The Internet is a wonderful thing. All that information at our fingertips should make us super-efficient and able to complete so many of our daily tasks in double-quick time.
But, as I am sure you have experienced on many occasions yourself, instead of being a source of assistance, more often than not, it actually ends up being a source of major distraction that steals our attention away from the things we need to get done.
Some distractions are easier to deal with than others and the Internet can definitely be one of the more difficult challenges. This is because the computers used by the majority of knowledge workers to do their jobs and by students to write their assignments are also the source of the distractions vying for their attention.
Often, we need access to the Internet and WiFi to do our jobs, so removing these factors entirely from the equation is not usually an option.
What is an option though, is to selectively block those sites that you know are culprits when it comes to stealing your attention.
Ultimately, fighting distractions comes down to willpower, but there are a number of actions you can take to stack things in your favour.
One of those is to use a site-blocking tool.
I have to say that it had never really occurred to me that selected sites could be blocked if they were proving to be too distracting, but I suppose it’s obvious once you know!
There are actually various ways to block sites on your computer, some of which are more technical than others.
For example, both Mac and Windows operating systems have built-in parental controls that you can use to make websites inaccessible to yourself, not just your children, but it’s not a very convenient way of managing things, especially when you only want the restrictions to be applied temporarily and at selected times.
The most convenient method seems to be to use a site-blocker app or browser extension and these are the ones I am looking at here.
Again, there are numerous options available, but for me, there are a couple of important considerations when selecting the right ones.
Firstly, the method needs to be easy to implement.
This is where a lot of site blockers fail and the reality is, if something is a hassle to set up, people quickly stop bothering to use them.
Secondly, a good site blocker needs to be extremely difficult to override once you have turned it on – otherwise, it kind of defeats the purpose, right?
The ones I have listed here are the ones I have tested and found to be the easiest to set up and seem to have the most effective functionality to prevent you from giving in to the temptation of social media and any other productivity-killing websites when you should be getting down to some serious work.
I’m sure you are already very aware of what your weaknesses are when it comes to time-wasting websites. Mine is YouTube for sure. I have such a love-hate relationship with that platform.
I haven’t tried any of the site-blocking apps on my phone since all of my work is done on a laptop and I usually remove my phone from the distraction equation anyway, either by turning it off completely when I want to focus on a specific work-task or by leaving it in another room.
There are other website-blocking apps that I have not tried yet, but I will continue to research and will update my findings on this blog in the future. If there are any particular site-blocking apps you have had success with, please feel free to share in the comments section below.
Both Firefox and Chrome browsers have a number of add ons/extensions you can apply that will block websites of your choosing when using those browsers. There are also various desktop apps you can use.
Here are some great options to get you started.
SelfControl (for Mac)
This is the first one I tried. It is free, uses a very basic interface and simply lets you create a blacklist of URLs, which you can then block for time periods of from 15 minutes up to one day.
This one shows extremely tough love. Once you have set the timer blocked websites are inaccessible until the timer has expired – even if you restart your computer or delete the app.
You can download SelfControl here.
StayFocusd (for Chrome)
Yes, it is spelled like that, in case yu think I wasn’t focused when I wrote this!
StayFocusd is a free extension for Chrome only.
This one provides some flexibility in the way you choose to limit access to websites. Instead of just blocking a site, it lets you set a daily time limit for browsing sites on your Blocked List.
You can also choose the Nuclear Option to block a site for the number of hours you indicate and as with the SelfControl app, you can’t cancel it once it is activated.
There are various customizations available and one of the options I like is the ‘Require Challenge’ option, which if selected requires you to re-type a paragraph of text without any typos or using backspace/delete.
I thought I could beat this using cut and paste, but they’d thought of that and stopped me in my tracks with a sarcastic pop-up telling me to start again.
I really like this app and it works well. You can get around the blocks by using another browser, but, hey, sometimes you’ve got to put in a bit of work to help yourself here!!
Check out StayFocusd here.
Cold Turkey (for Mac & Windows)
The app provides enough features for scheduling focused work sessions and it also provides some stats on how you are using your time.
There is also a paid Pro-version (currently a one-time payment of $29 CAD) that offers some additional features, such as Frozen Turkey, which is helps you to schedule time away from your computer by locking you out at certain times (I am not sure I would want to do that myself, but it may be necessary for some people!), app blocking and scheduled breaks.
The Cold Turkey app works across Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, Brave and Vivaldi.
Get yourself some Cold Turkey here.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
I don’t think it is ever possible to be 100% focused, 100% of the time.
The human brain is complex and there are many factors that will affect our ability to concentrate on any given day.
Using a website blocker is a last line of defence when you feel you are giving in to your desire to switch your attention to one of your favourite websites when you should be focusing your full attention on the task at hand.
What I would add though is that using a site-blocker alone will not suddenly remove all potential Internet-related distractions from your life and turn you into super-focused work machine.
There will always be something that you may find distracting, no matter how many sites you block.
We all want to know how that child actor looks like now and whether or not it will actually shock us, so we click and then boom! Attention diverted and then before we know it, we’ve been looking at crappy slideshows for an hour.
But don’t feel bad – those clickbait articles are a universal problem and they’re designed to exploit certain peculiarities of the human brain and neurological system, but no need to get into that here.
Just know that you can’t always completely eliminate distractions, but you can often minimize it enough to give your willpower a fighting chance.
And not giving in to distraction is definitely something that becomes easier with practice, so stick with it and you’ll see results.
[Featured image credit: Andrea Piacquadio]