Show me an ADHDer and I’ll show you a compulsive internet user in the making. The internet has almost everything the ADHD brain craves – instant rewards, constant stimulation, endless rabbit holes of information to go down. What could possibly go wrong?
Yet even though the internet seems perfectly designed to reel in the ADHD brain, somehow spending extensive time online doesn’t really make me happy. And I think I’m not the only one who has reached various points in my life where I’ve wanted to reduce my online time.
Before going any further, I might as well acknowledge the irony of posting this … online. But to be clear, the goal (at least for me) isn’t to eliminate internet time altogether. The internet is a useful medium for learning new things, staying up on the news, keeping in touch with old friends on social media.
The problem is that after a certain amount of time plugged into a computer screen, you reach a point where learning even more new things, diving even further into the latest political outrage, or continuing to scroll down your Facebook news feed becomes more of a compulsion rather than something that’s adding to your life. And many of us with ADHD keep going beyond that point.
So how to dial back your online time?
One way is by finding interesting activities to replace your screen time. “Cutting back on internet time” is a nebulous order because the goal is an absence of something. It’s hard to cut back on one thing if you don’t have something to replace it.
But “spending more time on alternative activity X” is a more concrete goal. The specific activity you replace internet time with could be anything. Maybe you want to take up a new sport, learn a language, or put yourself in more situations where you meet new people.
Whatever your new pursuit is, making time for it in your schedule will allow you to naturally reduce your online time. And even if you end up using the internet as part of your new activity (for example, you decide you want to learn guitar and you have to look up chord fingerings online), that internet usage will be more purposeful than open-ended browsing.
It’s also helpful to have specific times when you allow yourself to go online. For example, I generally don’t allow myself to browse the internet for pleasure until I’m done with all my work for the day. The main exception is that I use my smartphone to catch up on the news when I first wake up because this helps pull my brain out of sleep, like a morning cup of coffee.
Often, setting strict rules for yourself in advance is the only way to limit internet time because you can’t really trust yourself to say when enough is enough in the moment.
Of course, if you want to get really serious about capping computer time, there’s always the nuclear option: getting rid of your home internet connection. The idea here is that you still have access to internet at work or at other public places, but that home is a place for stuff other than internet browsing.
Admittedly, this technique is hardcore. For some people, it could even backfire – for example, if severing your home internet access just leads you to spend more time browsing the web at work. But it seems to work for some as well, and sometimes a situation calls for drastic measures.
Clearly, the internet is a part of life that’s here to stay. But that doesn’t mean you have to let it gobble up other areas of your life. As a society, we do seem to be entering a phase where we’re increasingly aware that there is such a thing as too much of a good technology.
If you want to make more time for, you know, IRL things, try some of these techniques. And if you find others that work, please leave them below!
Image: Flickr/Jonas Smith