Finding yourself unproductive because of distracting sites? Block them. No, seriously: block them. If you’ve got work to get done, and you can’t focus because the Internet is too fascinating, make it impossible for your own self to access the sites that suck away your time.
You might realize your information diet is terrible. You might find yourself wondering where your time has gone at the end of every day. Odds are that certain sites – Facebook, Reddit, YouTube…the list goes on – are stealing time from you without you even noticing. If you can’t seem to kick your addiction to these sites yourself there are ways to block them entirely, allowing you in theory to get stuff done.
The ultimate way to avoid distractions, however, is self-control. The tools I outline below can make it a little easier, blocking sites that would otherwise distract you and at the very least reminding you why it is you need to focus. If you already have self-control, great: you don’t need any of those tips. If you lack it, however, and can’t seem to develop it, start at Tier 1 and work your way down until you get results.
Tier 1: Browser-Based Solutions
If you look long enough you’ll find plenty of browser-based solutions: services that block specific sites for as long as you need. There’s StayFocused for Chrome, and its animal-inspired cousin Productivity Owl, who swoops in to stop you from wasting your time. For Firefox users there’s Leechblock, which works in a similar manner. All of them allow you to add a list of unproductive sites, which are then blocked.
The problem with solutions like this, if you lack self-control, is that they’re too easy to bypass. All you need to do is open another browser – or fire up Incognito mode – and you’ve got full access to all of your distracting sites again. If all you need is a gentle reminder to get back to work right before you fall this is great, but some people need to go further.
Tier 2: System-Wide Solutions
If blocking distracting sites from a browser isn’t enough, good news: there are system-wide ways to block sites you know are distracting. You could edit the hosts file to completely block certain sites, if you’re hardcore, but there are other options.
Cold Turkey, for example, allows you to block distracting websites system-wide in Windows. Just list the programs that distract you, set the amount of time you need to be away from them and you’re good to go. If you don’t like that app you can also check out Any Weblock and Self Restraint (which even works on Linux).
Mac users should check out SelfControl, which blocks certain sites completely for a set amount of time.
Of course, solutions like these also aren’t perfect. You could simply walk away from your computer and pick up your tablet, bypassing the block again. If that sounds like you, move on to the next tier.
Tier 3: Router-Based Solutions
Still distracted? At least you admit that you’ve got a problem. There are two main ways you can block distracting sites using your router. Let’s go over them.
We’ve shown you how to block inappropriate websites using OpenDNS’ Familyshield service. You can also use OpenDNS’s Home service to configure which websites can and cannot be seen on your home network. You’ll need to sign up for a (free) account and change your DNS settings on your router. Check out OpenDNS’ step-by-step instructions for any router if you’re unsure how to do this.
Once you’ve set everything up simply log into OpenDNS, head to the filtering page and add the sites you want to block. From now on, no one using your network will be able access these sites.
Now get to work.
b) Configure Your Router
Like the idea, but don’t want to sign up for an account or use OpenDNS? With most routers you can block specific sites yourself, without the need for OpenDNS or any service like it. Check your router’s documentation to see if this is possible; in most cases it will be under a section called “Access Restrictions”. This will vary depending on who makes your router, so check your router’s documentation (or just Google it’s model number).
If you’ve installed DD-WRT on your router – and you probably should – you can block specific sites using the Access Restrictions menu. Just head to “Filtering Services/URLs/Keyword” and add the offending sites to a blacklist. Sites will be blocked instantly for every device on your network, but you can also configure it to block during certain times or…
Tier 4: Unplug Your Freaking Router
Is all of this not enough? There’s always the nuclear option: total disconnection. Unplug your router from the web entirely and get to work. It’s crude, sure, but it works.
Even this, unfortunately, will only work if you want it to: it’s always possible to plug your router back in or simply pick up your smart phone to access your distractions.
Ultimately none of these strategies will work if you lack the willpower to avoid distracting sites. You’ll be able to find a workaround for any system you set up for yourself, so unless you get someone else to set up a system and deny yourself the password, it will always be possible for you to get to your beloved distractions.
But setting up blocks like these put up barriers, giving you just enough time to remind yourself why it is you need to focus. And sometimes that’s all you need. Some of us need barriers than others, which is why I’ve outlined four tiers. Use the one that works for you.
How do you avoid distractions? Let everyone know in the comments below, or just link to extremely distracting sites. Every comment is emailed to me, so you could potentially derail my productivity for months.
Image Credit: Burning clock image by Mikhail via ShutterStock
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