“Working” at the computer without goals is like preheating the oven without a recipe in mind

February 22, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

I don’t know how many times I’ve wasted hours on a computer without doing something productive. And the reason: I didn’t have a very specific purpose to log on. We’d all be better off avoiding the computer until we have a path in mind–after all, we don’t turn on the oven until we know what we want to eat.

There is a time for playing around online, but for most of us it’s not as often as we do it. Sometimes it feels like being at the computer is synonymous with working, but that’s far from the case. So here’s my recommendation: before you bring up your web browser or email program, decide exactly what you want to accomplish. You probably have a To-Do list or a calendar–consult those or decide on something else…yes, even email can wait.

The best approach I’ve found is to decide the evening before what I want to accomplish in the morning. Then when I get to the computer I’ll have something important to focus on, rather than taking new information in or “seeing what’s going on.” The tangents are best saved for when I have already accomplished something.

It’s far from rocket science to say, “work on something you have to do when you’re at the computer.” But the nuance I’m throwing in is that you should think hard about what that something is and focus on it before touching your mouse or keyboard. And if you can, set yourself a very strict goal of an hour (or something similar) to complete that task.

Now that I’ve got this blog post out of the way, I’m off to empty my inbox.

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3 Responses to ““Working” at the computer without goals is like preheating the oven without a recipe in mind”


  1. Elizabeth

    Hmmm… that’s probably why I usually get more done faster at a computer lab (or paying by the minute at Kinko’s) than I do at my desk…

  2. Jared Goralnick

    Wow, I like that concept a lot! Specifically: if you were paying to use your computer and had only 30 minutes worth, what would you do? Etc. Thanks.

  3. Dan Markovitz

    Elizabeth has hit upon a good idea: creating a capitalist market for your own time by putting a price on it. Without price as a signal (even to ourselves) about how much our time is worth, we tend to undervalue it, and that leads to waste and inefficiency. Setting a price keeps us focused and ensures that we treat it as a scarce resource. This is very similar to something Merlin Mann once wrote about here: http://www.43folders.com/2007/09/27/vox-pop-recreating-scarcity

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