XKCD's productivity tip: reboot your computer every time you get bored

In the punchline of the most recent XKCD, creator Randall Munroe says that he avoids falling into a procrastinatory clicktrance by setting "simple 30-second delay I had to wait through, in which I couldn't do anything else, before any new page or chat client would load (and only allowed one to run at once). The urge to check all those sites magically vanished--and my 'productive' computer use was unaffected."

Now Randall reveals the simple tactic he uses to insert this productivity-saving delay:

I made it a rule that as soon as I finished any task, or got bored with it, I had to power off my computer.

I could turn it back on right away--this wasn't about trying to use the computer less. The rule was just that the moment I finished (or lost interest in) the thing I was doing, and felt like checking Google News et. al., before I had time to think too much, I'd start the shutdown process. There was no struggle of willpower; I knew that after I hit the button, I could decide to do anything I wanted. But if I decided to look at a website, I'd have to wait through the startup, and once I was done, I'd have to turn it off again before doing anything else. (This works best if your ongoing activities are persistent online--for example, all my IRC chat is through irssi running in screen, so turning off my laptop doesn't make me sign out.)

Distraction Affliction Correction Extension


  1. This is a really nice mindfulness strategy, I think I’ll try unplugging my computer from the wall as well! :)

  2. “procrastinatory clicktrance”. Brilliant.

    I’ve been particularly bad lately, I might try this, in addition to the self-control program.

  3. I would call this tactic anything but simple.

    How about this productivity tip: try to use some actual willpower!

    1. The solution to the problem is to not have had the problem to begin with? Brilliant!

      Wait…people already have the problem.

  4. Ha. I’ve installed Firefox Leechblock, and Chrome Nanny, and now have to open an IE window when I want to read Boingboing. The crappiness of IE makes it such a pain that I don’t waste too much time.

    I remember the first month I had the computer, when rebooting took 30 seconds. Now closer to 5 minutes.

  5. My problem is that ever since I went SSD and the new Ubuntu, my reboot time is down to less than 5 seconds. It takes longer to enter my password to log in than it does to reboot the machine.

  6. Whenever I’m working in a VM I pause it when switching to another app, which stops the clock of the guest OS. I’m quite often shocked to see how much time has elapsed when my perception was that I only checked on “the outside world” for a brief moment or two.

  7. All of us reading the comments to this article are clearly in the depths of a clicktrance and should probably be rebooting our computers instead.

  8. Thanks to reading that article I lost twenty minutes by checking out what Manufactoria was. Yeah, that wasn’t smart.

  9. The new Gawker redesign and shift from /any/ original content (yes, they had some) to all reposted URLs helped a lot – Gizmodo, Valleywag, Kotaku, all gone!

  10. Personally I like to imagine something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It’s covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, Laney, no genitals, and it can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote. Or by voting in presidential elections. —William Gibson, Idoru

  11. Why bother with the reboot? My corporate e-mail and vpn server are severely limited with bandwidth. To top it off my e-mail program is a mono tasker. Click the address book or an unsuspectingly large e-mail? Sit and wait for 5 plus minutes. Want to browse some network directories over VPN? Better block out the rest of the day. Re-boot is a blessing. It only takes 8 minutes.

  12. If you’re using pidgin, only allowing one chat client to run at once doesn’t really do much. Mind you, I find it pretty easy to not spend hour after hour talking to people via chat.

  13. at some time ago I stopped looking period
    make it a deal to watch less than half-a-doz sites

    works for me


  14. I’ve been looking for solutions to procrastination recently, but the ones from xkcd don’t seem that useful.

    If I had the willpower to make myself reboot or stop myself removing leechblock, I wouldn’t have a problem in the first place.

  15. I find that I open many, many tabs for articles I wish to read but never have time to. I hit upon the idea of saving all the tabs to my bookmarks when I needed a fresh start, so that I didn’t feel the need to actually read through everything before the purge. I rest easy knowing that I can “undo” my sudden act of shutting everything down, yet I never have that much draw to seek out the ephemera that waits on-disk.

    And the rare time that I was being too hasty, I can easily pull back up a subset of the pages that I actually need.

    That said, there’s something to be said about restricting the act of opening the pages in the first place. And it would be nice if the systemdidn’t runn out of handles when trying to do real work :).

    Oh… I created a tool that monitored my surfing to figure out how to repro a crash involving random web videos, and ended up leaving it running for the past several months. Here’s my surfing history (never more than 120 simultaneous pages!). And a breakdown by domain (BoingBoing’s #1, of course).

    For those of you wondering… one of my job functions is to create presentation on the “state of the gaming nation” that I present to 30+ industry professionals every week (when I’m able). So I’m aggregating many different stories from several gaming sites, and loading up many of the popular trailers for the prior week to determine which to include. BoingBoing has always been in my browsing logs, though, as my personal vehicle of escape. :)

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