Beyond The GIFs: 4 Ways To Use The Internet To Your Advantage

Let me start off by stating the obvious: We spend a lot of time online, and a majority of it is on social media.

Sometimes, we’re tweeting about the latest trending news topic. But most of the time, we’re probably watching funny YouTube videos or checking out the latest viral, gif-infested listicle all over Facebook.

As digital natives, the majority of us grew up with Internet access. We used it to look up chat sites (admit it), check out GeoCities and send chain emails to avoid the deadly wrath of some evil spirit. Suffice it to say, the Internet has often been a source of distraction when we need a mental break.

When I’m stuck at my desk on my lunch break, I like to YouTube the latest “Last Week Tonight” video. But sometimes, I can’t help but look up Jenna Marbles or CommunityChannel. I laugh either way, but only one of the three can actually be categorized as educational.

A recent study released by the American Press Institute found that 23 percent of Millennials are almost always online and connected, while 28 percent spend most of their time online.

With all that time spent in front of a screen, here are some ways to use it to your advantage:

1. Take an online course to help you get ahead, without physically having to go anywhere.

The beauty of online courses is you can get them done without wasting your time commuting to school.

Online courses are a great way to add another skill to your résumé, and supplement your education in a particular field. If you want to learn the foreign language that is coding, there’s Code Academy (it's free).

For iOS development and other tech ventures, there’s TreeHouse. For managing your blog and business, check out Nectar Collective. For free courses on just about everything else, there’s Coursera.

2.  Sign up for newsletters; they keep you posted without all the clutter of social networks.

Unless you actively visit news sites, all your news is probably coming from Facebook and Twitter. That can be overwhelming or insufficient.

Elite Daily's nightly newsletter, “The Edge,” recaps some of the most popular stories from the day, expanding beyond what's covered on the site.

It touches on everything from politics to new food creations, trending pop culture to tech concepts and health-related studies. It reads casually, in the same voice you'd discuss these things with your friends.

"The Skimm" provides an overview of the latest news stories by giving you the gist in witty prose. One of their latest headlines regarding the Iran nuclear deal read, “Sometimes Iran, Sometimes I Hide.” What Millennial doesn’t appreciate a Britney reference?

There's also Millennial poster girl Lena Dunham’s upcoming "Lenny" newsletter, which touts itself as a "capital F" Feminist read that will undoubtedly ignite lively discussions, both in person and online.

Other notables include The Week's "Top 10" list of news stories, and the always useful NY Times newsletters, featuring “Half the Sky” author, Nicholas Kristof.

3. #LeanIn by joining online communities, which will get you one step closer to "Girl Boss" status.

What's great about social networks is you get to meet people you would probably never encounter otherwise, and engage in conversations revolving around your interests.

As Millennials, we can use all the help we can get when it comes to advancing in the workplace. We look to other smart, ambitious and creative women to help guide us.

In addition to Lean In, there’s Girls Who Code and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, which features uplifting stories and profiles on inspiring women.

4. Check out videos that'll teach you a thing or two.

If you look up TedTalks on Netflix, you’ll find enough material for several binge-watching sessions. The Life Hack series includes Arianna Huffington’s speech on the importance of sleep in order to succeed: "We are literally going to sleep our way to the top."

Ain't no shame in our snooze game.

The videos tend to be roughly 20 minutes or less, and you can also find them online.

If you want something more skills-based, there’s Curious, which features how-to videos on everything from JavaScript and financing to DIY projects.