Why “Wasting Time Online” is Absolutely Worth Your Time

February 4, 2014 · 30 comments

We hear again and again that we shouldn’t waste time online. In fact, I bet that’s one of your resolutions for 2014, isn’t it? To stay on task?

While it’s important to stay focused 95 percent of the time so you can deliver your best work, here’s a secret most productivity hacks won’t let you in on: some distraction is actually good for you. (Click to tweet this idea.)

Sure, creating and shipping is essential, whether you’re working for yourself or someone else. But know how I learn the skills that propel me to the next level of my career? Know when I come up with some of my best ideas for my business? When I allow myself to browse the Internet with no particular purpose — otherwise known as wasting time online.

Image: Did you know "wasting time online" can be good for you?

Did you know “wasting time online” can be good for you?

How exploring online helps you learn

When I give myself the freedom to click on links in Twitter that interest me, or follow one Facebook link to the next to the next, sometimes getting lost and forgetting what I started out looking for… that’s when I learn the little things that make a big difference in my work.

That’s when I pick up new strategies for SEO or traffic-building. It’s when I try out new tools, some of which become part of my workflow. It’s when I learn new skills that make me better at my job so I’m able to land higher-paying clients, create better ebooks and courses, and become known as a thought-leader in my field.

Crazy as it sounds, I believe that occasionally allowing myself to be distracted — coupled with being highly productive when I truly need to focus on one task — gives me an edge in the online world.

Of course, many of the ideas and strategies and tools I try while poking around online lead to dead ends and never make it into my daily routine, and critics will say that’s what qualifies as wasting precious time. But I don’t see those as losses; I see them as experiments. If you don’t give yourself the chance to experiment, you’ll miss out on opportunities to gain game-changing skills or ideas.

So the question is, how do you fit exploring the Internet into your daily routine?

If you’re good at structuring your time, you might set aside twenty minutes or a half hour just for poking around. But I know myself and my work habits, and I gain more from exploring if I do it when I’m inspired, when I see something interesting that will help me grow, even if I’m in the middle of another task. Because of this, I’ve made the conscious decision to allow myself to be distracted (unless I’ve set aside a block of time to work on one specific project). Not all the time, but enough to help me grow. It’s all about finding the right balance between executing and experimenting.

If you work a day job where exploring and discovering, aka “wasting time online,” is discouraged, set aside time to do so outside of your work hours, either in the morning before work, after work or even on weekends.

So long as you don’t spend too much time experimenting and allow yourself to enjoy it without feeling guilty, you might find that wasting time on the Internet is the best thing you can do for your career.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Feeley February 4, 2014 at 10:02 am

I love the article and your headline pulled me right in, Alexis.You helped formulate and make conscious a process I do all the time — browsing the internet for ideas and to not feel guilty or \’distracted\’ in a bad way but to see it as a huge plus. This is so helpful because often I\’m racing through an article or presentation just so I don\’t miss something, before getting to work. You put lots of things together — work and learning — work and inspiration — work and play.Thank you for an excellent and highly enjoyable post.My very best – Michael

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Kevin Carlton February 5, 2014 at 5:36 am

Alexis
I find ‘wasting time online’ essential for ensuring a constant stream of new ideas for my blog.

By progressively learning new stuff in this way you get ahead of those who don’t. And that means you’ve always got new information and new insights to offer your blog post readers.

And talking of wasting time online, I love Marie Forleo’s recent video post about maintaining the right balance between consuming content and creating it.

Do check it out if you haven’t yet seen it (When Inspiration Backfires post at marieforleo.com).
Kevin Carlton recently posted…3 dangerously destructive writing habits every copywriter should avoidMy Profile

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Samuel February 5, 2014 at 1:08 pm

It happens to myself all the time 🙂

I get distracted a little on social media (obviously the prime area for this to happen) but that’s ok.

We shouldn’t only work on social media (in this case), but to enjoy using it at the same time.

It gives your brain a break from the intense grind of the work. Trust me, you get even more motivated when you give it a break.

Thanks for the post Alexis.

– Sam
Samuel recently posted…5 Tips on Increasing Engagement on a Facebook PageMy Profile

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Ryan Bonaparte February 5, 2014 at 10:15 pm

I love running around online looking for inspiration. I’m a big believer in using outside sources, including those that are from seemingly unrelated topics, as inspiration. Our next innovations in science and technology, for example, are based on our ability to bring in knowledge outside of the typical science fields.

I’ve lost track of how many blog posts, invention ideas, and pieces of advice have been inspired by my curiosity online. I know that it can be a huge time sync, so I usually try to spend as much time as I can focused on what I need to and then when I can’t keep my focus any longer, I just let myself drift. The more I do that, more I’m able to focus since I know that I’ll be able to go off on tangents soon enough.
Ryan Bonaparte recently posted…Are you letting your debt stop you?My Profile

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Jim Kim February 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

If wasting time online builds value, then I’m a cajillionaire!

Just kidding, I loved the advice in this post, Alexis. It’s all about finding balance and finding use out of the actionable ideas you’ll stumble upon…not just in life, but on The Interwebs as well!

Have a great week and thanks for always writing useful content that helps humanity!
Jim Kim recently posted…The 5 warning signs your business will fail miserably (and how to prevent it from happening) – Unless you heed the warnings and make preparations, your business will fail. But there’s good news…you can prevent that from happening.My Profile

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Lisa Imogen Eldridge February 10, 2014 at 4:47 am

Great advice. I always find myself getting distracted with useful things too and I’m learning to give myself 5 minutes each time I do as long as I still have my 5 hours to write each day. Thanks.

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Stephan February 12, 2014 at 7:03 pm

I could not agree more!I see my time spent on the Internet as a critical learning tool similar to reading. I actually make time during my day to explore the on-line world. I do not throttle my time exploring. It\’s an extremely valuable part of my on-line platform building process. It\’s how I stay in front of emerging strategies. It\’s how I learn from others. It\’s how I expand my horizons.I can understand others bashing \”surfing\” if the only thing your doing is watching cat videos and playing games. I don\’t do either. I think the time wasters give the efficient Internet information miners a bad name.Bashing what I do would be similar to bashing world travel or bashing spending time in a library.I consume and create content at the same time most days. I hopscotch back and fourth constantly.I love your site…..great post!

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Tito Pandu Brahmanto March 3, 2014 at 1:16 am

Hi Alexis,

I think reading this article right now is the same as “Wasting Time Online” that is good for me. I should try your suggestion to set aside time to browse the internet. Thanks.
Tito Pandu Brahmanto recently posted…Game Pertama – CongklakMy Profile

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Chris April 19, 2014 at 7:21 am

I think if you’re looking through blog posts/tweets etc. related to your work then you’re certainly not wasting time. I know for myself that I’ve discovered so much just by clicking from one link to another, for example your post on using a NoticeMe list on Twitter 🙂
Chris recently posted…Where to Find Freelance Writing JobsMy Profile

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Alexis Grant April 20, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Yay for the Notice-Me List!
Alexis Grant recently posted…Kindle Publishing: A Step-by-Step Guide for Selling Your Book Through AmazonMy Profile

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