Is this you?It started innocently enough a few years ago, didn’t it? It wasn’t like you were actually breaking the law, being a criminal, being a Bad Person hurting people. No one was getting hurt – if there’s no victim, there’s no crime, right? Besides, everyone else was doing it! It was no worse than swiping that candy bar off the shelf at the store, right? You didn’t get caught then so you won’t get caught now.
At least that’s what you tell yourself. Or try to tell yourself. Maybe if you tell yourself enough times you’ll convince yourself and you can start looking in a mirror again.
But I know you’re stealing – and so do your friends, your coworkers, the girl you’re trying to impress. We all know.
What you’re stealing is time from yourself.
You grab a few minutes here, a web site there, pop an IM with a friend, check out a cool new and shiny thing online and you don’t even remember doing it 10 minutes later. When you do things that hurt yourself and you can’t remember doing them, you need help.
Email by email, web site by web site, bit by digital bit we’ve become an online nation of thieves – stealing from ourselves productivity and focus and hopes and dreams and our futures. So you want to build a real future for yourself, a real software company that you can be proud to say, “I built this. I did!”? Stealing is not going to get the job done my friend.
We call ourselves “digital nomads” or “web workers” or “microISVs” or “freelancers” or “startups” but any real nomad that was as easily distracted as we are would end up a pile of stinking bones in the desert before the next full moon. And if we had real bosses – sons of bitches who watched your every move at work – we’d be canned by the end of the week.
The real world does not reward stupidity. And trying to build something worthwhile for yourself while frittering away each business day in a haze of email, IMs, web sites that don’t directly relate to what you are doing is stupid and will get you nothing but tears and heartache.
Letting email/IM/twitter/browser run full bore during the periods of the day you are supposed to be creating something is exactly as stupid and criminal as driving a car while on your cell while texting while watching a dvd player. Someone is going to get hurt, and you’ll be to blame.
Don’t get me wrong – I love, really love, each and every part of the online world I’m lucky enough to be a part of. It’s all good! And I do exactly what I’ve described in this post and like a drunk who fights the bottle each time I know I shouldn’t do it. the point is, you have to admit it’s wrong, it’s hurting yourself, it’s something you have to make yourself stop doing.
If you laugh at this post, you’re still kidding yourself. And if you’re pissed, if it got under your skin, well, you know what they say: the things people say that you hate the most are the things you should listen to.
Update 1: I guess I really hit a nerve with this post – good! That was my intention because the biggest obstacle to building a startup or microISV is confronting all those easy ways to get pulled off course, to lose focus and intention. And for developers, information is the sweetest candy in the shop.
I’ve tried to fix my various typoes rightfully pointed out by various commentators, and will be posting in the next day or two some of the ways I’ve found to beat that urge to steal time from myself.
Update 2: 5 Strategies to stop stealing time from yourself.


  1. I don’t care to be lectured by your petty self rightousness.

  2. Guilty as charged. I have to admit I am also guilty of what you have described. I think the onus is on being able to temper the temptation to again check our email or check an online resource or visit a site for something in between the activities that we are currently doing. I know it is hard but the solution could be putting some structures in place so that the temptation is either minimised of eliminated e.g. to set the email client to only alert you when the email is tagged as critical or very high; to allocate a couple of blocks of time of 10-15 minutes to do some research (if needed) or to check the online news. Of course all of the structures in place will be useless if one is not determined to follow them. For those who do not really need the internet all the time then maybe to have no internet connection in the development machine and another one which has but is located some distance from where one sits. Just some ideas.

  3. Indeed you did.
    My Dad has this expression that he repeated to me over and over when I was younger and I was wasting my time playing games, watching dumb shows on TV, etc.
    He called it the “brain-hours”, and said you only have a limited number of those in your life, and what you choose to spend them on determines your life.

  4. Good post, I really do waste too much time doing shit I don’t need to. Also, I’d add IRC to the list. Biggest waste of time I can’t seem to quit. XD

  5. I just stole myself 5 minutes while reading your post. Thank god I will forget about in 1 … 2 … what was I going to say?

  6. your article is so true. thanks for the wake up call, it’s easy to slip into this problem.

  7. You may think of me as naive, however, I think I can compensate for a certain level of procrastination.
    When I actually work, I work. I think about the problems and see if my logic works.
    I am not able to multi task, but I can time slice.
    So I can work a bit, think a bit on it, browse/IM a bit. Then pick up where I left off.
    If I didn’t think I was ahead of schedule,. I wouldn’t do it at all.

  8. I saw the headline on Reddit and thought “Well I’m not stealing anything… except maybe time.”
    Then I clicked and read… BUSTED!

  9. FeepingCreature Reply

    > the things people say that you hate the most are the things you should listen to.
    Your mom ***** **** in hell.
    Disproven by counterexample. Just saying.

  10. I agree with Anonymous, you are lecturing to the masses about the shortcomings of the few. There are those of us who can balance both a digital and real life.
    By your very logic, we have all wasted time reading your article since it was posted online, and has little value. That is the only point upon which I agree with you.

  11. davidtehgnome Reply

    Yes we get it, like everything in life, browsing the web must be done with some moderation in mind. Your article is however, more than a little condescending. Especially since you pose no solutions and merely bad mouth the media you ironically use as a soapbox for, well gotta agree with the first guy here, “petty self righteousness”. Honestly man, do you think anyone, and i mean ANYONE is going to read this and not think your just a total douchebag?
    Just saying even bad advice columns give some advice, or at least a sliver of insight. But this article might as well not even exist its so unenlightened. I’m actually convinced that this page is not so much about internet habits as it is a perfect example of a tired guilt ridden amputee porn addicted republican deviant, hell bent on “saving” the people from his own fate, whilst at the same time cramming in so much irony and hypocrisy it genuinely boggles the mind.

  12. I have this same feeling most days. I’m not as productive as I want to be and have to fight constantly not to procrastinate. I was hoping that there weren’t others like myself out there, but I guess it explains a lot of the apathy I see.

  13. Amen, brother. Thanks for writing about this — I’m glad to be seeing more folks thinking about and discussing this issue. It’s immensely important and clearly (judging by above) controversial, so a little backlash from the kiddies is to be expected, but you can’t really argue with the mounting evidence in favor of it.
    If you haven’t yet heard of it, I highly recommend Maggie Jackson’s new book “Distracted.” Take a look. Cheers.

  14. He does have a point. This is kind of ridiculous to point this out and then not offer any suggestion on how to stop.

  15. Anon Hymous Reply

    You hit a nerve with me as well, only I don’t feel belittled to admit it. This obsession with productivity is poisonning our lives. It’s poisoning mine, it’s probably poisoning yours (though you seem to be denying it). Before there was the internet there were newspapers and coffee machines and two-hour lunches. And there have allways been productivity hounds, of the sort that have built a world of fast food joints, speed dating, assembly chains and mass production, and all the other stuff deemed “necessary”.
    Grow up and grow out of it.

  16. Grammar Socalist Reply

    “And if your pissed, if it got under you’re skin […]”
    You should steal a few hours from yourself and learn to write proper, like wot I can.

  17. What a boring, lame post. It’s ironic that I’m “stealing” my time to respond to your time stealing post! But I’m doing it anyway, now aren’t I?

  18. Michael Campbell Reply

    “And if your [sic] pissed, if it got under you’re [sic] skin,…”

  19. Mike Simons Reply

    Meh. You just stole 2 minutes of my life.
    I am neither laughing nor pissed.
    Just wondering exactly what your point was.
    Did it occur to you that if you are 100% productive 100% of the time you are no longer human?
    Live a little dude.

  20. “and criminal as driving a car while on your cell while texting while watching a dvd player”
    not yet illegal in all states. Go to Alabama and text while watching a dvd to your heart’s content.

  21. Did you hit a nerve or are you just pointing out the obvious – in your free time of non-stealing, you could have created or perhaps suggested ways in which you have improved your own life and helping ours instead of pointing out all the negatives of web addiction and wagging your finger.

  22. Every day, I find myself doing exactly what you just described. Website to website- watching my work day disappear.
    Thanks for the admonishment. I needed a spotlight like this to get me back on track.

  23. Anonymous can’t read or was attempting sarcasm. Good article. It ‘s the sort of thing I know and I know and I know–it’s just a matter of doing. Last Sunday the priest was talking about daily opportunities for courage. He went another direction, but I immediately thought of the 100 times a day battle to get on task or stay on task. That may not say much for me, but if I can’t run I can at least work on crawling.

  24. A Nony Mouse Reply

    Neither laugh nor frown
    Furrows this brow.
    Sadly, my head nods at the truth laid out so clearly.
    I would indeed have written
    my real name
    Had I not been reading this at work (what have I done today?).

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  26. Do you really think that this is thieve. I’ve worked in environments where IM is forbidden, and they tend to be less productive that the ones where you can do whatever you want as long as you get the things done. Ok, it requires more self control, but that’s the point: If you are doing less work by using IM/Twitter/WEB/Whatever at work, then you are wrong, no everyone that does, I’m pretty proud of what I’m able to do with my time sharing it with hobbies during the day.

  27. “…stupid and criminal as driving a car while on your cell while texting while watching a dvd player.”
    Digressing… people do all kinds of things they shouldn’t when driving, besides stealing company time, and they have no remorse. Try riding a motorcycle to work every day and see how poorly people drive. Getting back to the topic. I think that you are correct. When you agree to work for someone, they are paying you for work… not social networking. The first post, above, is really indicative of an immature person. Wait until that person has their own company and employees aren’t working when they should, the indignant poster will realize the folly of their current mindset.
    I liked your article. Bravo.

  28. “I do exactly what I’ve described in this post”
    “it’s something you have to make yourself stop doing”
    Bitter sweet harmony? I personally think much of what you describe can be termed “research”. Unless your internet company is dealing with… shoes. In that case, it can be termed “sole less”.
    The humour.

  29. I thought at first you were talking about pirating software 😛
    Although I used to do that too… But when I started creating software I realized it hurt a lot more people than I thought – even if it IS software from a big company.
    Anyway, I whole heartedly agree with your post. Which is one reason I never signed up for twitter and dropped IM completely. I’ve even stripped my RSS feed reader of any site who’s news is irrelevant next week or even next month. It’s simply not worth the time. For instance if I spend on averaged one hour a day on news that will be irrelevant within the month I’ll have waisted 30 some-odd hours.
    I’ve begin to realize what takes my time and shouldn’t. As a result I’ve started timing myself rigorously on my different projects and sometimes even tasks within a project (with slimtimer).

  30. Ah, and don’t worry about Anonymous. Speaking the truth is better than a crowd of “friends” in all fields of life.

  31. How can it be self rightous if the Bob admits to having to fight the same problem? We all have this problem to some degree.

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  33. The problem I have (and if I’m just fooling myself I’m sure you’ll let me know) is the “web sites that don’t directly relate to what you are doing” part. Finding that “directly relating” line. TMZ, even digg, obvious time wasters. If I’m doing a “Web 2.0” project, what about Ajaxian?
    I can spend two days offline toiling to work around a limitation in Dojo, get back online and see that yesterday a new version of Dojo was released that fixed the problem. Wasted time I could have spent on my product, but surfing and checking on new technology is no guaranteed payoff either. Have to find that balance. 90+% of (where I found a link to this) can be a time waster, but sometimes I find out a new library or algorithm that really helps out.
    People came here from one of the “headline” sites, and don’t know what you do. What’s your “product”, and how much time do YOU spend a day in directly-related, guilt-free-this-is-helping-my-product surfing?

  34. Maybe it’s about time to open “chatting anonymous” or “RSS anonymous”… Yes, admitting you have a problem is a step towards solving it. And, yes, people who work in big corporates do it all the time, too.
    Bob, WWD lost you, but we won you back. It’s great to be reading your blog again. Excellent post.

  35. > “if your pissed” ???
    Well, some people can’t take a little constructive criticism is all… I’m guessing he put that there for those that can’t.

  36. Bob Walsh Reply

    See the pretty land mine! Let’s step on it!
    The comments here mostly break into three groups:
    1. “How dare you piss me off by being right, you tired guilt ridden amputee porn addicted republican deviant [love that!]!” If I was so wrong, why are you so mad?
    2. “Learn to spell, dude. It helps.” Fair enough – I’ve been at it for 51 out of 51 years as a reporter, developer, author, blogger and more and I’m still getting the hang of it. Apologies – I’ve fixed “your” and a few others in this post.
    3. “Okay, what suggestions can you offer?” A few hundred posts here [] and at my old blog, on the subject, but check back at in a day or two – I’ll be posting a fresh set of ways to stop stealing time from yourself.
    Be seeing you!

  37. It’s easy to fall into a trap over time and not be aware of it. I enjoy it when I come across something that makes me go…right, thanks for the reminder.
    I guess every person has different styles and different ways of working.
    I, for one, enjoy reminders.
    So thanks for reminding me to stay focused!

  38. “if it got under you’re skin” > “if it got under your skin”
    Only stealing time here, calm yourselves.

  39. You know, a smart person once told me that time is nothing more than a unit of measurement. What makes time important to us is the fact that we’re living during that time. Hence, instead of saying “wasting my time” say “wasting my life”. That can give you a better understanding on the magnitude of the problem.

  40. I just wasted time reading this post and ALL the comments.
    I guess I’m guilty as charged, not that I give a shit.

  41. “But I know you’re stealing” is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if one reads blogs, one is indeed wasting/stealing time. And if one doesn’t waste time like this, he’ll never read this post.

  42. Wow I came here from Reddit (imho a good site to waste time in) and what you said pretty much resonates me from the get go. Well thanks man as I’m going to cut my laptops internet connection as soon as I leave this comment.

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  44. “It is the standards of civilized men not of beasts that must be kept in mind, for it is good men not beasts who are capable of real courage. Those like the Spartans who concentrate on the one and ignore the other in their education turn men into machines and in devoting themselves to one single aspect of city’s life, end up making them inferior even in that.” –Aristotle

  45. Guilty as charged!!! 😀 Your post made me realize a lot of the things I’m doing online. I realized that I’m spending a lot of my time just wondering the web. I do that to look for interesting stuff that I can post but still, there are ways to optimize my time. Thanks for pointing that out. By the way, I was eyeing your template for sometime now from quommunication. Maybe in the future if I can afford it.

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  47. I thought your post was a legitimate one concerning software piracy, a valid debate, for which I would be interested in a quality discussion… then I realized you’re talking about personal productivity and behavioral patterns. What a stupid post – see a psychiatrist if you have these issues. All you did was prove(once again – much like 1+2=3), that lousy headlines and lousy writing, if written with an amount of flair, can attract attention. It’s no different than a car accident with everyone slowing by to look. Cheap parlor tricks proving that you sir should not blog. You are exactly the problem and are not needed by the blogosphere/interweb, do you honestly not see that you and those like you are the source of the problem? Now that I am laughing at.

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  50. Bob – you are so right. I am trying to set up a very small internet based business as a writer as well as dipping my toes in forex (the two go together) in order to fund financially and to free up time practically to pursue my real dream of writing screenplays.
    I realised a few months ago that I was becomeing a slave to certain internet communication tools – my daughter got me onto FaceBook, for example, then I found friends joining my FB page and soon I got a couple of snidy emails because I had not responded to their message on a wall, or their virtual hug !
    I found the same with instant messenger – someone would invite me to converse, I was busy writing and being (!) self-disciplined would ignore the annoying little pop-up – but later found that I had offended them.
    But it’s not just other people disrespecting my personal space – I set of on net searches with a purpose only to find that I begin to follow links that are increasingly tangential to the original search and -voila! – before I know it I’ve wasted the best part of an hour collecting information that is of no use to my writing and research.
    This was a great post – as the response shows, I shall explore your site further (but not just yet – I’ve set myslef to write three scenes before I’m allowed a coffe break!)
    à bientôt
    Letting email/IM/twitter/browser run full bore during the periods of the day you are supposed to be creating something is exactly as stupid and criminal as driving a car while on your cell while texting while watching a dvd player. Someone is going to get hurt, and you’ll be to blame.

  51. Hi Bob – I just tried to edit my last comment – the quote from your original post at the end was intended to illustrate my point – but I forgot to put in in quote marks and reference you ! Sorry.
    In addition – I think there may be an age-related factor here – my 23 year-old daughter seems to be able to multi-task – she has messenger permanently open, and it is constantly ‘beeping’ – which I think means that she’s getting messages, she arranges her local social life that way. At the same time she’s on facebook or ringo or some other – possible more than one – to keep in toch with people further afield. She has her mobile phone and seems to be texting regularly. At the same time she is successfully pusuing a business degree in French (her mother tongue is English) and is consistently getting great marks – even though assignments are written whilst all the above social newtworking is going on.
    She also has her iPod playing most of the time.
    She laughs that I have to stop walking to take a swig of water out of a bottle – there’s no chance that I could successfully multi-task on all those technologies – I’m 50 years old by the way.
    Do you think there is an age factor? I heard a BBC show about how kid’s brains are slowly adapting and that there are distinct changes in synapse activity in the younger generation as a result of all the technology.

  52. So I’m supposed to work all day, every day without ever taking a break to relax and waste time? If you have to work all day, every day to live the way you want to, you’re a failure (or an extreme over-achiever who has lost all perspective, which I guess is just a type of failure). I’m going to school so I can get a job that pays enough that I don’t have to work 12 hour days and I can relax as much as I want to.
    What’s next, a rant about kids these days not reading enough books? Times change. People used to kill time listening to radio shows, then watching TV shows. Now we have the web. It sounds like you don’t like change, so you’re assuming that the web is a worse way to waste time than any other, but is it? There’s certainly a lot more information and collaborative thinking on the web than on TV, the radio, or in any book. It doesn’t sound like a bad way to waste time if you ask me.

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  54. Good post, albeit an unconventional one. It’s true I think, that the majority of people who have attention problems are not aware of them. I suspect those who are very disciplined may be completely unaware of the distraction some people face.
    Any kind of thought work requires focus and I suspect that ‘the ability to concentrate’ will become a precious commodity at some point in the future, if it isn’t already.

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  56. Ok, good post, agree with the the idea, the theme, the initiative yes yes yes…
    but man…..
    “The real world does not reward stupidity”
    No. Wrong. The real world LOVES to reward stupidity. Loves it. Eats it up and spews it out and it’s the terrible circle jerk of culture and BS that makes up our modern real world.
    I mean, the most recent example off the top of my head:

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  61. The best employers I have ever had the pleasure of working for understand that we all need a release, a break in thought. My employer does not pay me to be their physical and mental slave, who governs what I think, do or say for 40 hours a week…. they pay me a salary to do a job that is required. Both them and myself know the expectations. If I am able to perform said job title at the end of the day, then they are not worried about what other activities occupy my day. I did what was expected (and often more) and what I was paid for.

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