Nathan Hoad

Using my Computer Less

November 17, 2012

I spend a lot of time on a computer. At work, I spend 8+ hours a day writing code. At home, I spend all my time mashing refresh on Hacker News, Reddit, and my RSS reader, while doing some hobby projects. I waste a lot of time doing this, so much that I think I’m actively wasting my life away. Bit by bit over the past few days, and for the next few coming days, I’m working towards weaning myself off of using my computer constantly, instead working to use it for only an hour a day in my personal time. I’ve noticed a lot of articles as of recent that compare Internet use to substance addiction; and I tend to agree. I find myself sitting there, mindlessly using the Internet, and when I’m not, thinking about when I’ll next use the Internet.

So, what am I doing to wean myself off of my computer? Well, let’s identify the key problems.

And now, let’s fix them.

Hacker News/Reddit/Twitter F5 Party

Hacker News

I have a Kindle. Hacker News has a monthly syndication, summarising the best articles of the previous month. If I subscribe to that, I can stop checking Hacker News every ten minutes.

But, I’m a beautiful snowflake, so Hacker Monthly may not necessarily catch everything that I find interesting. So, I’ve added the Hacker News RSS feed to my news reader. Noisy, but I can skim it quickly for things that look interesting, and send them to my Kindle.


First things first; no more Reddit. If I can’t help myself, check once a day, for one page of my subscribed subreddits, and send anything interesting to my Kindle to read later. That ensures I’m getting what is likely the best content, without wasting too much time. And if I miss it, I’ll live.


:( so hard. I like Twitter, so it’s hard to cut back. My typical thing with Twitter has been if I’m standing still for more than 30 seconds, I check Twitter. I’ve been improving on this for the past few months, however; I’ve been unfollowing the less interesting people (sorry) so I can get only the stuff I care about. This has worked out pretty well. My plan to reduce my Twitter intake across the day, is to, quite simply, use the Android app. It keeps track of what I read last, which means I can read things at my own leisure, while keeping to time limits, without having to worry about falling behind.

But Nathan, how do you send interesting articles to your Kindle? Teach me your ways

Okay, but only because you asked, masked stranger. I use Readability. I used to use Instapaper, but Readability is better for what I want. As of late I’ve been learning about embedded electronics, which means lots of cool pictures. Instapaper strips images from the articles you give it, so its usefulness is greatly reduced for my usecase. Readability, however, keeps all the images in an article. That, and Readability has an option to send an article directly to my Kindle right away directly from my browser using a bookmarklet. Instapaper on the other hand, tries to aggregate things daily, sending a bundle of articles at some random time of the day. (allegedly 10am or something, but of course, they didn’t consider timezones…)

This means I can spend 5 minutes going through Twitter, Hacker News, and Reddit, to get the articles that I want, and read them at some other time, like long bus trips.

Constantly keeping tabs on my news reader

There’s no real strategy here, at least one that’s drastically different from my Twitter strategy. I use Newsblur for my news reader, which has a wonderful Android app. So, I can basically check this at my leisure for 10-15 minutes at the end of the day. Alternatively, I could spend an hour or two on Saturday or Sunday. I also plan to cut down on the feeds I’m subscribed to.

Wasting time in front of my computer doing nothing

This is a major problem. If I’m bored, I just sort of sit in front of my computer, kicking around doing nothing. What a horrible life. Imagine the stories I’ll tell my grandchildren.

This one time, I was on the Internet. And now here I am, telling you this story. Wasn’t that something?

My episode of “This is Your Life” would be embarrassing, to say the least. The only way I can improve this problem is to keep doing what I’ve planned above, and recognise that when I have nothing to do on my computer, walk away. This is a willpower thing, really.

What’s the result?

So, why am I doing this? What do I hope to gain? Firstly, I always think to myself “I don’t have any time, I’m so busy.” when I’m not busy, and I have a lot of time. I’m lounging around in my underwear, watching cat videos on YouTube. The real problem is that I don’t know where my time is going, because I’m not doing anything worth acknowledging, so I think I don’t have any.

My basic plan for this is to take control of my life. I can spend an hour a day on my computer, whether it be for a programming project, finding articles to read, or whatever. An hour a day feels reasonable. Way better than my current 4-8 hours (not including work). Restricting myself to a strict hour a day means I can’t waste time - I’ll do what I want, find the information that I want, and then stop.

With my free time, I’ll be able to do things that I want to do, but “don’t have the time for”. Like continue learning another language, more programming languages, mathematics, electronics, reading, and even… exercise… *dramatic violin*.