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Robert Hsu
The Casual Observer

Photo: Robert Hsu / The Daily Pennsylvanian

It seems we’re all getting busier by the day.

The question is: is Penn just overwhelming and stressful, or could we just be better at time management?

I’ve never met someone my age who has mastered the science of time management or can live reasonably without using the technology we have today. We’ve all had the experience of going on Facebook and telling ourselves, “I’ll start studying after this last photo album” or “I’m just going to check my notifications really quickly,” only for it to turn into a 30-minute online stalking session. I’m personally notorious for telling myself on Youtube, “just one more Kelly Clarkson video,” only to watch 10 more.

According to Ipsos, a global marketing research company, the average person under 35 spends 4.2 hours on social networking sites every day. That means over the course of a week, almost 30 hours of our time is lost to social networking. Even just cutting that in half could free up approximately 15 hours over the course of a week, which could be used for studying, sleeping in and catching up with friends.

A 2010 New York Times article on the distracting nature of today’s technology states that our constant consumption on and multitasking across various technologies may actually be training our brains to focus for smaller increments of time, which further decreases our ability to efficiently complete our work.

The internet and our phones don’t just devour our time — they also break our focus so that we become less efficient in completing a task. And by constantly starting and stopping the same task, we waste time refocusing and figuring out what our last train of thought was.

Of course, sites like Facebook are fun — that’s why we use them. But ultimately, stress is caused when we feel incapable of getting our tasks done or when we feel out of control of our lives. Browsing might be a way to cope with our existing stress, but it also makes a bad situation worse.

Facebook, Youtube and texting are all useful and sometimes necessary tools in today’s society, so it’s impossible to completely eradicate them. But it’s definitely possible to manage our use of them, which can free up more time to tackle our other many tasks, thereby reducing our stress.

The SelfControl application for Macs and the SelfRestraint program for Windows allow the user to create a list of sites that cannot be accessed for a set duration of time. This cuts down on the urge to check Facebook really quickly while you’re struggling to start a paper or figure out a tricky question from a problem set.

Other strategies I’ve found to be efficient day to day include turning off your computer and cell phone when you study, or even disabling the Wifi on your computer. By doing so, it is more difficult to be distracted by an intriguing Tumblr post online or a chain of text messages from your best friend about the latest drama.

As with any sort of “addiction,” the first steps need to be small and reasonable. Download SelfControl or SelfRestraint and try intervals of 15 minutes. Then gradually increase it until you can study for a reasonable amount of time productively before taking a break. Try setting your phone to airplane mode while studying to avoid texts, and then move onto turning your phone off completely while studying.

Perhaps these solutions may be painful — even excruciating at first — but if you spend less time on Facebook, you may actually want to spend even less time on it because you realize how much more time you have to accomplish your tasks and goals. Personally, I don’t even have a Facebook anymore.

After all, we may not have to be as busy as we claim to be.

Robert Hsu, a College and Wharton sophomore from Novi, Mich., is a Civic Scholar. His email address is rohsu@sas.upenn.edu. The Casual Observer appears every other Friday._

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