Quantified Internet - how to browse more efficiently

In order to improve the efficiency of my computer use, I have monitored my browsing habits for the last 40 days. This revealed many interesting trends. Using these results, I have suggested some software that we can all use to improve all of our efficiency: Time-Tracker or RescueTime, StayFocusd, SiteBlock, News Feed Eradicator and some simple keyboard shortcuts.


The question I sought to answer was how am I spending time online, and which unproductive activities can I cut back on?

From 16/1 to 25/2, I measured my browsing using Time-Tracker. I did not use other computers or browsers. I used Time Tracker 1.1.0, kept it disabled in incognito mode and set its idle-tracker to off. During this period, I spent one week at home in Australia, one day in transit, two weeks sharing office-space with CFAR and the remainder of the time sharing office-space with Leverage Research. Time Tracker measures time from only one active tab at a time, and this seems to be the active tab only from the window that is on-top.

Results & Discussion

For these 40 days, I spent 171.6 hours on Google Chrome (4.2 hours per day). Here were my 20 most used sites:

I note that:

  • I spent 10% of my time on Facebook (28.4 minutes per day) but it was not my most-used site.
  • Seven of my top twenty most used sites are google sites, and make up 28% of my internet usage.
  • I spend a lot of time reading Wikipedia, Lesswrong, and various other research pages
  • As I newly signed up for OkCupid, the figure is temporarily inflated. Likewise, I have been measuring my cognition for twenty minutes daily on CambridgeBrainSciences for a creatine experiment, so these are not troubling.

Which sites account for most of my internet use, and what can I do about it?

My top 9 websites account for 50.3% of my browsing. My top 20 websites account for 64% of my browsing. The relationship between number of websites and total time spent proceeded in a logarithmic fashion as shown below.

I accessed 183 websites for longer than 5 minutes each. I divided these websites, which accounted for 89% of my browsing time, into categories. There were 1155 sites left uncategorised.

Research Browsing

In the last month, I spent 27% of my time online doing research. This included reading papers and blogs about rationality, productivity, intelligence and the future. The most promising areas for increasing my efficiency in this area are:

  • start reading papers and blog posts only when they are relevant
  • stop reading papers when they cease to become relevant
  • using speed-reading or structured reading techniques

I will practice these.

Social Media and Leisure Browsing

I spent 16% of my time on social media. I think this would have been higher if not for three extensions to Chrome that I use for productivity.

  • StayFocusd: sets a budget of 30 mins per day on addictive sites, and then blocks them. Within this constraint, I spent 28 minutes per day on Facebook - simple
  • News-feed Eradicator: Normally, I open Facebook to send a message, but my time gets sucked into it by the news-feed. News-feed eradicator removes low-value, self-indulgent musings from distant past acquaintances (yes, I realise the irony of writing this on a personal blog) from my attention, and makes the limits set by StayFocusd more achievable
  • Website Blocker: this can be used for any site, but I use to block Reddit. I only used Reddit for 12 minutes over the past 40 days, which is big success, and has been a consistent pattern over the last year. On the one occasion that I used Reddit, it was of particular importance to me, and so I deactivated website blocker. Previously, I might have spent 20 minutes daily on Reddit.

If I can successfully include OkCupid, Meetup.com and Youtube in my 30minute quota, I stand to gain a further 15 productive minutes per day.

Email Browsing

I spent 34 minutes per day on email, which seems far too much. I have a friend whose emails always seem to sign off with please excuse brevity, this was typed on phone. In fact, this is so frequent that I slightly suspect that she attaches the message to all her emails, no matter where she wrote them... There is a lot of time to be saved on emails, probably by decreasing the thoroughness and carefulness with which I write some low-priority emails.

Browsing Searches

Spending 11 minutes per day starting at a google search is concerning. On seeing this result, I have resolved to start using two shortcuts that I recently added to my Google Chrome:

  • When I type "s " into my navbar, it turns into a Google Scholar Search. (You can copy this link and paste it into Manage Search Engines in Chrome's options menu)
  • When I type "d " into my navbar, it turns into an I'm Feeling Lucky Search.

These should save a lot of time and are quite easily inputted.

Final Remarks

Time-tracker worked well, and its data can easily be copied into Excel for analysis. I have heard good things about RescueTime, which I plan to use now to monitor all of my computer usage - not just browsing.

I recommend StayFocusd, SiteBlock, News Feed Eradicator and keyboard shortcuts and will report whether they continue to help.