There's a lot of content out there about productivity -- everything from hacks to shortcuts to tips and tricks for how to get more done in less time.
It's all about the sprint, the checking things off the list, and the downloading of software that'll block out any and all distractions.
But what about those times when you just want to surf the internet aimlessly? No one can be hyper-productive all the time, and studies have shown that taking deliberate breaks after periods of work is actually better for your productivity. The question is, how do you spend those breaks? You could check your email, but that still counts as working. You could check Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, but there's something so mundane about haphazardly scrolling through your peripheral friends' photos.
We have a few better ideas. Here's a shortlist of the most wonderfully entertaining places to waste time on the internet outside of email and social media. Get ready to bookmark your favorites.
Best Websites on the Internet
- The Oatmeal
- OCEARCH Shark Tracker
- Apartment Therapy
- A Soft Murmur
- LEGO Videos
- Gravity Points
- BuzzFeed "Comments" Sections
- The Toast
- The Onion
- Mental Floss
- Animal Planet Kitten and Puppy Cams
- Google Maps Street View
- Wayback Machine
- The Oregon Trail
WaitButWhy is one of my favorite places to spend time on the internet. Every week or so, a guy named Tim Urban churns out one, really long, really awesome article. (Seriously, they're canonical. You can kill a lot of time reading just one of them.)
His articles are always fascinating, in-depth, and really well written. His writing style is the perfect mix of informative and humorous -- making topics like the Fermi Paradox (the what?) approachable for someone like me who'd never heard of it before in my entire life. He writes about relationships, religion, outer space ... pretty much everything.
My favorite posts of his include "Everything You Don't Know About Tipping," "The Great Perils of Social Interaction," and "Your Life in Weeks" (which has some awesome graphics in it, by the way). He even wrote a great post on why procrastinators procrastinate, which anyone reading this article might want to check out.
2. The Oatmeal
The Oatmeal is another one of my absolute favorite places to spend time online. It's a huge library of awesome content -- some comprised entirely of graphics. Even if you've read everything already, it's the kind of stuff you can read over and over again.
Some of my favorite posts include:
- Why Working From Home is Both Awesome and Horrible.
- How the Male Angler Fish Got Completely Screwed (I think I legitimately cried laughing when I first read that one).
- Ten Words You Need to Stop Misspelling.
- You're Not Going to Believe What I'm About to Tell You.
If you want to surf the internet in a semi-productive way -- but not so productive that you actually have to leave the house -- then check out Supercook.
Here's how it works: You tell it which ingredients you have in stock in your home, and it'll give you a big list of recipes you can make using just those ingredients. It's a fun way to stay thrifty, clean out the fridge, and make sure food doesn't go to waste.
Tracking sharks as they swim around the ocean may not be the most conventional way to waste time on the internet ... but it might be the coolest.
The Track Sharker tool by Marine Research Group OCEARCH lets you track tagged sharks -- who all have names, by the way -- as they travel all over the world. You can even zoom in on a specific location to see which sharks are hanging out there and where they've been swimming and traveling for the past year. Go, Hilton, go!
If you're even a little bit of a fan of home decor or DIY projects, this is a website you might find yourself spending hours and hours on. There's a ton of awesome visual and written content on here. My favorites include their "before and after" series, their "small spaces" series, and the tours of people's actual apartments and homes.
Plus, they have a whole lot of helpful articles giving tips on everything from how to redo your stairs to ideas for using that awkward space above your fridge. There's no shortage of useful and fun information on here, making it prime for endless browsing.
When taking a break from your usual work grind, set yourself up for true focus with A Soft Murmur. This website is your customizable white-noise machine. Its dashboard, available as an app for both iOS and Android, gives you slidable volume bars for five different nature sounds: rain, thunder, waves, wind, and fire.
This website allows you to independently adjust the volume of each of its five sound effects, creating an outdoor ambience that resembles your favorite soothing activity. Turn on "Waves" and "Fire" for the sound of a beach bonfire. Turn on "Rain" and "Thunder" for the sound of a distant storm outside your house.
7. LEGO Videos
You might've seen the recent (and awesome) LEGO Movie, but did you know LEGO's involvement in on-screen entertainment began much earlier than that? Believe it or not, LEGO has been creating hours of video content long before we saw them in theatres, and all of these videos are sorted by theme and story on its website.
For every pop-culture phenomenon to ever steal our attention, there's a LEGO video series version ready to steal our hearts. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Scooby Doo, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter ... the list goes on. Tune into LEGO's video channel and enjoy.
Gravity Points is a digital "pen" created by Akimitsu Hamamuro, and it is quite mesmerizing. The website simulates the effect of gravity by allowing you to plot small gravity centers across your screen. Then, even smaller floating objects will flock to these gravity centers and orbit them.
The more gravity centers you plot, the more these forces will start to compete, making your screen all the more chaotic. And yes, your gravity points can absorb one another to create a black hole. It's outer space right there on your computer screen.
As a marketer, you might dive so deep into branding your business, you have no time to brand yourself. Even if you're not a massive Harry Potter fan, Pottermore can scratch that itch for you.
Pottermore is widely recognized as the official website for finding your Patronus, your wand type, the Hogwarts House you belong to (of course), and much more. The quizzes you take to earn these identities are just obscure enough to hold your excitement for the result, and might even encourage you to read (or reread) the famous Harry Potter books -- something you should definitely do to balance out your time-wasting website sessions.
If you're into nerdy humor even the littlest, tiniest bit, there's a lot to love about xkcd. Each post features a short, stick-figure comic strip on humor about technology, science, mathematics, and relationships. The guy behind it is Randall Munroe, who worked on robots at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia before starting this blog.
Below is an example of one of his comic strips. (He always includes a joke in the comic strip image's alt text, so if you look at the strips on the xkcd website, be sure to hover your mouse over the image to catch those jokes.)
You already know BuzzFeed is a great place to waste time on the internet, but we're looking beyond the actual article here. Scroll down to the "comments" section of pretty much any article for a hilarious showcase of the crazy (I mean crazy) stuff people are saying. I find it especially entertaining to read the comments on benign topics that shouldn't make people so irate, but do anyway.
12. The Toast
If you're into great (and hilarious) fiction writing, then you'll definitely want to bookmark this site. Every day, writers Nicole Cliffe and Mallory Ortberg publish a post on "everything from literary characters that never were to female pickpockets of Gold Rush-era San Francisco," reads their About page.
To get an idea of whether it's up your alley, start with their post, "A Day in the Life of Seth MacFarlane, Human Male (Definitely Not a Swarm of Hyper-Alert Bees and a Metal Jaw.)" It's just so good.
13. The Onion
If you haven't spent some quality time reading the online satirical newspaper The Onion, then you're seriously missing out on a good laugh. (And you've kind of been living under a rock.) But seriously, I sometimes forget how consistently hysterical the articles are.
The publication started in 1988 and they've managed to successfully maintain a high standard for humor and writing ever since. Their headlines are laugh-out-loud funny in and of themselves -- from "Free-Thinking Cat Sh**s Outside the Box" to "Archaeological Dig Uncovers Ancient Race of Skeleton People" to "Buyer Of $450 Million Da Vinci Painting Sort Of Assumed It Would Come With Frame."
Of course, their headlines being hilarious makes sense, seeing as the headline is where each story begins. This awesome episode of NPR's This American Life gives you a really cool peek into The Onion's editorial process.
(Bonus: ClickHole, their sister website that makes fun of Upworthy-style viral content on the internet, is another great place to waste some time.)
Similar to The Onion, Cracked is a pseudo magazine for your everyday life -- and yes, it will crack you up. But while The Onion gives you a satirical take on a real news trend, Cracked makes snarky pop-culture observations that are ironic or just ridiculous by design. Sometimes the writers will say the one thing everyone's thinking, but is afraid to say out loud. That's Cracked for you.
You might just be passing time on this online magazine, but with respect to some of its most popular articles and pictures, it's time well spent. Here are a few ridiculous think pieces from Cracked to whet your appetite:
- The Actual Answers to 6 Famously Unsolved Movie/TV Mysteries
- 7 Hilarious Ways Reality Would Ruin Famous Movie Scenes
- 5 Random Questions You Didn't Know You Wanted Answered
- 6 Underrated (and Selfish) Benefits of Parenthood
Websites for News & Information
15. Mental Floss
Mental Floss is a super addicting online magazine with articles covering a really wide range of topics. Their articles are really well written, really well researched, and usually on topics that don't get a lot of airtime.
For example, in their "Big Questions" section, they tackle weirdly intriguing questions like why shells sound like the ocean and why yawns are contagious. Readers can even submit their own big questions.
This website is dedicated entirely to -- you guessed it -- how things work. And by "things," they mean everything: from airbags to regenerative medicine to velocipede carousels. They've covered so much on this website, it'll be hard to run out of things to read about.
Plus, they have a whole bunch of really cool podcasts that have branched off the main site over the years and are worth checking out. My favorites are "Stuff You Should Know," "BrainStuff," and "Stuff Mom Never Told You."
Lifehacker is a hub of productivity tips, tricks, and downloads. It's basically an archive of all the information it would be incredibly useful to know, but nobody ever really teaches you. Aside from productivity, they also cover topics such as money-saving tips, clever uses for household items, and so on.
For example, did you know you can buy alcoholic beverages at Costco without a membership? Or that you can peel a mango in under 10 seconds? Or that there are four lengths of naps that'll benefit you in different, very specific ways? Along with the fun articles, they have some pretty awesome, in-depth articles, like this one on how to plant ideas in someone's mind, as well as helpful listicles like the top ten obscure Google Search tricks.
There's so much content on there that it can be hard to find posts on specific topics. Use the Lifehacker Index for an introduction to their top-performing posts and tips on how to find posts on any topic on the website.
Sometimes you want to surf the internet, but don't want to do all the paddling. For that, there's Mix.
You might know the above website by its former name, StumbleUpon, a site (and an add-on to your internet browser) that allowed you to select topics that interested you and then served you various news and information that fit those interests. Today, it's called Mix, and it puts a new spin on StumbleUpon's popular content randomizer.
Mix lets you set your reader profile and then share the articles, photos, and videos you discover from your own personal "mix." It's a convenient way to entertain yourself and learn new things by simply telling the web to surprise you.
As long as your head is in the clouds, raise it above Earth's horizon and head on over to Space.com. This website reports on astronomy news and trends through friendly, easy-to-digest content that, sometimes, just serves to quench your thirst for a cool nebulous shot of our solar system. Who knows? Maybe you'll tap your inner space enthusiast.
Whether you want to see an object burn up in our atmosphere or get real into the weeds of how a black hole forms, Space.com has something for everyone. Get your fix today with this amazing picture of a green aurora seen from the International Space Station, part of Space.com's "Image of the Day" series.
Websites for When You're Bored
Imgur collects the most viral images of the week and collects them all in one place for your mindless scrolling and enjoyment. What I like about Imgur is it's usually more timely than Twitter or Instagram -- more popular sharing networks where funny pictures and memes might appear a week or two later. Use Imgur to waste time and introduce your friends to the funniest stuff on the internet first.wx1
Puppies and kittens. What could be better? I have this website bookmarked for whenever I need a pick-me-up. You can check out a live stream from animal shelters in the U.S. to see some of the adoptable cuties in action.
It's fun to check out real estate in areas you might want to live -- and it's just as fun to check it out in places you'll probably never live, but would love to in a dream world. Go ahead and explore what's out there. You can set up saved searches (some more realistic than others) to relive your discoveries later.
In the same vein as Zillow, it's wildly entertaining to go to Google Maps and zoom in on the street view in random places around the world. It's so strange and thrilling to see what life was like at a random moment in time, on a random street somewhere you may never visit in your lifetime.
You didn't think I'd write a post on where to waste time on the internet without including Wikipedia, did you? Of course not. You've gotta love spiraling into the proverbial Wikipedia black hole: Look up one thing, and then check out something that's interlinked to it. Before you know it, you'll have charted the entire Russian Revolution. (Read: This is an actual glimpse into my colleague Corey's Sunday morning.)
If you want to get more involved while wasting time online, remember Wikipedia is based on a model of openly editable content -- as in, anyone can edit any unprotected page. So if you're into editing and updating content in your free time, it's yours to edit. (As long as you follow their guidelines.)
When you need to find the perfect GIF, you can't just stop at the first result you get for "dancing" or "awkward" or "animals being jerks." I could spend (... and have spent) hours on Giphy looking for juuust the right GIF. How long do you think it took Ellie here to come up with all ten of the ones in this post? Totally worth it.
26. Wayback Machine
Feeling nostalgic? Check out what websites have looked like over the years via Internet Archive's famous Wayback Machine. It lets you pick a date and see exactly what any website looked like at that time. (For a real trip, compare how Facebook looked back in the 2000s to today. Remember the wall-to-wall?)
If you just want to take a quick peek, check out this roundup of what nine famous websites used to look like. All the images in that post were taken from the Wayback Machine.
27. The Oregon Trail
Here's a little gift for those of you who made it to the end of this post: Internet Archive -- yes, the same one responsible for the Wayback Machine -- made it possible for people to PLAY THE COMPUTER GAME "OREGON TRAIL" AGAIN. I can practically hear all the Gen X'ers out there screaming with joy.
If "Oregon Trail" isn't your cup of tea, the other games made available by Internet Archive include "Duke Nukem," "Street Fighter," "Burger Blaster," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "The Lion King," and "Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer." Check out the full library here.
Originally published Aug 31, 2018 12:21:00 AM, updated March 17 2021