Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Free Self-Control: Download Here!

Top Apps to block internet distractions for writers

How many times do your mornings go like this?

You sit down to write just KNOWING it’s going to be a productive session. You crack your knuckles, stare at the screen, and think to yourself, I’ll just check my email first. After all, everyone needs a bit of a mental warm-up before diving in to the real work, and it’ll only take a minute.

So you check your email, tap out some overdue replies, watch the YouTube clip someone forwarded you, read the cool article on writing that’s landed in your RSS feed, follow the link at the bottom that leads you to another pertinent article, browse the comments section, and compose a quick tweet to share your findings. While you’re there you notice you have some new Twitter followers you need to follow-back. You work your way through the list, reading profiles and retweeting the best quotes you come across. Some of them are really good. Might as well update your Facebook status while you’re at it. The next thing you know you look up from browsing photos of your second-cousin’s friend’s daughter’s wedding on Facebook and realize three hours have passed.

Haven’t you ever wished you could download some self-control at the click of a button? The good news is… you can. In this age of technology and distraction, many of us struggle with limiting the hold of the internet over our time. But technology itself might just be our saving grace.

Here’s a roundup of the best free apps I’ve found to help writers manage their time online. Click on the links to explore further.

1. Self Control (Mac only)

This is one I’ve been using for a while. Its genius is in its simplicity. If you’re sitting down to write for a 2-hour block and wish to remain focussed and productive that entire time, simply set your self-control timer for 2 hours. For that length of time, you will not be able to access any sites you’ve blacklisted – Facebook, email, Twitter, or any other time-suckers individual to you. I also blacklist some of my favorite writing blogs. Meanwhile, you can still access the rest of the web for research purposes – brilliant! Once started, the block cannot be undone until the timer runs out, even if you restart your computer.

This app is based on the popular “Pomodoro” technique which argues that the greatest productivity occurs by tackling tasks in 25-minute intervals, followed by a 5-minute break.

Focus booster will run a timer at intervals set by you, with a buzzer sounding at the end of a completed session. The color of the bar changes as your time lapses, giving you a constant unobtrusive nudge to stay productive.

Many of us spend the majority of our time on the things that are least important to us. You may think you don’t have time to write, but have you ever wondered how much time you waste on the internet? This free app will track and analyse how you spend your time on the web, including on mobile apps, and rank your productivity accordingly. Knowledge is power! Find out how much spare time you REALLY have.

4. Stay Focused (Requires Google Chrome)

The next step, once you’ve discovered how much time you really are wasting online, is to restrict the time you spend on non-productive tasks. Let’s say you want to spend no more than 15 minutes on Facebook each day. With this app you can set a time limit, and once you’ve used up your allotted time, the sites you’ve selected will be blocked for the rest of the day.

You can also set this app to block time-waster sites at a specific time each day. Say you decide you want to write from 9-11am each morning, or 8-10pm each night. You can preset this app to block sites at those exact times. Genius!

5. Concentrate (Mac only)

Okay, so this one’s not free. I think it’s worth a mention anyway.

Concentrate costs $29, but is more customizable than any other app I’ve encountered in my research, and comes highly recommended. This app allows you to tailor a series of actions to run every time you wish to concentrate on a task. You can set your writing document to open, distracting sites to be blocked, your Skype and iChat status to be set as away, even your desktop picture to change – and much more – all at the click of a button.

So that’s it from me. Have you tried any of these apps? Any others you’d add to the list? If you decide to try one of these for the first time, let us know how you go. Wishing you productive and distraction-free writing!

Image courtesy of

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after two small boys or gazing at her brand-new baby girl, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website, on Twitter or getting creative over at her mummy blog.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow! What a great list of helpful tools! I've never heard of these and can see how utilizing them would help my productivity. Thanks!

p.s. You title is brilliant, btw!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thanks, Sherrinda! :-)

I LOVE the Self-Control app. Interestingly enough, as I researched these, I found quite a lot of big-name published authors who swear by them. Nice to know I'm not the only one in need of some extra help against distraction. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I needed this today. Thanks, Karen. I thought you were joking about the self-control app. How fun is that--an app to give you self-control. :)

Lindsay Harrel said...

I've never thought of using something like this, but maybe I most productive writing seems to happen when I'm on my lunch break at work, because I don't have internet access on my laptop and I leave my phone at my desk. Hmmm...

Julia M. Reffner said...

Wow, this is great Karen. You can be sure I'll be downloading one of these. I'm thinking Stay Focused. This is fantastic. Do you have all of these on your computer? Do you find Self Control to be the most useful (I don't have a mac so I guess I wouldn't use this one anyway), but curious.

Pepper said...

Fabulous list, Karen!
And good reminder (looking down a bit sheepishly)
can I blame it on being a people person? LOL

Lindsay - AMEN!!! I try lunch break writing too. And it is productive!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

How cool there are actually apps for this! I know I definitely need a little help keeping myself focused sometimes. When I'm using my computer, I try really hard to make myself write a certain amount of words before I allow myself to check-in with social media again. And then I go back and forth so that I'm making progress with both.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Yep, Jeanne - who would've thought? :-) Technology can be a blessing as well as a distraction!

Lindsay, I agree, my productivity is directly tied to how well I can shut myself away from internet distractions.

Julia, I only have Self Control, and I just added Rescue Time after researching this post. The only problem with Self Control is that you have to actually have the self-control to start it - LOL! Easy to think you'll "just" take a quick peek at email first, then start the timer. By then half the session might be gone.

I LOVE the idea of Stay Focused for the benefit of being able to pre-select times to block internet sites. BUT... I can't get it to run on my computer, because my laptop won't accept Google Chrome. *Sigh!* I'm going to keep researching to see if there's another similar product out there that I can use. Would love to hear how you go with any of these.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Pepper, your productivity has obviously not been too badly affected - how many books have you written again?? LOL :-)

Cindy, sounds like you already have the REAL self-control. The sort that can't be downloaded. :-)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

UPDATE: Julia (and whoever else is interested) - I found another one called "Waste No Time" which is very comparable to Stay Focused - same great features - and works on my computer. You just need Safari. I just downloaded it and it's my new favourite! :-) You can find it here:

Hope that helps!

Kristal Hollis said...

Thanks! I needed this!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

You're welcome, Kristal - glad it was helpful!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

You're welcome, Kristal - glad it was helpful!