Where would we be without the Internet? It’s hard to even remember what life was like before it (maybe impossible, depending on how old you are). For most of us, it’s a pastime and social playground where we hang out and entertain each other. For employers and business owners, it’s often seen as a source of distraction and potential productivity killer.
But this doesn’t have to be the case! If you’re clever about it, the Internet can be used to ramp up your productivity to unprecedented levels. Whether you’re looking to get more work done, achieve major goals, or save time, there are tools online to help you do it.
Read on to find out how it’s done, and start using the Internet to optimise your life:
1. Research Quickly
Back in the bad old days, research projects and assignments required an amount of legwork that would have most of us tearing our hair out today. You had to actually go to the library and check out a book (remember those?), or pick up the phone and interview, like, an actual person.
Not so in the age of new media—now all the information you need to complete that important essay is merely a Google away! Just be careful to fact-check any information you find online, as some sites are particularly prone to inaccuracies (I’m looking at you, Wikipedia!).
Need step-by-step instructions to carry out a task? You can find out how to do just about anything on sites like How To Do Things and wikiHow. Stumped on a particular subject or question? Reach out to the communities at Quora and Yahoo Answers or join forums in your industry to quickly find expert assistance with work-related tasks.
If time is precious, and you’ve got tons of material to read, try using free online speed-reading tools like Spreeder. Just copy and paste your text, hit the button and blitz through your research session at the speed of light.
2. Minimise Distractions
If you want to be connected AND productive, the first step is to eliminate the temptation to lapse out of your workflow and spiral into a 3-hour autopilot web-browsing session. Luckily, the Interwebz has you covered with a plethora of tools to keep you focused and on-track.
If your work involves a lot of writing, you might benefit from an app like Write Room (Mac) or Dark Room (Windows), both of which take over your entire computer screen and leave you with a completely distraction-free writing space.
If social media is your vice, apps like Anti-Social can block access to time-sucking sites like Facebook and Twitter, giving you no option but to get on with your work. RescueTime offers similar functions and lets you track the amount of time you spend on both work and leisure tasks so you can make improvements and optimise accordingly.
Legendary productivity expert and life-hacker Tim Ferriss cites RescueTime as his best time-saving trick. If it’s good enough for the author of "The 4-Hour Workweek," it’s good enough for me!
3. Educate Yourself
As a library of information, the Internet is not just greater than you think—it’s more massive than you could ever hope to imagine. The better you can educate yourself in your own particular field of work, the more efficient and productive you’ll be.
Coursera is partnered with some of the world’s top universities and educational institutions to offer free online courses. See if you can use it to become an expert in your field. TED conferences bring together some of the world’s most fascinating thinkers and performers to deliver inspirational talks in 18 minutes or less. Watch them to pick up ideas on how to work faster and better.
Since you’re reading this article, you already have some grasp of the educational power of the Internet. Now take action on what you read, and your performance and productivity will improve. Just remember to strike that all-important balance between learning and doing!
4. Get a Virtual PA
One of the more recent trends in online technology, "Intelligent Personal Assistants" can save you a buttload of time and automate some of the more tech-based tasks in your life. What are those, you ask? I’m talking about Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, and the like.
For a while, these digital virtual assistants were seen as little more than a novelty ("Siri, find me pictures of Mila Kunis in her underwear"), but their potential is staggering. They can track your location, habits and browsing behaviour and use data pulled from the Internet to perform tasks or offer you personalised services.
Running late for a meeting? Your virtual PA can analyse traffic conditions and send an automated alert to your client with an ETA. Want to maintain your health? Let them monitor your calorie intake, and make recommendations for healthy choices. Now if we could just teach them how to make a sandwich...
5. Stay Connected
Now that all our smartphones are synced with our email accounts and social media profiles, we can stay informed and connected wherever we are. There’s literally no getting away from people anymore, if that’s what you want.
Skype and other video conferencing tools allow us to have face-to-face meetings online (this is especially useful for freelancers and small businesses, who have neither the time nor resources for extensive travel). And with the globalising effect of the Internet, you can have an assistant in India research material for your project in Los Angeles while you sleep!
The dark side to this, of course, is that constant availability can leave you vulnerable to being distracted by new emails, invitations and inquiries, or completely bombarded by communication. And nothing kills productivity like being constantly interrupted. The key to saving time and improving efficiency, therefore, is to know when it benefits you to be connected and available, and when you’re better off going "off-the-hook."
Downtime is so important when it comes to your work output. It’s refreshing and energising, and prevents you from burning out. Surfing the web for entertainment is a simple and accessible form of recreation at work, and it can actually improve your productivity!
Researchers from the University of Melbourne found that employees who surf the Internet for fun are about 9 percent more productive than those who don’t (yeah science, bitch!). Most company policies strongly discourage browsing the Internet for leisure during work hours, but the same study found that about 70 percent of employees do it anyway.
So if you’re getting diminishing returns on your efforts, take a 10-15 minute break and check out some cat pictures, watch a BatDad clip, or whatever floats your boat. Just keep it reasonable (and SFW), and quote the study above to your boss if you get caught. ;)
There are a million-and-one ways to use the Internet to improve productivity—what I’ve covered here barely scratches the surface. Use the steps above as a jumping-off point to create your own productivity plan and optimise your workflow. Then you’ll just need to figure out what to do with all that extra time—game of ping-pong, anyone?
Got any Internet productivity tips of your own, or is it just a massive time-waster for you? We want to hear about it in the comments below: