We live in the Age of Distraction—smartphones, email, people, and social media can reduce your productive hours to minutes. And even though we might convince ourselves a quick check on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t amount to much—it does.
In one study at Stanford University, multitaskers were less efficient because they were more susceptible to distractions from irrelevant sources (like that kitten video on YouTube).
Fortunately, there are some obvious (and not so obvious solutions).
You could cover your eyes, stuff Keenex in your ears and pretend you’re working from a cabana in Puerto Vallarta. Or you could try one of the new tools invented just for this purpose.
I have checked out all of these apps and added my comments below.
HOW DISTRACTED ARE YOU?
1. Rescue Time
Before I share my list of apps that block distractions, let’s start with one that measures them. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Rescuetime because it’s so damn honest (do I really want to know how much time I spend on YouTube?)—maybe that’s a good thing. Like any change initiative (you do want to be time-smart, don’t you?), we start with current reality and that’s what Rescue Time measures. Free Lite version and $9 Premium version. For PC, Macs and Android.
TIME TO BLOCK DISTRACTIONS
The highly touted Freedom app (raves from the likes of: Dave Eggers, Naomi Klein, Nick Hornby) blocks your most distracting sites for a specified period of time. It’s like Big Brother and you are the author. Five minutes to set up Freedom and you get years of distraction-free working and less procrastination. And I’m talking full shackles here—if you can’t handle all that off-line freedom, you need to reboot to get back online. For PC, Mac, Android phones and tablets, iPhone and iPad.
One of the simpler (not a bad thing) apps on this list is keepmeout. You set time limits on Facebook, Twitter and any other distracting sites. For example, Monday to Friday between 9:00 and 4:00 limit my time on Facebook to 20 minutes. To date, KeepMeOut has sent almost 5 million warnings and the three most popular sites to block are Facebook (no surprise there), YouTube and Twitter. For PC and Mac.
4. Cold Turkey
Similar to KeepMeOut, Cold Turkey does exactly what its name suggests—makes you go Cold Turkey on apps and websites on a schedule you set in advance. If you know willpower will be in the toilet and procrastination takes hold after 4:00PM—set Cold Turkey to keep you off Facebook. It’s like your Mother looking over your shoulder but without the meat loaf. Another option is StopDistractions ($9.99). For PC only.
From the makers of Freedom, Anti-Social is all about your time on social media. We’ve all done it—been sucked into taking “just a quick peek” at Facebook and then realized 30 minutes has disappeared. Within minutes, Anti-Social can remove temptations and have you finishing that New York Times best-seller. Free Trial or $15 purchase. For PC and Mac.
PUT YOUR MONEY ON THE LINE
One of the early risers in the category of anti-procrastination apps is Stickk. Here’s how it works: you make a goal, set a deadline, and then decide what’s your stake and who’s the recipient. The stake could be as little as $5 and the recipient could be a friend, foe, or charity of choice. You keep your promise by the deadline—pat yourself on the back, Stickk does nothing. Procrastinate and miss the deadline and your money goes to that kid who stole your lunch money in grade four (or whoever you chose to be your recipient). Deviously clever, the designers claim “Years of rigorous academic research” have proven these “Commitment Contracts” really work—pretty good for $5. For PC and Mac.
NO MORE EMAIL
7. Inbox Pause
From the makers of Boomerang for Gmail (a neat tool that let’s you send email later, set reminders and track responses) comes the simple Chrome extension* Inbox Pause and it (guess what) pauses your Inbox. This slap-on-the-side-of-the-head, end procrastination today, solution could be a long overdue solution for you. Scenarios given for using Inbox Pause (from their web site) include: on vacation, rushing for a deadline, on a date (what’s that?), or trying to get through the emails already clogging your Inbox. For Chrome only, PC and Mac. *To add an extension in Chrome: Windows>Extensions>(at bottom of list)>get more extensions.
THREE, TWO, ONE…GO!
A classic productivity technique (that I subscribe to) is to work hard on one task and then take a break about every 20 or 25 minutes. It’s often referred to as the Pomodoro technique. TomatoTimer won’t block you from distracting sites, but it will ring you back to your senses and remind you it’s time to stand up and shake your booty. PC and Mac.
9. Strict Workflow
Strict Workflow is another Chrome extension and this one is tough. Originally called Strict Pomodoro, Strict Workflow blocks all distracting sites so you can “work hard for 25 minutes without distractions, knowing that a 5 minute break is soon on its way.” Start by editting the starter list of blocked sites and you are well on your way to 25 minutes of focus (you can adjust the work and break times). TimeDoser is similar Chrome extension. For Chrome only, PC and Mac.
LET ME SERENADE YOU
10. Focus At Will
I’m a fan of focusatwill and smile every time I try to explain its blissful benefits to newbies. Proven to work by smart people like Ned Hallowell, focusatwill is a collection of original music compositions designed to remove distractions and help you focus. I find I’m actually unaware music is playing and feel I’m in “the zone” as soon as I’m into the first few bars. There is a free trial and month fees start around $10/month. For PC, Mac and Android.
11. Sound Shade
Looking for a trip into nature while you muse away on your next novel? Sound Shade offers free sounds of nature from Finland described as “non-disturbing sound scenes that mask unnecessary noise” (34 options). For your iPhone or iPad.
WRITING IN THE ZONE
Described as a “fullscreen, distraction-free word processor designed to immerse you as much as possible in your work” FocusWriter hides eye-candy distractions from your screen (Oh look! I have a Facebook notification) while you work on that proposal deadline. There are some neat features like daily writing goals (word count or time writing) and tracking your writing time. For PC, Mac, and Linux. While you’re shopping around you can also check out WriteRoom (MAC) or a brother-of-a-different-mother Dark Room (PC) for more distraction-free writing options.
13. Hey Focus
One more option for getting into your writing zone is Hey Focus with a click of your mouse distracting sites like Facebook and Reddit are blocked as are apps of your choice, like Twitter or Mail. You can set a schedule or launch HeyFocus on the fly. Free trial or $19 purchase. For Mac only.
I know there’s more here than any human (except you, of course) could handle. I suggest: one to measure, one to block, one to write, and one for musical accompaniment as you fly through your work. You can thank me below.