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Curb Your Online Distractions

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by Sue Stevenson (subscribe)
I write essays, short stories and political commentary and believe the colour orange is unfairly discriminated against. Portfolio & Medium
Published February 3rd 2013
Saving yourself from yourself
If you're anything like me, you can sit down in front of your computer with the intention to work and come away several hours later without having even started. Or else on a good day you get started, but you find yourself flipping over to your favourite time-wasting sites every five minutes or so, like a smoker reaching for the next fag. Internet compulsivity has become such a problem for me that it has been driving me almost bonkers. See, here's an episode I prepared earlier:

I have decided recently that if I could quit smoking a decade ago, then I could quit this ridiculous addiction to flittering my time away on internet sites. I decided that in the name of productivity, I needed to get serious about curbing my temptation to dip my toe in the endless water of the internet through my working day. A little flick over to Facebook here, a little read of someone's blog over there, and before I know it my productivity has plummeted along with my self-esteem and yet another day gets shot to hell in the self-discipline department.

Those who work from home find it even harder to maintain self-discipline with the internet looming but no corresponding boss with a whip. If you are a slave to your own procrastination and time-wasting online, you are most definitely not alone. In her most recent novel, the author Zadie Smith thanked two software programs in the acknowledgements section for "giving me the time to write."

Indeed, what better way to fight your technological ill-discipline but with some more technology? Zadie's two pieces of software of choice are Freedom and SelfControl. I have test-run one of these, and have come up with a third that I find works best for me - Focus-Me.

Freedom - Simply put, when Freedom (for Mac or Windows) is running, you can't access anything online. It's like turning off your LAN connection - except if you want to get back online you need to reboot your computer. This gives you a wonderful window of time in which you can check in with yourself - do you really want to check Facebook for the 11th time this hour that badly that you'll reboot your computer to do it?

Cost: $10, with a 90-day money back guarantee.

SelfControl - If you are a Mac user and find Freedom to be a little too limiting - for example, you need access to the internet for research - SelfControl might be more up your alley. Dermine which websites and mail servers you want to block access to, and away you go. Again, if your addiction gets too itchy and you want to scratch it, you will need to reboot your computer to do so, therefore appealing to the shred of self-esteem you've developed in not flicking over to your distraction sites once every five minutes, and actually getting some work done.

Oh, and it's free too.

Focus-Me - Focus-Me does what SelfControl does, but in a Windows environment. You can select which websites and mail servers you wish to block for a particular period of time. It also allows you to determine what you want it to do with those blackbanned programs - close them, or minimise them.

For a more streamlined computer experience, Focus mode blocks everything except those sites or programs you specify. The Take a Break feature sets a timer that counts down to a break where if you like you can specify that the mouse and keyboard lock down on you, forcing you to move away from the computer for a period of time.

All of these different modes require you to type in a pre-determined length of tediously boring text in order for you to bypass the program to get your little fix, giving you enough time to garner your wits about you and ignore your itch to scratch.

A single licence costs $18.

Sometimes, you just gotta acknowledge that you need a little extra help. Like the good angel sitting on your shoulder telling you to breathe through the craving, that you'll regret having that one cigarette that will start your smoking career again, these programs and others like them help you bypass the niggly little instant gratification demon that sits on your other shoulder, urging you to flick over to your drug site of choice for ... well, you don't really know why you feel compelled to go back there again, do you? You just keep doing it.

There, there. I understand. Help is at hand.
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Why? Because sometimes you need a little help to resist yourself
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