Thoughts on Systems

Emil Sit

Jan 18, 2008 - 3 minute read - Personal distractions

Finding distractions that really distract

Once in a while, someone will tell me that there’s nothing good on the Internet. However, while “there’s nothing good on TV” may be true, the long tail on the Internet means there are plenty of time-wasting opportunities available, if you take a few minutes to look. For example, for any hobby, there is undoubtedly a thriving Internet community to while away your work hours. Do you knit? There are knitting blogs, e-zines, and community sites. Collect flashlights? More candle power to you. Want to improve your productivity? File away.

The trick to finding good distractions is to find something that can occupy you for a long time, for those days when there’s just no good celebrity gossip or political scandal to follow, no stimulating intellectual articles to read, and no award winning websites you haven’t visited. Hobby how-tos only get you so far, since you need to put in the time to practice your hobby in order to benefit from what you read (and you can’t do that at work). What you need is the web equivalent of finding a TV show you hadn’t heard of, renting the DVDs and watching the entire series in a single sleep-deprived week. This means something that not only has on-going new content, but also archival content that you can spend hours perusing.

Fortunately, over the last few years, people have created a cornucopia of content that’s fun to read: intellectually stimulating enough to draw you in but not so much that it tires you out. I’ve found three main categories: personal writing, fiction, and web comics. I haven’t found a lot of personal writing, though I do enjoy dooce’s stories of family life and hearing the anonymous adventures of a waiter. Many kinds of fiction can be found if you look: fan fiction can be good, short stories give you good stimulation for less time.

Web comics are a bit newer to me but I’m finding them quite enjoyable. Comics can make anything exciting, even an intellectual board game. A recent Washington Post article observed that web comics are “a little edgier, a little quirkier and much much funnier” than your typical Sunday paper strip. Imagine…

These are all beautifully illustrated and in some cases, you can really see the artist grow along with the comic as you peruse the archives. If short and not-pc is more your style, check out A Softer World or Perry Bible Fellowship. I haven’t even begun to explore all the entries listed at Top Web Comics; surely you can find something for you, from romance to zombies. Comics often have thousands of past panels for you to read. Hours of fun!

If nothing here appeals to you, you may really be in a surfing slump. Try having someone else review your distraction list; they may see things you’re missing. Ask others for recommendations: photographer Chase Jarvis got many answers to a request for a new favorite blog, and Howard French uses contacts to find cool photos on Flickr. Link blogs (like mine) are another great way to take advantage of others to filter content for you. With so many options, there’s really no need to be in a slump. All you have to do is look. Maybe you can take a minute to share your distractions in a comment. But wait, shouldn’t you be working?

Note to employers: I work as hard and thoroughly as I procrastinate.