate my relatives’ birthdays and the milestone birthdays of friends. Other than that birthdays aren’t a big deal to me. If they are to you, fine. I just wish I didn’t have to scroll through gobs of birthday wishes on FB. In my sample week I counted 263 birthday wishes. (Gratefully, many of them were for the same 6 people so they were grouped together meaning there were only 44 separate posts.) Solution: I don’t want to hide most of these people, so I quickly delete the birthday wishes and suck it up. Please don’t wish me happy birthday on FB.

Maybe yes, maybe no:

  • Trips, brain teasers, and Upworthy. If a friend has gone on an interesting trip and posts a few key photos that’s fine. I occasionally will try one of the brain teasers for fun. Upworthy has been a learning experience for me. If you are not familiar with it, it has tantalizing headlines for human interest stories. Some of them are very uplifting. Some are pleasant but not substantive. The problem is that there are too many. Solution: From clicking on many Upworthy stories I’ve learned to differentiate between those worth clicking on and those that will disappoint. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.

My personal FB protocols:

  • Sometimes I’ve just finished a computer task and want a little diversion before I plunge into my next task. Often I’m just on hold. This is a good time to check FB. Sometimes I check StatCounter to see my website and blog stats.  7 Facebook Habits You Should Adopt.
  • With rare exceptions, my FB rule for the universe would be: “No more than one post per person per day.” Generally I do 2 automatic posts a week (Marriage Moments & Parenting Pointers), and 2 automatic newsletter posts a month (Gifts & Tasks and this blog). Occasionally my personal life is interesting enough that I might do a personal post – maybe once a quarter. Mostly I communicate by email and an annual family letter.

LOOKING UP INFO: Usually the internet is a time saver since it is quicker than looking through books, calling the library or stores, or asking friends. I do a lot of Google searching.

FAMILY COMMUNICATION: Since only one of our 4 children lives in town, we use Skype and Google HangOut to communicate regularly. This is definitely NOT a waste of time since our children live in Washington DC, Kenya, and Singapore.

NEWS: As noted earlier, we get several print newspapers and listen to NPR on the radio. Still FB and online news articles help with occasional late breaking news or articles.

RECREATION: As you have probably figured out I am mostly task-oriented when on the computer. I don’t play games. I browse FB as a break between other tasks. I watch Survivor online and an occasional YouTube video or movie.

Well, this is way too long a blog post. I welcome comments from those who have been able to streamline their incoming communication without living in a cave.

UPDATE: After having recently received many kind but automated birthday wishes, I pass on the following Facebook fix. Facebook is required to verify your age, but you can hide it from the public. Here’s how:

  1. Go to your Home Page.
  2. Click either About or Update Info.
  3. Click Contact & Basic Info.
  4. Scroll to Birthday.
  5. Hover your mouse to the far right until you see the lock icon & Edit.
  6. Click the Edit triangle and choose “Only Me.
  7. Click “Save Changes.”