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If you’re like me, you’ve “woken up” from an Internet-induced daze already today. Maybe more than once. It’s like you get sucked into some kind of vortex of Wikipedia, news, and Twitter that keeps your mind completely devoid of meaningful thought. But that’s not how it has to be.

You can be more mindful of your browsing—and of your time in general—to stay focused, reduce stress 3 Steps To Keep Digitally Induced Stress At Bay 3 Steps To Keep Digitally Induced Stress At Bay You can't turn back the clock, but you can change course midway to work toward a stress-free digital lifestyle, by preventing stress in the first place. Today is a good place to begin. Read More , and be a lot more purposeful with your time online.

What Is Mindfulness?

You’ve probably heard of mindfulness before; it’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment. We see the words “mindful” and “meditation” all over the place, and it’s easy to just ignore it all. But there’s something extremely valuable underlying all of these claims: mindfulness and meditation really work!

People have been meditating for thousands of years, and mindfulness is a natural extension of meditation. In meditation, you seek to empty your mind and gain a state of deep, peaceful clarity; it’s in this state of emptiness that it can rest and recharge. Even a few minutes of this can be extremely refreshing. When was the last time you didn’t feel overwhelmed by how many things you need to do? (Being a postgraduate student, I can confidently say I have no idea.) You can’t maintain a clear head when it’s full of lots of competing things.

internet-overload

Mindfulness is the slightly more active cousin to meditation. When you’re being mindful, you make a point to focus on the moment and what you’re doing; not worrying about yesterday, not planning for tomorrow, not letting your mind wander. It’s being aware of what you’re feeling and thinking, and not judging or trying to change it. It’s being open to change, sensation, and experience.

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You might think that this is something you do often, or that it’s easy to do, but if you try it a few times, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find it slightly more difficult than you expect.

So why mindfulness? What is it about this singular focus that provides the benefits that it does? Most of the time, our minds are wandering and trying to think about and process many things at once. You’re working on a spreadsheet, checking Twitter, listening to music, thinking about lunch, wondering if your boss liked your presentation yesterday, planning your next smart home project 6 Smart Home Projects You Can Take On This Weekend 6 Smart Home Projects You Can Take On This Weekend Here are six ways to add a little ambient intelligence to your daily routine. Read More  etc. That could literally be over the course of a few seconds.

Research has shown that humans aren’t very good at multi-tasking 3 Ways To Stop Multitasking & Stay Focused To Be More Efficient & Productive [Windows] 3 Ways To Stop Multitasking & Stay Focused To Be More Efficient & Productive [Windows] At MakeUseOf we have written countless articles on how to multitask. As it turns out, however, multitasking messes with your brain. Research shows that people who multitask a lot are "more susceptible to interference from... Read More , so being in a state like this, first of all, will decrease your effectiveness in whatever it is you’re trying to do. It’ll take longer, and probably not be up to the standard of quality that you were hoping for. Not only does multi-tasking like this make it difficult to get things done, but it can also add to your stress level and contribute to a reduction in attention span.

Mindfulness seeks to counteract these effects by keeping you focused in the moment.

When it comes to web surfing, mindfulness keeps you from falling into the black hole of the Internet. You’ll be more focused on your work when you’re supposed to be working, and you’ll be more restful when it comes time to take a break (mostly because it’ll be a conscious choice, so you won’t feel guilty for accidentally getting sidetracked).

Mindful Practice

Unfortunately, you can’t become a mindful master overnight. It takes months, if not years, of practice to get really good at it. But even just taking the first step will make a big difference — once you’ve been practicing for a week or so, you’ll probably start to notice some differences in how you work and how you feel.

deep-breath

In the beginning, you can just practice mindfulness for short periods of time. While some people recommend starting at 10 minutes, I found it challenging to maintain even a few minutes of focus at first. Being a writer, I’m always thinking about the next article I’ll be working on, which turn of phrase I plan on using for a particular section of a piece, pitches I’d like to write, and so on. Being a student, a runner, an avid reader, a gamer, and an aspiring drummer only gives me more things to think about.

But taking just a few minutes to focus on a single thing is great. In most places where you find meditation or mindfulness advice, they’ll tell you to focus on your breath for a few minutes. This is a great place to start, and it will really help you notice when your mind begins to wander. When it does, bring it back to your breathing; this is the practice that will help you learn to stay focused and intentional.

You can also practice mindfulness with everyday activities — if you’re listening to music, just focus on listening, and not thinking. (It should be noted that at this point in writing the article I started playing Vectorman on an emulated Sega Genesis 10+ Emulators To Play Old-School 16- And 32-bit Consoles On Your PC (1987-1993) 10+ Emulators To Play Old-School 16- And 32-bit Consoles On Your PC (1987-1993) Read More ; I still have a long way to go before I’m a mindfulness maven.)

It can help to focus on a specific sensation: when I was walking through King’s Cross Station the other day, I walked over a studded, grippy portion of the floor for a minute or two, and I focused on the feeling of the studs through the soles of my shoes.

kings-cross-station-platform

After you’ve practiced focusing for a while, you can start moving up to focusing on tasks — keep your attention on the task at hand as well as how you’re feeling and reacting to it.

If you’re working on finding a bunch of articles on a specific topic, don’t get distracted when you see that there are new tweets in your timeline. Stay focused on searching.

If you’re on a conference call, don’t be daydreaming about the weekend; be fully focused on the call.

If you’re writing an article, don’t stop to play video games when you’re not sure how to start the next sentence Facing Writer's Block? Get The Ideas Flowing With These 3 Daily Rituals Facing Writer's Block? Get The Ideas Flowing With These 3 Daily Rituals With just a few regular activities, writers can reduce their constant struggle for ideas. Here are three of those rituals that can give you a steady stream of ideas for your next creative piece. Read More ; just keep writing.

These are all ways that you can practice mindfulness, both on and away from the computer. Start small, and work your way up. Eventually, you’ll find it easier to bring your mind back to what you’re doing when it begins to wander — this is the true exercise, the redirection of your thoughts. Once you can keep your thoughts on a single thing for more than a few minutes, you’ll notice that your focus and productivity have improved quite a bit.

Some Useful Strategies

So, now that we’ve set out what mindfulness is and how to practice it in general, let’s get into some specific tactics for making it easier to stay mindful while you’re browsing the Internet. The Internet is full of distractions, so it can be tough. Here are five strategies that I’ve used at various times that have helped me stay focused and in the moment.

Keep Your Tabs Clean

This is a big one. It’s not hard to have 15 or 20 tabs open in your browser at a time, and that gives you a lot of chances for getting distracted and losing mindfulness. Develop a tab management system 5 Effective Ways to Deal With the "Too Many Tabs" Syndrome in Firefox 5 Effective Ways to Deal With the "Too Many Tabs" Syndrome in Firefox Read More that will help you store the information you want to look at later (I use Evernote and Pocket, for example), deal with the tabs that you can at the moment, and only leave open ones that need to be open. Try to stay focused on the tab at hand before going on to another one.

focus

Turn Off Notifications

There are a lot of notifications in and around your browser. Email, social media, instant messaging, and a host of others that can distract your attention Reclaim Your Focus: 5 Ideas To Deal With Short Attention Spans Reclaim Your Focus: 5 Ideas To Deal With Short Attention Spans We have more information available than every before, but this ironically has damaged our ability to absorb any of it. However, you can take action to improve your attention with a few simple steps. Read More from what you’re doing. Turn them off. Only check your email when you specifically intend to spend some time dealing with it. Only check social media when you have some time to spend learning things or being entertained. (This is a great strategy for use on your phone, as well; turn off push notifications.)

Set Up a Mindfulness Timer

This is a good habit to get into no matter where you are; set up a timer on your computer or your phone to go off every hour (or, if you’re really serious about mindfulness, every 30 minutes). You can also use a Chrome extension, like StayFocusd Stay Focused With StayFocusd For Google Chrome And Say Goodbye To Distractions Stay Focused With StayFocusd For Google Chrome And Say Goodbye To Distractions The Internet is a vast place, with loads of information that can often be overwhelming. It would be an understatement to say that it’s the primary resource for research and getting work done. But don’t... Read More , or an app, like Breaktime (Mac, $4.99) or the Mindfulness Bell website. Whenever the alarm goes off, take stock of your attention: what are you doing? What should you be doing? Where is your mind wandering to?

Keep a “Mind Dump” Notepad Nearby

This is a bit like journaling on the go. Whenever you’re working on something and a thought enters your head that has the potential to distract you, write it down. That way, you know that you won’t forget about it: it’ll be there, recorded, ready for you to deal with at the proper time. I recommend using a pen and paper for this, but you can keep it however you’d like; using a task management system The 5 Commandments For Choosing The Right To-Do App For Productivity The 5 Commandments For Choosing The Right To-Do App For Productivity Different people organize in different ways. So choosing a to-do app really depends on what kind of person you are. Here are five commandments you can think about for your own productivity system. Read More could work well, as well as an open Word / Google Drive document that you review at the end of the day.

slow-down-road-sign

Slow Down

This is a hard one. Because we live in a productivity-centric society, we spend all day trying to accomplish as much as we possibly can. So we speed through articles, web pages, emails, and chats as quickly as possible so we can get to the next thing. This is the opposite of mindfulness. Regularly remind yourself that things that are worth doing are worth doing well, and they’re worth spending time on. You’ll spend more time on the things that matter, and do them better, and you’ll spend less time on things that aren’t worth your time.

Try It!

Being mindful might sound like a lot of work, and sometimes it can be. There are days when I am much more distractible than others, and staying focused Can't Get Anything Done? Block Distractions With Focus For Mac Can't Get Anything Done? Block Distractions With Focus For Mac Force yourself to work instead of browsing. Focus is a Mac app that blocks distracting sites that shows you an inspirations quote when you try to visit a site you shouldn't. Read More on anything feels like a monumental task. But with practice, you can strengthen your “mindfulness muscles” and get better at directing your attention to what’s important.

Try it for a week or two and see what happens. What do you have to lose?

Have you made a point to be mindful? Do you think you could benefit from it? What distracts you the most throughout the day? Share your thoughts below.

Image credits: Business woman meditating near laptop (edited) via Shutterstockthoughts via ShutterstockBacklight profile of a woman breathing deep fresh air in the morning sunrise isolated in white above via Shutterstock, The empty king cross station platform via Shutterstock, Mark Hunter via flickr, Tristan Schmurr via flickr.

  1. Chris
    October 4, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Great article! Nice and practical. I loved the mind dump suggestion, I'm going to try that.

    I have been doing mindfulness for a few years now and it is super helpful with almost everything else in my life. I thought I would throw out a suggestion for anyone starting to look forward to. Breath awareness is an awesome start, and a great anchor no matter how much you practice. But my favorite is mindful listening. The best is when there are tons of people around you and you just focus on the noise and listen like a symphony. I think people learn their favorite style, some like visual, auditory, tactile, etc

    • Dann Albright
      October 7, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Glad you liked the article, Chris! Mindful listening sounds like a great way to start mindfulness; I would imagine that it would work well for people who prefer auditory learning, too.

      Great suggestion!

  2. Sudeepto D
    September 26, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Really nice article. I frequently get distracted by the inline hyperlinks that an article contains, hoping to read that article first before continuing with the current one. But what happens is I get more hyperlinks and after a couple of hours I realize that I am lost in the WEB :)

    From now on I'll be using the Chrome and Firefox extensions to remain focussed and will take regular breaks to keep my mind as clean as possible.

    Thank You .

    • Dann A
      September 30, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Yes, inline links can be a huge distractor! I've been in that situation more than once. I find that opening the link in a new tab and leaving it for later can help, but then you end up with dozens of tabs open. Opening it in a new tab, clipping it to Evernote or Pocket, and then reading it later when I have more time seems to work best for you.

      Glad you liked the article, and good luck on your mindful browsing journey!

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