• Cyberloafing is wasting time browsing the web at work
  • Cyberloafing is a coping mechanism to deal with negative emotions
  • Trick yourself into working with fun ways to overcome cyberloafing
You’ve got several open items that need to get done this week. None of them are ultra-high priority emergency projects, but they’re all things you need to take care of within the next few days.

You know that you should get started on a few of them and finish up the ones that are due today, but you’re not feeling very motivated to work.

You’re on your computer and you have the relevant docs open on your desktop. And in your mind, the fact that the docs are open and running is enough to qualify yourself as officially “working”.

But those docs are just in the background.

You’ve got your web browser open and you’re dawdling around the web.

Maybe, it’s checking your personal email and scanning your stuffed inbox for anything remotely interesting - again.

Maybe, it’s scanning the latest deals on Amazon and checking the status of your latest order.

Or the deadliest, maybe you check out Instagram and fall down the rabbit hole of the infinite scroll of your best friend’s cousin’s wife’s photos from 5 years ago.

And then, BAM! There goes two hours of your workday, right down the shitter.

You, my friend, just fell victim to cyberloafing.

What Is Cyberloafing Anyway?

The term “cyberloafing” originated sometime in the mid-to-late 90’s as companies began getting connected to the web and allowed employees to access the internet from their computers at work.

Cyberloafing is when employees browse the internet during working hours on non-work related things while putting off the real work they should be doing.

Back before the age of smartphones, people used the company’s internet access to get online because it was far faster than the slow-as-molasses dial-up access at home. Web pages would load in mere seconds at work versus waiting a couple of minutes for it to download using home dial-up.

Employees would visit message boards, scan Yahoo news, chat with BFFs using AOL instant messenger, etc.

Today, we’ve got high-speed internet access pretty much everywhere, including at our desk at work and right in the palm of our hands.

And now, it’s all about Googling random shit, watching video clips on YouTube, Facebooking, hunting for deals online, etc. while at work, using either the company’s internet access or your own smartphone.

So, while the internet sources and access methods may have changed, the behavior is pretty much the same.

We’re browsing non-work related web sites, accessing personal email, doing personal online shopping, scrolling through social media, etc. instead of working.

Basically, cyberloafing is just another form of procrastination, just in a more modern techie kind of way.

Why We All Cyberloaf At Work

If you’ve browsed the web on anything that’s not work-related while on the clock, you’re part of the millions of us that have wasted some time at work doing personal shit.

While there isn’t an exact percentage of how many of us cyberloaf at work, we can confidently say that nearly all of us have procrastinated via cyberloafing at some point, especially now that we all have smartphones.

Of course, there are exceptions like those that have some serious responsibilities where lives are at stake - think air traffic controllers, operating room surgeons, firefighters, etc.

But even in those jobs, we guarantee that they cyberloaf during their downtime and breaks too.

So, the question isn’t whether we do it or not. The main question is why we do it in the first place.

And most of us would say that it’s because of lack of self-discipline or apathy. But, it’s not that. 

It’s All About Emotions, Not Laziness 

While the concept of cyberloafing is a relatively new thing, the fundamental reasons for why we do it aren’t new.

Cyberloafing is categorically just another form of procrastination. And guess what, procrastination has been around since forever.

And like procrastination, cyberloafing isn’t about laziness, lack of self-discipline or the inability to manage time. It’s about dealing with our current state of negative emotions, specifically, those feelings of boredom, stress, anxiety, resentment, frustration, etc.

Put simply, cyberloafing is a coping mechanism.

Fundamentally, it’s no different than gossiping with your coworkers, killing some time in the break room, heading out for a smoke, etc. Basically, doing anything but the work that you need to do.

Cyberloafing is our way of dealing with our current shitty mood and to get us into a better emotional state for a short period of time.

Sources Of Negative Emotions That Trigger Cyberloafing

There are a variety of sources at work and in our personal lives that can trigger negative emotional states that can lead to cyberloafing at work.

It can be one thing or a combination of things.

No matter what the source, you know the negative feeling that we’re talking about here.

You simply just don’t feel like working.

It’s not the raging “hate my fucking job” kind of emotion. It’s more mellow than that.

It’s more along the lines of a “meh, don’t really care” kind of attitude.

Here are some scenarios that can put us into that state of mind.

Boredom From Not Having Enough To Do
When we’re bored, our minds crave some kind of stimulation. And when we don’t provide this, our minds will shift our moods to a more negative state.

The range of emotions include dullness, frustration, impatience, irritability, annoyance, etc.

When this happens, our first inclination to fix the boredom issue is not to start working on our projects, but to open up our web browser on our computer or our phone and start cyberloafing.

This study published in Science Direct explains in more detail how cyberloafing is often used as a way to deal with boredom at work.

It’s a perfect mix of stimulating relief, which sounds contradictory, but it describes the feeling well.

Mistreatment or Unfairness
Cyberloafing can also be a response to mistreatment in the workplace.

For example, you bust your ass on a project by working late into the evenings, weekends and even holidays for weeks or even months. Then, you’re not compensated for that extra effort. And maybe worse, you’re not even recognized or appreciated for the hard work.

What typically follows is a negative sentiment that your boss and/or the company doesn’t give a shit about you. You feel underappreciated and feel that you’re not getting the recognition that you deserve.

So, how do we deal with this?

We will cyberloaf during working hours to make-up for all that extra work we put in. It’s a tit-for-tat thing where an hour of cyberloafing is completely justified by the extra hour that was put in at night or over the weekend.

It could also be from other unfair treatment scenarios like performance reviews, management decisions, policy changes, etc.

Stressed & Overworked
It’s common for a lot of companies to ask more from their employees so that the company can hit its targets and goals, be it financial or otherwise.

What ends up happening is that employees are asked to take on more projects and tasks not only within their core responsibilities, but also outside of them.

We get stretched so thin that we barely have the time or energy to take care of ourselves. And when we start getting close to that breaking point, we give in and drop everything to decompress and escape the madness for a bit.

Cyberloafing is the pressure release valve and pathway to just get away from all the bullshit and press the pause button on life for awhile.

Disengaged With Job
When we’re working a job that doesn’t excite us or at the very least, keep us interested, we just become clock-punchers. We show up, do some stuff, shut down and go home - repeat over and over.

Sometimes, it can feel like we’re living out groundhog’s day - every day. The same mundane tasks with little to no variety.

When there isn’t anything to be motivated about at work, we naturally become disconnected from our jobs. And, when this happens, we seek out other things that are more fun, enjoyable and/or relaxing through cyberloafing.

Our minds crave stimulation through connectedness with other people, things or activities.

Overwhelmed With Big Task
Every year in mid-April, we all have a looming deadline of having to submit our taxes to Uncle Sam. Many of us dread having to do tax returns because it’s a big task that takes time and effort. It’s about as fun as getting a root canal at the dentist.

At work, this feeling of being overwhelmed by a big project or task doesn’t come up just once a year like taxes. It happens every week or even daily for some of us. We all get stressed AF.

It’s the monstrous Powerpoint presentation that you’ve got to put together, the cross-departmental project report, the research analysis, etc.

These large projects put a real heavy feeling of hardship on your shoulders and you haven’t even started it yet.

Killing time on the web gives us an escape from that - at least temporarily.

Our Minds Are Programmed To Avoid Pain & Suffering 

Our brains are pre-programmed and wired to keep us alive in more ways than you think.

It sends signals of thirst when we need to drink water. It triggers pain when something injures us. It makes us crave food when the body needs energy.

These are all physical attributes that we all know about. But, it also applies to the mental side of things too.

When you see a growling lion that has its eyes locked on you, your mind is releasing all sorts of adrenaline and other signals to get ready to run to safety. It’s all about staying alive.

This same mental safeguarding happens in other non-life threatening situations too.

The mind always wants to avoid pain and suffering, no matter what kind it is. And instead, it seeks out the safe and comfortable.

You may have experienced some of these painful tasks at work:

Filling-out that tedious weekly or monthly report.

Analyzing a mind-numbing excel financial workbook.

Manually keying in thousands of data entries.

Completing internal request forms.

Reviewing legal docs.

None of these tasks will actually kill you or do you any real physical harm but your mind doesn’t see it that way. It sees that work as “pain and suffering” and will do what it can to convince you to put it off until later - maybe, much later.

Our Minds Want “Here & Now” Rewards Not Future Payoffs

Our minds are pre-programmed to address short-term needs, not long-term benefits. It’s the whole “instant gratification” thing versus future positive gains.

Lounging at home binge-watching Netflix gives us that immediate pleasure now, even though we know that heading to the gym and working out will be better for us over the long run.

When you’re experiencing negative emotions (or about to), your mind wants to do what it can right now to stop it or avoid any further or upcoming suffering.

Those tasks that you should be doing aren't necessarily hard to do. They may be boring, tedious or maybe you’re resentful for having to do them.

Whatever it is, they’re all associated with negativity that your mind wants to stay away from. And your mind will fix this problem in the easiest and quickest way possible - by jumping on the internet and surfing the web.

And it feels good.

By putting off those tasks and surfing the web, you immediately reward yourself. And whenever we get rewarded for something, we tend to do it again and again. So, the momentary relief we get when cyberloafing creates a cycle of constant procrastination.

This cycle will continue up until the point where any further delays in your to-do’s will result in much bigger problems that far outweigh the temporary feel-good state.

That point is the “Dammit! I gottta get to back to work” moment.

The Secret To Stop Cyberloafing & Start Working

First of all, don't expect to stop surfing the web as your mental getaway. We're all human and we all need to take breaks during the day.

So, this isn’t about cutting out all of our web browsing relaxation. This is about stopping it from turning into a chronic habit of cyberloafing - the kind that will screw up your career.

Nobody can work non-stop all day long. We all need breathers between the big pushes at work or a bit of downtime before tackling an unpleasant task.

And the fact that you take these breaks doesn't mean that you're a slacker. You’re just in a temporary state of avoidance.

Basically, your mind doesn’t want to deal with the shitty stuff. And, it copes with this by pushing away the tasks that make you unhappy.

But, you can’t keep putting off tasks at work. They all need to get done at some point.

So, here’s the secret to minimizing cyberloafing:

Introduce an easy small change to trick your mind.

This is better known as a pattern interrupt.

Our minds can be like crying babies but when we redirect its attention to something else with a small little distraction, the crying stops and the behavior changes.

With cyberloafing, when we spot it happening, we’ve gotta interrupt the cycle with something that normally doesn’t happen. Something that our minds don’t expect.

So, here are several ideas that you can use to create that distraction and break the cycle.

1) Do Just 2 Minutes Of Work

There are some tasks and projects that you know will eat up a lot of your time. There’s absolutely no way around it. Maybe, it’s gonna take a few solid hours or maybe, it’ll be an all day grind for several days.

However long the task is gonna take, all you think about is how much of your time you’re gonna have to devote to this damn effort.

This kind of perspective will just about kill most people’s motivation.

The key here is to not think about the total amount of time you’ll work, but instead, just think about working for only two minutes - that’s shorter than our bathroom breaks.

And follow through on it by setting the timer on your phone and only work for two minutes then stop.

This could be…

Opening up a new Powerpoint template and just getting the title cover slide done.

Drafting up a rough meeting agenda.

Setting up the columns and rows for the excel file.

Skimming the first page of the report.

Setting the bar low and making it easily achievable is what we’re after here so that you can master the basic skill of just showing up.

And, what you’ll notice is that working for two minutes isn’t that painful and you’ll quickly perfect that basic skill of just showing up and it will naturally lead to 5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes of solid work.

But, start small with two minutes or if you feel that’s too easy, use 5 minutes, but no more than that. Make it super easy to hit your goal then work your way up slowly.

2) Do A Sub-Sub-Sub Task

This is similar to the idea above in the sense that it’s doing part of the work. But instead of a time limitation, this is all about a sub-task limitation.

Looking at a big task or project as a whole can be intimidating. There’s so many parts and elements that you need to sort out - info from other stakeholders, content from other documents, numbers from financial updates, etc.

And, you gotta put all of it together - ugh.

Instead of looking at the enormousness of the project, break things down to much smaller components and focus on just one small action.

Or, if it’s a task, break it down into sub-tasks or even further sub-sub-sub tasks. Get it down to the smallest actionable thing that you can do and just do that one thing only.

So, instead of merging two giant excel databases, just focus on checking that the first column of numbers is in the correct format.

If it’s writing up a big final report, just focus on writing the smallest subsection item only. In fact, break that section further down by just bullet listing the top 3-5 key points - not even writing full sentences.

Do that smallest task and after you complete it, give yourself a little mental high five.

3) Listen To Your Fav Tunes

Nobody likes doing dirty, pain-in-the-ass, annoying or tedious tasks or chores. It’s the same with daily exercise like running or lifting weights. Not many of us are into it.

One solution that will make unpleasant tasks more fun is to simply add music.

Take a look around any open floorplan office and it’s guaranteed that there’s a bunch of folks wearing headphones. Listening to music not only helps you focus in a noisy office environment, but it also makes work more fun.

Classic rock, old skool hip-hop, retro new wave, top 40 hits, jazz-n-blues, etc. whatever your musical tastes are, just adding some tunes to your task will make it far more bearable than without.

If you feel ambitious, create your very own “work focus” playlist from your collection.

Alternatively, there’s always an abundance of options on your streaming music platform of choice with “mood” channels - find one that’s for focusing, studying, reading or mental stimulation.

Tune in the music to tune out the distractions and turn your work into some awesome head-bopping vibes.

4) Start With What You Enjoy Or Are Good At

For the most part, whatever you’re good at is also what you enjoy doing. It’s not always the case, but often times, we tend to excel at what we kick-ass at.

For some, it’s all about crunching numbers. And maybe for others, it’s all about creativity like finding that perfect piece of clipart or photo. And yet others might be wizards at formatting, getting everything unified and lined up perfectly.

We all have something that we’re good at.

So, when there’s a big project that you’re putting off, rather than thinking about everything that needs to be done, just focus on one small aspect or task that you’re really good at and start with that.

What you’ll discover is that when you do the stuff you like or are good at, the transition to doing the rest of the work isn’t nearly as hard.

It’s all about nudging a tiny bit of momentum to get things going.

5) Get Your Work BFF To Pressure You

Think back to the last time that you were under the gun, working on an urgent task. This could’ve been yesterday, last week or last month.

It was a top priority action item that your boss and your boss’s boss was asking for. And, they were expecting complete results on time.

You were under immense pressure and that forced you to put everything else on hold to complete this request.

No checking email.

No break room chats.

No answering phone calls.

No lunch break. cyberloafing.

The fact that this was a critical task coming from the top meant that you didn’t have any choice but to get it done fast and done right.

Now, having this kind of pressure cooker situation all the time is unsustainable. It’ll crush you.

However, having a bit of pressure is a good thing. It’s like the encouraging pressure a personal fitness trainer provides to keep you going.

Well, you can replicate this kind of “positive pressure” or “good stress” at work. The academic world calls this eustress (pronounced you-stress).

Ask your work BFF to be your accountability partner.

He or she can be that person that calls you out on cyberloafing and keeps you on track to finish your top 5 tasks for the day or week by asking for status checks every few hours. And, you can do the same for them.

Work BFFs make office life survivable. It’s why everyone needs a work BFF. They are our on-demand support therapist and cheerleader.

6) Turn It Into A Game Or Mini Challenge

Kids often make everything a contest, race or a game. They can make the most mundane activities into something challenging.

The first one to get to the front door wins.

Whoever can hang on the longest is the champion.

The closest to the target gets the most points.

The first one to blink loses.

We need to bring back that same kind of challenging enthusiasm and apply it to our daily work life. Creating little secret challenges at work is a great way to motivate ourselves to focus on getting shit done.

One simple and fun method is to just race against your cubicle neighbor’s routines.

Humans are all creatures of habit and secretly using someone’s quirks and/or routines can be a great way to have fun at work.

For example, every morning, when Dave gets to his desk, he’ll boot up his computer, log in, blab about something for 5-10 minutes with Michelle and then head to the break room to get a coffee.

Your secret self-challenge could be to answer 10 quick-reply emails from the time he sits at his desk and when he gets back from getting his coffee. If you can beat him, give yourself $1 credit on your Amazon shopping spree account.

The key thing here is to gamify routine behaviors that happen consistently but have some slight variability to keep you on your toes.

The other option is to simply race against the clock or your work BFF to complete a set number of sub-tasks by a certain time. And, be sure to reward yourself when hitting the goal.

Less Cyberloafing Means More Happiness

We all need to take mental breaks here and there throughout the day. On really stressful days, we may need to take several quick stress relief breaks to calm the madness.

Taking occasional breaks is important for our mental health and job sanity. It helps us recharge so that we can get back to work.

But, when those breaks evolve into unproductive wasted dawdling, we’re doing more harm to ourselves and cutting ourselves short of real happiness.

Plus, people will start raising their eyebrows and wondering when you’re actually going to do some real work. It’ll definitely tarnish your personal brand at work for sure.

Cyberloafing is more about a lack of motivation than stress relief. And that lack of motivation results in low productivity which in turn leads to low results and little progress at work.

When this happens, you feel stuck and feel like shit.

But, when you’re making positive progress and getting things done, it feels good. You’re in the zone and unstoppable.

Small changes that trick and redirect our minds can help minimize cyberloafing and get our momentum going in a positive direction. This will result in more productivity and progress which creates more job satisfaction and ultimately, more happiness.

So, how are you going to trick your mind today?

Feel Better,

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