How to Properly Slide Down a Digital Rabbit Hole and Not Get Lost

I have a love-hate relationship with digital rabbit holes.

Those online forays that start with an innocent question and end up 30 minutes later with nothing to show for it except lost time. Or the sidetracks that you suddenly find yourself on while deep in topic research.

The love part is when I occasionally discover relevant new information, a book, an author or something I actually use.

That global information network at our fingertips can be miles deep

With due respect to Alice in Wonderland, the trick to navigating digital rabbit holes is keeping your attention on a short rein.

  • Search with an intention to learn something specific
  • Immediately reject everything else
  • Set a time limit (20 seconds each) on following links
  • Save interesting stuff to read later

It’s OK to poke your head down the rabbit hole, take a step or two around the edge and determine if it’s useful. I’ll give the article 15-20 seconds — a paragraph or two — to prove its worth (I’m ruthless) before I’m gone. If it might have value later, I’ll use a web clipper (more below) to save it.

Keep asking yourself this question: Does this matter to me?

  • Interesting…but useless.
  • Popular…but I don’t care.
  • Maybe useful…but later.

Make your online search time all about you, baby, and you won’t have a problem getting sucked down those digital rabbit holes.

3 Resources for You: Web Clippers, Read Later, Key Question

Books, articles, tips, tools and advice to help you unplug.

Use a web clipper for future reference material. Both Evernote and Notion have browser-based web clippers that allow you to save webpages.

Use a read-later app. What if you’ve found something that might be useful but you’ll have to read it to be sure? Don’t read it right then, but save it to ReadWise, Pocket. or Instapaper. There are lots of these apps so you can likely find one that fits your routine. Schedule time on your calendar to scan or read these clips, then delete or save somewhere like Evernote, Notion or Google Drive if useful for future reference.

Keep asking yourself: Does this matter to me? Remember, given the web cookies that follow us everywhere on the web the crap you don’t want will likely pop up again so don’t spend time on what isn’t useful.

2 Questions for You: Rabbit Hole Keepers and Other Tricks

Reflections, questions and ideas to consider to break the digital impasse.

1st Q: Found any keepers or treasures down a digital rabbit hole? I found one of my all-time favorite authors, Robert Macfarlane, following a quote in a Sierra Club magazine article.

2nd Q: Do you use a read-later app? Any tricks or suggestions?

Reflection Feedback

From Sara:

Here’s a fun thing I discovered during the pandemic: The Cloud Appreciation Society. There’s also a book: “The Cloudspotter’s Guide” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society). I haven’t finished the book, but I’ve read enough to make cloud-watching more fun and relaxing.

Also, I’m reading an amazing book that is making me much more aware of Nature: “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us,” by Ed Yong. He’s a great writer and loves to get into the weeds, although he manages to keep most of those weedy details in footnotes. The book is a reminder that there are “parallel universes” all around us, if we’re curious enough to explore.

1 Action for You: Give Yourself a Gentle Reminder

One small step to start the change.

Grab a sticky note and write Does this matter to me? and stick it on your monitor or laptop. Notice how many rabbit holes it pulls you back from.

Window on the World

Amazingly, studies show that looking at photos of Nature calms your mind, reduces stress and increases concentration. I’m happy to share my view with you!

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. ~ Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland