"The internet" is a giant drain of time. In my final year in school, I experimented with not getting internet access and instead relied on a friend to update my Debian mirror and read mail in batches. My grades rocketed skywards without me doing much of anything at all...
If you can, turn it off, in more or less drastic ways. Restrict sites like this one with LeechBlock. Try recording yourself, then watch and experience the pain... Never(tm) sit down in front of a computer without a hand-written plan of things to do. Once the task is done, consciously plan the next one, write it down, and repeat. GTD, Pomodoro all can help.
What works for you depends on many factors. Usually one or two of the available techniques are enough to stop oneself from drifting around aimlessly on the web.
We have created this giant information-distraction machine. We should therefore also be able to control it...
Solid post and there's a lot to agree with. However, one statement was difficult to digest.
If factors like "health", "happiness", or "family" rank below professional goals, your long-term priorities are not stable.
The second factor, happiness, is probably the most difficult of the three to qualify. Professional goals and happiness may be intimately related for many people, and activities that bring more immediate happiness may be ones that detract from long-term satisfaction. Maybe a more accurate way to put this would be to avoid pursuing professional goals if it involves sacrificing life goals.
Happiness seemed appropriate there to me. It's an emotion, which necessarily makes it hard to define. Happiness usually seems like some static combination of relationships, hobbies and work. This balance can change, though. It's mostly a slow and gradual process, so we don't notice.
Monitoring "happiness" means keeping a long term barometer on your mood, looking for trends. It's the first sign of unaligned goals and actions, before you can be aware of which particular one is not to your liking.
That's my own take that I've adapted from something Steve Jobs described in a Stanford commencement speech:
"I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
Explicit boundaries are extremely helpful. Time-based boundaries like mentioned in the OP are good ("disable Internet access at night"), but I've found that location-based boundaries are also extremely helpful.
As an example: no work in the bedroom, ever. This includes reading work email, doing web research, taking work calls, logging into a server, etc. If you have to do something work-related, take it outside. This helps you (and your partner, if you have one) keep good sleep hygiene, and also provides a good barrier to obsessing with work. ("I could check my email, but do I really want to get out of bed?")
This also applies to side-projects. Take it outside.
My wife and I have periodically enforced a "no screens in the bedroom" rule (with exceptions for e-Ink), but this breaks down sometimes when we need to have a phone in the room for emergencies, and when one or the other of us gets obsessed with a new tablet game. ;-) But it's usually possible to at least keep objects with physical keyboards out, which provides an additional protection for me against cheating on the "no work" rule.
I used to work 7 days a week. Pretty much every hour was at a computer or laptop. My partner wasn't happy and looking back I wasn't particularly happy either.
To correct that I set specific work hours and chose not to work weekends. Obviously there are exceptions to this. Sometimes work demands working a little longer. Sometimes the world ends on a weekend. This is fine. However these events should be few and far between.
I found though that I still wasn't too happy. I would get anxious and stressed at the weekends. I discovered the reason for this was because I was still checking my email. I would see bug reports or requests and I would anxiously look at the time and realize it was still 32 hours till I started work on Monday.
To fix that I stopped checking emails. If it is truly urgent I will get a phone call. If it is "email urgent" it can almost always wait till Monday.
The result has been a much better work/life balance and I have been happier in general.
I tried Pomodoro a while ago and found 25 mins too short to do anything especially coding. Then I adopted a variant of it: 50 mins timer for work and 10 minutes break time. The tool I use is the timer feature of iPhone Clock app. Have boosted my productivity a lot.
This has been mentioned before on HN and I'll take that as a general vote of confidence. The official site has videos that don't want to play (on my laptop) and seem to expect one to buy the book in order to learn it.
Curious. I've actually found the opposite, even when writing fiction. In my case, at least, I find that the mandatory breaks both keep me from diving too deep down off-topic rabbit holes and free my subconscious to solve plot or structure problems.
It's almost like the diet and weight-loss industry. We spend way more time and effort on trying to solve the problems than on preventing them in the first place.
Want to balance work/life? Here's the secret formula which I'm giving away for free today only:
Work 40 hours / week
Sleep 56 hours / week
Play 72 hours / week
This formula covers everything discussed in the blog post. What's surprising about it is that it is nothing new!
We're way overthinking this. The American workforce has been getting up, going to work, coming home and enjoying time with friends and family and hobbies for decades without having an industry of workflow systems and work-life balance editorials. But to make it this simple sells no books, attracts no seminar attendees, and brings in no blog readers.
Two things me sane: I get up an hour earlier than I need to in the morning to sit, think (high level/long term), plan and occasionally write. I set "Do not disturb" on my phone to automatically enable at 6pm daily.
Similar to the tactics of disabling internet access at certain intervals, there's a good way to cut you off from compulsively checking Facebook, LinkedIn etc. at work.
Create a very long, random password and store it in your computer (e.g. KeePass Portable) but do not memorize it. That way you'll be unable to log in at work unless you ask for password reset. If that's not enough, create a special email account for time-suckers and do the same. Works like a charm.
i figured much of this out years ago. the biggest piece of advice i can wholeheartedly recommend is be explicit about your priorities. once you do that, everything falls into place, decisions become easy.
my wife is sometimes confused as to why i haven't taken certain jobs or career paths but when i explain to her the impact it would have on things that are more important to me, she seems to understand. about a year ago, i was reminded of this in reading william whyte's "the organization man", in particular the chapters about family. right then and there i made a decision, i backed out of some job offers and have been pleased.
take care of yourself, that's the most basic lesson of all, and that doesn't mean focusing strictly on finances (real or anticipated) or your career.