A great way to cut down on the amount of time spent online is by creating an internet ritual. Creating a ritual was crucial for me when I recently compressed my internet usage  from as much as two hours a day into just thirty minutes. To eliminate 75% of my internet time and still stay on top of my inbox was difficult but having a ritual made it much easier.
Here are the basic steps to creating your own internet ritual to reclaim your time:
1) Make it Daily
Find a specific time of day you will leave for internet time. I usually complete my ritual right in the morning, although I’ve been considering moving it to later in the day. The point is that the ritual happens just once a day at a time that is familiar to me. Consistency is crucial when making a pattern of behavior, so constantly changing the time or conditions I run the ritual would make it less effective.
Write down on a piece of paper the numbers one through ten. Use this list to prioritize the importance of various sites, inboxes and forums you visit. In my list I have e-mail and my RSS reader first while site stats, income stats and other websites are ranked lower down. Making this list helps me to clarify what things need to be checked once a day and which ones won’t cause a disaster if they are left alone.
3) Queue It Up
Once I’ve created a list of internet sites to check, my next goal is to queue up all the places I will visit along my browsers toolbar. This cuts out time typing in address names or searching for a specific part of a larger site. The icons are arranged by their priority, so I know if I travel left to right I am already conducting my ritual as efficiently as possible.
Here’s a screen capture of what my toolbar looks like. Left to right I have items ranked in importance. This toolbar covers 90% of the web usage I need, with occasional inquiries I need to make being outside of my daily ritual.
4) Set a Time Limit
Your ritual may be a little faster, but it won’t really improve your productivity unless you set a time limit. Although recently I’ve been handling more net usage in dealing with my upcoming book launch, normally I keep my time limit between 30-45 minutes. Setting a time limit combined with a prioritized queue means that anything I don’t have time for wasn’t a critical process.
5) Group all Internet Activity into One Point
Grouping all your net activity onto your daily ritual keeps it from creeping out and stealing time from your day. With the recent book launch and some schedule gaps, my internet usage has spread outside of my daily ritual, so I may do a Thirty Day Trial to correct that after my routine becomes stable again.
I try to make sure that my RSS feeds and any voluntary subscriptions to new information can fit within my daily ritual or I cut off the excess. As for e-mail, you’ll have to develop your own system for prioritizing to fit into a daily block. Even if you can’t wrangle in all your internet usage down to one daily ritual, getting 80% of it there and having a few extra checking periods is still better than no control at all.
6) Make it a Habit
Take out a thirty day trial to help reinforce your new internet ritual. If you want tips on how to make it a habit, check out my Habitual Mastery  series or stay tuned for my upcoming book, How to Change a Habit.
I’ve noticed that occasional periods of forced contraction can optimize my internet usage for several months. After this my ritual may degrade if my priorities change. This can happen if I shift to a different e-mail program, pick up a new revenue stream that needs monitoring or my levels of traffic/activity adjust.
I like to think of internet usage like a car. If it is well cared for it can stay in good shape, but it will still probably need occasional tune-ups to function perfectly.
Image courtesy of flickr