Most people nowadays depend on the internet to work (at least to a certain extent). Still, only a few of those people seem to be present to the need of being mindful of the time they spend online.
That’s curious, because everyone knows how easy it is to lose track of time when you’re surfing the web or playing with some app.
Online poker players are not immune to this syndrome. Especially because many of them don’t even know what it’s like to live in a world without the internet. That’s why, to minimize the harms of spending too many hours online, willpower is not enough.
Often, you need some kind of external help too.
Recognizing the State We’re In
Are things that serious? In one word, yes. Particularly in the world of social media, which is where many people spend most of their time online.
One guy who’s been doing a great job in warning us about this issue is Tristan Harris. You can say that he knows what he’s talking about, since he used to be the design ethicist at Google. (Honestly, I was surprised to know there was such a job as a design ethicist. But let’s keep going.)
According to Harris, social media websites and apps have been using a variety of tactics to keep users engaged. And the designers behind those services have learned quite a lot from… slot machines.
Here, our specialist is cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, author of a book called Addiction by Design. She was the first interviewee of the podcast Your Undivided Attention, hosted by Harris and Aza Raskin.
In that interview, Natasha reveals how casinos manage to make slot machines so entrancing. It’s a combination of four components: solitude; fast feedback; random rewards; and continuity with no resolution.
It was only natural that Natasha’s research would call Harris’ attention. After all, many websites and apps operate under the same principles. Take, for example, the logic behind newsfeed updates. Sometimes they bring you interesting stuff; others, nothing at all.
That’s the principle of random rewards in operation. If you always knew what you’d get with every scroll down, these updates wouldn’t be so interesting in the first place.
Speaking of which, what’s the movement your thumb makes when you’re checking newsfeeds on your smartphone? That’s right. You scroll it down the screen.
Isn’t that also very similar to pulling the lever on older slot machines? Indeed, it’s ironic that one of the hosts of Your Undivided Attention, Aza Raskin, is actually the guy who invented the infinite scroll.
It’s understandable that he didn’t know the monster it’d turn out to be. And his is the best definition I’ve ever heard of what happens when you’re caught at the mercy of those scrolls. It’s a feeling of “full but empty depletion”.
What to Do About It
It’s not uncommon for professional poker players to have computers only to play poker. That’s, by far, your best strategy.
But maybe it’s a possibility that’s beyond your means at the moment. Still, there’s nothing preventing you from at least making use of certain productivity tools.
They will serve you 2 basic purposes. One is that they’ll raise your level of awareness in regards to how you spend your time. That’s a great thing in itself. But that’s not enough, because you’ll also need to exercise some form of self-regulation.
And that’s why you must also set some restrictions for yourself.
Choose Your Weapons
When it comes to online productivity tools, there are quite a few options out there. I encourage you to do some searches and see which tools work best for you.
For one reason, because most of them are free. Also, because I admit that I myself haven’t tested all the options I’ve come across.
Still, I’m confident that the tools I do use could make a difference in most people’s lives.
Especially my 2 favorite ones.
Productivity Tool #1: RescueTime
RescueTime is amazing.
Its main function is to keep track of everything you do on your computer (and also on your smartphone) while online. (And also offline, if you choose RescueTime Premium.)
From there, it categorizes each activity, and all of them combined give you your productivity score for a certain period of time. So, as you can see, it’s a great way for you to raise your level of awareness.
And it’s likely that, at first, you’ll be shocked at how much time you spent on social media on a given day. For me, though, the greatest benefit of using RescueTime has come from its continuous use.
Especially the e-mail reports they send me with my weekly productivity score. That weekly analysis is so precious because it has allowed me to see for myself something that different financial experts like to say.
It’s about what it’s often called one’s internal financial thermostat. The idea itself is nothing new. But I suppose that the guy who first coined this term was T. Harv Eker, in his book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.
Because it’s all about how much money you allow yourself to make and to keep. But why am I talking about finances in the first place? Well, as you might’ve guessed by now, the same thing happens to your productivity.
You do have a productivity thermostat, whether you’re aware of it or not. And our tool #1 here can be your ally on the journey towards raising it.
RescueTime does that, as I’ve said, mostly by raising your level of awareness. In fact, it also allows you to block certain websites for a period of time. But only as a paid feature.
Which brings me to the second tool I’d like to recommend.
Productivity Tool #2: StayFocusd
Once you know how you spend your time online, it’s time to know what to do about it.
And it’s here that blocking websites may become a necessary measure. (Especially in the beginning.) But that would be an oversimplification of what StayFocusd allows you to do.
Yes, one of the functions of this Google Chrome extension is to block all/some websites for a certain period of time. (This is what they call the “Nuclear” option.) But its most important function is a little more subtle.
It’s only after reaching that limit that those websites get blocked. And even then, you also have an interesting option: you can unblock certain pages.
For example, maybe there’s a particular video on YouTube which would be helpful for you. In this case, it would make sense to make an exception for that video’s page.
Of course, for this to work, you must be honest with yourself. The question then becomes: Is it really worth it to make that exception?
As you see, StayFocusd offers you a lot of flexibility. But this will only be useful if you’re wise about it. In any case, you can take baby steps if you wish. You may gradually decrease your daily quota of maximum time allowed on blocked sites.
That may be painful at first. But I assure you it will do wonders for your productivity thermostat in the long run.
Bonus Tool: DF Tube
The 2 tools I’ve mentioned are by far the most relevant I’ve seen.
But there’s another I’d like to suggest, which is specifically designed for YouTube. Its name is DF Tube, aka Distraction Free for YouTube.
It serves 1 basic function: to disable pretty much everything there. Except, of course, that video you happen to be watching. Because, even if you use StayFocusd to only allow a certain page on YouTube, there’s still a lot there to catch your attention.
You have the comments, the recommended videos… To sum up, everything that makes YouTube a social media website. But, if you’re serious about your productivity, those types of features must be seen at least with a certain dose of reservation.
Let’s face it. All you need to do on YouTube is to watch that particular video you intended to. Anything else can be disabled with a single click. And, most of the time, it should.
As I said earlier, there are many other productivity tools you can find online. But the most important thing to have in mind is your approach towards them.
It’s cool to rely on their most extreme functions if you want to reach a short-term goal that is challenging. But, the way I see it, you should also have the goal of improving your productivity thermostat over time.
That’s how difficult things become easier for you. And that’s how you earn the right to be called something more than a recreational poker player.