5 Ways I Stay Sane Online

I’ve learned so much from wise people who publish online, a lot of our kids’ schooling is digital, we buy a lot of what we need from the internet, and we keep up with friends and family through our screens when we travel. And of course, I work online, too.

But it doesn’t take much for the internet to overwhelm me. My eyes hurt and my brain goes on the fritz a bit when I’m on the screen too much. Or even just a little. I also get overwhelmed when I’m bombarded with too much information all at once. Which is pretty much how the internet works.

But seeing as I do love the internet and its many merits, I’m continually on the lookout for ways to reap its benefits while minimizing its pitfalls. Here are some tools and tips that help me at the moment.

1. Pocket

I don’t want to spend needless time on places like Facebook, but I do find good stuff from my friends there. Pocket is an app that provides a bookmarklet that stores stuff you want to read later. You click on it, and done—it’s in your folder to read whenever it’s convenient for you. You can tag your finds, too.

pocket

It also syncs across your devices, so if you save something on your laptop, you can pull it up later to read on your phone.

2. Unroll

Unroll has saved my email inbox from utter insanity. You sync your email account to Unroll, then it scans your account and collects your subscriptions (even though it’s technically illegal, I get signed up for a TON of subscriptions without my permission—I’m looking at you, PR reps). When you first register, you scroll through all your subscriptions and either unsubscribe with one click, choose to keep your email in your inbox, or roll it in to your Unroll account.

unroll.me

Then, once a day (or however you set up your account), it’ll send you one email with all your subscriptions for you to peruse collectively (the ones you added to your rollup). It’ll also notify you of new auto-subscribes (why on earth do I get so many?) so that you can repeat the process above.

I love having just one email with all my subscriptions in one place:

unroll.me

My inbox is much cleaner, and since I put everything I want to see in my rollup, I don’t even bother with any mass email in my inbox.

3. Boomerang

You can add Boomerang to your Gmail account via Firefox, Safari, or Chrome, and it allows you to send your email later. This is convenient whenever you have a weekend afternoon to spare for work, but you don’t want it to look like you’re working on the weekend—you simply boomerang your email to send on Monday morning (or whenever). It’s also handy when you want to space out your correspondence but still reply when it’s convenient for you.

boomerang

An app like Boomerang allows me to work when it works for me, regardless whether it’s traditional work hours (especially convenient when you’re traveling across multiple timezones).

4. Feedly

I started reading blogs again this past fall—I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Feedly has been my RSS reader of choice ever since the demise of Google Reader. It’s clean, easy to read, and convenient to categorize.

feedly

I have a folder for my daily reads, a folder for friends, AoS contributors, paleo, DIY/creative, homeschool, travel, business and work, and news. “Daily” is misleading—I read that one about once a week, tops, and the other folders I read whenever I’m in the mood or have time. (From the screenshot, it’s obviously been awhile.)

5. Freedom.

No, not the concept in general (though I’m sure that’s always on auto-play in the background), and not the George Michael song. The app.

I tried Freedom not too long ago as an experiment, and I’ve decided that I love it.

freedom app

It’s a hand-holding app that basically self-inflicts parameters from distractions. I didn’t think I really needed this, but it has increased my concentration and helped me focus. For me, this is particularly in the evenings, when I found myself mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Facebook instead of doing what I actually wanted to do: read.

I created two sessions called Weekday Evenings and Deep Work Mornings. On the first one, I’ve blocked all social media, my email, and Netflix from 10 pm to 7 am, Sunday through Thursdays. On the second, I’ve blocked all social media and email from 9 am to noon, Tuesday through Thursdays.

It’s really helped. I had no idea how often I “quickly checked” some of those sites while I genuinely preferred to be doing other things (reading, sleeping, writing).

I feel like it’s decently priced; I did the annual plan.

There are a few other best practices that help with my internet sanity—stuff like opening email only twice a day and not kowtowing to the “inbox zero” trend (I had to stop caring), removing the Facebook app from my phone, reading Twitter via lists instead of my main stream, and practicing a weekly screen sabbath.

58 Comments

  1. Leandra

    Unroll is just what i need. Thanks for the tip. I always appreciate the tech savvy tips on how to keep away the overwhelming influx of stuff.

    • Tsh

      Totally! Me too. 🙂

      • Denise

        Hey Tish, thanks for the great tips. I have been on a mission to incorporate a minimalist approach to my internet use by selecting just a handful fave subscriptions. I also deleted my Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest apps….what freedom! I did check out the Clear app you mentioned and it is no longer available. See https://help.evernote.com/hc/en-us/articles/212952747. The good news is all previous users are able to continue their use of it!

        Denise

  2. Maryalene

    Great resources. Thanks!

    I’m intrigued by Clearly. I do a lot of research online for my work and regularly have 10 or more tabs open. However, some news sites have so many videos on the side, they seems to bog down my internet. I wonder if Clearly would get things moving smoothly again.

    • Tsh

      I think it does make things run a little faster, especially on those sorts of sites. Plus, the videos in the article you’re actually reading still show in Clearly, which is nice.

  3. Nancy

    Feedly is great.
    It’s the “magazine” I read on the bus on the way to work. Every article is relevant. When there are lots, I save for later the intriguing titles.
    The only downfall is that it takes a few more steps to reply or share.

    • Tsh

      Yeah, with RSS readers, I have intentionally remind myself to click over and comment on the blog itself. Wish they’d make that a bit easier…

  4. Jess Townes

    I cannot wait to check out Unroll. I feel exactly the same way about the Internet, and my screens give me a headache if I look at them too long. On a broader scale, it’s this hugely transformative piece of technology that is changing the course of history in amazing and sometimes terrible ways and it can feel overwhelming to learn how to balance its use in our homes (let alone model that to our kids who don’t know life without it). Thanks for sharing the ways you cope!

  5. Kelly

    Thank you so much for these! Exactly what I needed this morning!

  6. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    Hi Tsh!

    My name is Jenna and I’m new here – although I am no stranger to your Insta account 🙂 Just wanted to introduce myself!

    Also, Unroll and Boomerang? Life changing. I loooooove those services. Also, the Mark as Unread function in email is a life-saver too. I don’t ever feel the need to respond to an email right away because I can save it for later and not forget about it.

    I’m looking forward to reading more around here 🙂

    • Tsh

      Waving hello from Instagram, then! Glad to have you here. 🙂

  7. Amy @Home & Farm Sense

    Tsh- I recently heard your podcast interview with Jeni Elliott and it was a huge help to me as I also feel overwhelmed with internet life but am also trying to blog…:). Can you talk more about twitter lists? I have never heard of that.

    Thanks so much for your inspiring message-

    Amy

    • Tsh

      Thanks, Amy! I had a fabulous time talking with Jeni.

      Twitter lists: If you go to your Twitter stream, click on anyone you’re following. On the web browser, it should pull up their profile summary. Then click on the gear icon to the left of the big “Following” button and toggle ‘Add or remove from lists.’ Then you can create a list—a category of organizing different people/brands/etc. Then click over to your profile, and click on ‘Lists’ (it’s on the navbar below your header pic—Tweets, Following, Followers, etc. and you’ll see your lists. Then, you can just follow different categories of people/brands on Twitter! Makes it easier to follow along topically or just a few people at a time. As an example, here’s my travel list.

      Hope this helps!

      • molly

        This sounds like exactly what I wish I could do on Instagram! Do you have any idea if they have something similar? I love looking at all of National Geographic’s pictures, but they post so many, sometimes I just want to scroll my IRL friends’ photos.

  8. Sarah Koontz {Grounded & Surrounded}

    I have been using feedly for the past month to keep up with all of the blogs I follow, LOVE IT! But I have never heard of unroll, I can’t wait to check it out. Love this article. Will Share Share Share!

    • Tsh

      Unroll is just the best. Makes email boatloads easier.

  9. Melissa Ferguson

    That might have been the most helpful article I’ve read in a long time! I can use each and every one of those, and didn’t know about any of them! I shared with coworkers who also loved it. Great job explaining each one in a way I understood for those of us who are heavy “users” but not “tech people”. More, please!

    • Tsh

      Thanks for the encouragement, Melissa! I’m happy to explain things in ‘real people’ language because when the talk gets too techy, all I hear is “beep boop beep” myself. 😉

      Happy to go in to more tech topics here on the blog, if there’s an interest. I just don’t want to overwhelm people who don’t really care that much. So, let me know (anyone) if you have any specific ideas!

  10. Renee

    Great info! How do you determine which blogs or subscriptions you want in Unroll versus Feedly? Is it say blogs in Feedly and advertising/shopping subscriptions in Unroll or a different method? Thanks!

    • Tsh

      By this, I believe you’re meaning how I choose to subscribe to blogs via RSS (reading them in Feedly) or via email (reading them in Unroll). For me, it’s more art than science—I don’t subscribe to many blogs via email these days. But I do subscribe to my favorite writers’ newsletter lists—monthly emails sent out that are different than blog posts. They’re my favorite thing of my own to write these days, and I get the sense that other writers really love doing them, too. So, I subscribe to their email newsletter; then do their RSS feed in Feedly.

      Hope that helps, Renee!

      • Renee

        Yes, it does help. So, what do you use use Unroll for if you subscribe to newsletters via RSS – Feedly? Also, what is the difference between a blog and a newsletter? I guess I’m not really up on all this! Thanks!

        • Renee

          Not sure if my message was clear. I guess I’m also asking what type of subscriptions do you use Unroll for?

          • Tsh

            Lots of companies and brands put out newsletters. I don’t like to keep up with many, but a few are good, especially when they share coupon codes I’d actually use.

            A newsletter is a separate email created by someone that’s only seen via email (you can’t find it on a website). They’re usually more personal. You can usually subscribe to a blog via email as well, but those are auto-generated when there’s a post published on the site. Does that make sense?

  11. Meaghan

    Remember those old commercials that said something like “the phone is your fiend again”? I feel like this post can make my email my friend again.

    I’m so glad to know about Boomerang! I used to do that all the time at my old office job. I didn’t want clients to know I was in on the weekends so I would draft emails and ensure they didn’t send until Monday am.

    • Tsh

      I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a friendly term with my email, but we’re certainly no longer enemies. 😉

  12. Deb @ inner compass designs

    Thank you for this. I had no idea unroll me would make a digest of my subscriptions. I always assumed it was just for unsubscribing in bulk. Off to make life easier (and I though filtering them in Gmail to a folder was great- this will blow my mind xx)

    • Tsh

      Yes—it’s pretty great!

  13. Alia Joy

    Who knew I was so tech saavy? I use all of these except Boomerang but that’s mostly because I stink at replying to emails at all so if I’m finally doing it, it usually needs to go out ASAP. I do love the 7 minute app you told me about. I’ve actually been using it and it’s great for all the times I talk myself out of a longer workout because of time. Although stairclimbers do make me hate you a little bit.

  14. lorraine crance

    thank you for your emails. i so look forward to them since retiring 4 years ago. i left the work force after 35 years, however i was too young and find myself looking for adult conversations, and things to keep my mind going! thank you for allowing me to live through your site. smile
    lorraine

    • Tsh

      I’m so glad you’re here, Lorraine!

  15. Meegan

    Shared your post! I can’t wait to try out some of these goodies myself 🙂

    • Tsh

      Thanks, Meegan!

  16. Ellen

    Thank you for this, Tsh!!! I am using Feedly and love it, but Pocket… downloaded yesterday and I am blown away. I don’t have a data package on my smartphone, so being able to save things under WiFi and then read later is so very nice. And the app is so smart! Thanks for sharing this kind of info… very helpful for daily life!

    • Tsh

      Hadn’t thought of it being helpful in that regard, Ellen, but it makes total sense! Happy to help.

    • Laura Swist

      I really like Pocket for when I’m not connected to WiFi. Sometimes I just want to read something at my leisure and if I send it OneNote or Evernote, I’ll probably forget about it. If you don’t have cell data for your iPad this is a great way to still use it when you don’t have WiFi

      Also, thank you to the OP for Unroll! That is going to really help making email less daunting.

  17. Molly

    i loved this article! I signed up for Unroll immediately, and I was SO happy when I opened my email this morning and didn’t have to first click down the list and delete 20 emails! I’m in love!

    I have a question about Pocket and Cleary. I use and love Pocket. It also takes all the jumble off the edge of the articles. So when do you use Cleary instead? It sounds like the same thing to me.

    • Tsh

      Pocket simply stores things I want to read later, so that I don’t forget about them (or have to scroll through FB to remember who linked to what when).

      Clearly is a visual tool. By clicking the bookmarklet, it swipes away all the unnecessary stuff on a page—the sidebars, headers, ads, etc. I can just read the text itself in a big, beautiful typeface. It just makes the reading itself more enjoyable.

  18. ohAmanda

    Love this list, Tsh! And altho’ this isn’t exaaaactly the same thing, have you installed https://justgetflux.com/ on your devices? It changes the color from bright blue/white during the day to orangey-firelight color at night. I cannot believe how much of a difference it has made on how my eyes feel on the computer! Anywhoo. You’ve probably had it installed for decades, but just thought I’d share! 😉

    a

    • Tsh

      Yes, that is a great one! I had it on my old MacBook Pro, but forgot to install it on my newer one that I now use. Thanks for the reminder!

  19. Bethany

    Hi Tsh,

    I found your blog via a link from Megan’s page. This is going to seem like an odd place for this comment, because it’s not really related to this blog post, but can you share how you find places to stay as you travel? I thought I remembered a post on how you afford it (can’t find it now) but maybe that was at artofsimpletravel? I would love to know how you find places to stay, and what the cost of renting a guest house in Nairobi is.

    Thanks,
    Bethany

  20. Christina @ Embracing Simple

    Holy smokes, you’ve opened my eyes up to a whole new world of tools I want to eat up right now! I have been obsessed with Evernote the last few months, but have never heard of Clearly before. I am definitely going to check that out!

    Also, reading Twitter via lists instead of on the main stream?! Why did I never think of that?

    • Tsh

      Yeah, it actually makes Twitter somewhat enjoyable again! 😉

  21. Shannon @ GrowingSlower

    Oh unroll.me is wonderful! I use it to roll up my blog subscriptions and I look forward to opening my roll up whenever I have time to dive into the posts. I also love Trello for staying on track with my work whenever I’m online.

  22. Kathy

    First time commenter, long time reader.

    Working virtually from home, these are great resources. A few I already use and love; others I’ll try soon.

    I do have a very low-tech addition to make. I rely on my phone’s timer all.the.time! If I didn’t set that timer, I’d lose hours (and hours) to the Internet black whole. And, since my time is money, it’s imperative that I don’t lose track.

  23. Amy B

    Great tips! In fact, I just downloaded Clearly and already sense that it could be a game changer. One observation, Clearly does not seem to work with Art of Simple! It does work with several other blogs that I read. Did anyone else have this same experience?

    • Amy B

      Update: tried on a different computer today and it worked!

  24. Naomi

    Thanks for this! I’m now using Unroll. 🙂

  25. Sarah

    thank you! I love Evernote but haven’t used any of the others. All will be a great help when I return to my PhD after maternity leave.

  26. Leslie

    How do you connect pocket to facebook? THat is where I get leads on a lot of good articles.

  27. Netinspire

    This is a very useful list – I too love evernote. It makes finding and collating useful info much easier!

  28. Rose

    Great post!
    Unroll: I was so happy to find out about this earlier this year. Got rid of a bunch of “crap” emails HA!

    Feedly: I am still bummed about the Google Reader and haven’t found anything to replace it. I just may have to try this.

    Pocket: I may have to try this as well.

    Thank you for this list 🙂 I like to keep all my online adventures organized the best I can.

    • Ryann

      This is terrible! I love Clearly. But a viable alternative is to use the “simplified article”option in Evernote’s web clipper extension.

  29. Regina S.

    I love this post and the idea of streamlining our Internet lives. One step I took was I quit Facebook about two months ago, completely, and I have been amazed at 1) the extra pockets of time I have in my day and 2) how liberating it is not to have that twinge of jealousy or FOMO every single time I log in. It was hard at first, but overall, I spend my internet time reading well-written blogs (yours!) or good articles.

  30. Vanessa

    Over Christmas I spent time manually unsubscribing from newsletters and I’m no longer scared of opening my emails. Now the hard part is to avoid resubscribing for some freebie…

  31. Pam

    It would mean the world to my brain if I could conquer Evernote. Plus my desk would not be so… papery looking. 🙂

    Loved this post.

  32. Myra

    So, does clearly eliminate all the widget headlines and ads?

    I am deeply disturbed by some of the images shown in those headlines (emaciated animals and the like) and it could be a game changer for me. It depresses me so much, I’m in a funk for days and not motivated to write. Had to quit fb completely because of the constant stream of terror and bad news.

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