Slow Your Bandwidth to Increase Your Focus
Dec 06, 2011 Clay Johnson

My super secret weapon in writing The Information Diet was that I could afford to take a month off, go into seclusion, and get this book done. Few frameworks I can offer can afford you the freedom from distraction that I got working from inside a remote cabin off of coastal Georgia. The most important thing I had there wasn't scenery -- mosquitoes ate me alive every time I went outside -- it was the miracle of slow bandwidth. Where I was at only had about two consistent bars of EDGE level service from Verizon, and only then, at certain times of the day.

There are a lot of tools out there that will help you manage the lure of distraction online by shutting down your internet access for a set period of time. RescueTime gives you a setting that'll shut it off for a set period of time. Another one is called Freedom that'll require you to reboot your machine if you want the Internet turned on. For more of tools like these, check out the Information Diet Resources site. I'm cataloging all the tools I find along these lines. And if you have tools to contribute, you can always contribute to it on github.

Sometimes though, cutting your Internet won't work. When I was writing The Information Diet, I could never tell when I'd need the Internet. But I knew that access to the Internet was slowing my progress. I'd often go on a research mission online only to find myself distracted by the siren call of Google+'s shiny red notification button. Problem was, turning the Internet off wasn't an option: It's just not feasible to print out all your research and then write your book. As I explored subjects in my writing, I needed more research.

With slow bandwidth, I could begin a search on the web, knowing full well it'd take some time, and then get back to writing. It kept me away from bandwidth intensive sites like Facebook. And usually when I was trying to do something counter-productive, I found myself getting frustrated with the web, and taking a walk or stretching instead. So at least my counter-productivity was healthy. Even if I did want to check the land of twitter, I'd have to type in the URL, and wait several minutes for the page to load giving me no other choice but to get back to work.

As soon as I got back to civilization, I tried to find ways to emulate that slow bandwidth. There are a lot of new tools available for slowing down your bandwidth. This discussion on HackerNews. There's Slowly App ($3.99 USD, OS X) that sits in your menu-bar and allows you to throttle your bandwidth whenever you'd like. For the OS X proficient and those with the free OS X Developer Tools, there's also Network Link Conditioner which does the same thing. On Windows, there's NetLimiter, and the cross platform charlesproxy for those of you on Linux.

Even though my book's done and I don't need to produce or research at the levels I was when I was writing the book, I like having the ability to throttle my bandwidth to get some writing done. If anything, the few seconds it takes for a distraction to load is all I need to remind myself to get back to work. And it also fits in nicely to the theme of the book: taking on these tactics means seeking control over the information, rather than having it control you.

Information Diet © 2011 Clay Johnson