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If you’re reading this article, you probably have a computer, or regularly use one.  Perhaps like me, it’s on your desk, in your study or office, or a place in your home where you have your filing, bills, folders, stationary.

My office also seems to be a dumping ground for all sorts of stuff: things that need fixing, kids’ artwork, and anything that does not seem to have found a home in the house yet, but that’s another story.  Oh, my sewing basket lives here too, but don’t tell anyone I can sew, or they’ll all start queuing up with buttons and stuff.

The biggest problem a lot of us seem to have, is that when we sit down at our desk, it’s very easy to be distracted from the tasks we actually need to do, like taking care of work, study, bills or household papers, by things like surfing the internet, chatting online and social networking sites.

It’s not that we shouldn’t be doing these things – what’s wrong with planning your TV viewing, catching up with news, staying in touch with friends and family, looking up things on Wikipedia etc, it’s fun and useful – it’s just that it’s so easy to avoid other things and suck up extraordinary amounts of time.

Ever checked on your kids doing their homework and told them off for playing games and chatting online when they should be studying?  What about your own computer time?  Do you have chores and necessary tasks you’ve been putting off because you’ve been spending your desk time passively letting the computer lead you astray?

Ok, so how to get it under control.  Simple really, but you knew that just as I do, and maybe just need reminding.  Prioritising and time boxing.

That means, you do things in order of priority, and you limit how much time you spend on each activity.

I know that can be hard, but if you’re honest with yourself, don’t make excuses, and remind yourself of what you really want to achieve, you can recognize and face up to incidences of procrastination.  Paying bills isn’t much fun, and checking your bank balance might be unpleasant, but playing online scrabble isn’t going to make it go away, and will be much more fun if you have your important stuff done.

From time to time, it can be useful to make a list (yes, I love making lists) of the various activities you want and need to engage in.  They will fall into categories, and you can prioritise the categories.  Here’s an example:

- Work, business, employment.  For me this is writing these articles, attending to business emails, website maintenance, managing my AdWords campaign, record keeping.
- Study, if you are a student. 
- Household administration – paying bills, reading mail, filing, school notices, record keeping, phone calls, correspondence.
- Household social – downloading and organizing your photos, personal emails, keeping in touch with friends and family, organizing your kids artwork, keeping your contacts list updated, updating your family calendar.
- Personal projects – updating your iTunes, writing your own movie reviews, updating your blog.
- Personal fun stuff – whatever you feel like doing at the time – reading news, blogs, Wikipedia, playing games, social networking, chatting.

As well as a basic outline like this of the various categories of desk and computer activities, you need a realistic estimate of time you wish to spend there.  Perhaps like me, you’ve had times when you’ve had to really force yourself to go and sit at your desk or log onto the computer, and also times when you’ve sat there from dawn til bedtime, getting up only when you had to. 

Obviously we need a healthy balance rather than either extreme, and that can be achieved by, you guessed it:

Habits and routines!

So, your personal reasonable and sensible amount of desk and computer time might be anywhere between half an hour and eight or more hours per day, one to seven days per week, depending on your needs and interests and whether you are studying or working at home.  If you work outside the home you can also apply this to how you balance your time at work.

If you don’t spend enough time at your desk or computer, your bills and papers can pile up, things can get out of control, and you will be unfamiliar with your computer and your desk stuff, making it harder for you when you do sit down to tackle it.  Some people new to computers still struggle to keep up with computer updates and regular email checking.

If you spend excessive amounts of time at your desk or computer, you are unlikely to be using the time constructively, and are probably neglecting other areas of your life.  If you’ve been ordering a lot of pizza and sitting in your dressing gown for three days straight, perhaps you’ve been sucked in by a chat forum, an online game, chatting, taking endless quizzes and so on.  I think it would be fun if I was like the Sandra Bullock character who was a complete computer nerd and understood all that technical stuff, doing far more interesting and challenging things, writing my own programmes and stuff.  What fun that would be.

So, having decided upon a reasonable amount of time to spend and how often you should spend it, you need to break it down into, for example:

Monday to Friday
- 2 hours of study
- 30 minutes household admin
- 1 hour of writing
- 30 minutes on emails
- 30 minutes to play

- 15 minutes checking email, facebook etc
- 1 hour maximum reading or playing

Further to this, you need to structure your time within those categories.  Within your work or study time, you will have some regular daily maintenance tasks which must be done regularly, but not take up all the allocated time.  Emails in particular must be limited if they tend to stretch out, and it’s worth considering doing them last rather than first each day.  This applies to record keeping too.  It must be done, but efficiently and within a limited amount of time.  Remember, the basis of your work, business or study is the actual product – the writing, the project, the assignment, the sales, and this must be the first priority.  To support the main activity, you have another activity such as gathering information, reading, studying, compiling, brainstorming, monitoring statistics etc.

So, balance must be sought within each type of activity, as well as overall in your life.

This is why it’s worth thinking about the various parts of your life, and how each of them consists of time spent on various activities.  You then create a basic outline of routines and habits which evolve and refine.

So today, having completed this article or the allocated time to be spent on it, I then move onto business emails, monitoring statistics and record keeping for a limited time, then onto a pre-determined amount of time for research and development (this is what I’m calling all the miscellaneous stuff today), then onto my household bills and forms and papers and mail, then I’ll play with my iPod for a bit, check the TV guide, read some news etc.

As usual, this has been my little chat to myself about what I need to be doing.  Hope it was useful to you too.

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