In which I learn how to block the Internet so I can get stuff done

Last week I went to a writing retreat with several writing types in a converted barn somewhere in Connecticut. It was glorious. Five days where our only job was to write and our only sin to procrastinate.

There are many ways to procrastinate in situations such as this, and a big one is undoubtedly by faffing around on the Internet. To combat this great evil, my friend Alaya Dawn Johnson employs a Firefox extension called LeechBlock, which allows one to set specific times when the browser simply will not allow you to access any web pages if that’s what you want. It’s very customizable — you can set it to block or allow only certain websites, or block the whole the ‘net, block during specific times on specific days, limit you to, say, 10 minutes out of every hour, or limit you to a certain amount of time on certain websites. So, if you need the wider web for research but need to stay off Facebook and Twitter, you can make it so. There are even more robust block options that keep the more tech-savvy amongst us from going around the block by disabling the add-on or something similar.

I know some of you reading this are thinking: “Why go through all that? Why not just have discipline and not look at the web?” It’s easy to say such things, not so easy to put it into practice. Besides, not all of us have wills of iron. There’s nothing wrong with employing some technological help in these cases.

I’ll admit that I’m completely guilty of messing around on the Internet when I’m supposed to focus on writing. I used to dismiss cafes for satellite writing/freelancing if they didn’t have free wireless. Now I’m trying to build a list of places without wireless just so I won’t get tempted. But even in places without Wi-Fi I’m in trouble because now I have a smart phone. And not only does my phone access the web, it’s also a mobile hotspot.

Leaving my phone at home when I go out writing isn’t an option, so I went looking for something like LeechBlock but for Android phones. I found a few, but the only one that didn’t have a lot of issues was StudioKUMA AirPlane Scheduler, which turns Airplane Mode (no cell, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi radio) off at a specified time, then off again automatically. The major drawback is that it’s not designed to keep you away from the web, just to save battery, so there are no restrictions from turning Airplane Mode off or anything. However, sometimes having willpower just requires a little bit of restriction to remind you that you’re supposed to be working, not obsessively checking your notifications.

What tools do you use to keep yourself from procrastinating and foster more laser-like focus?

  • Alexandra Erin

    In theory, I use Google Calendar to send myself reminders of what I have to get done in a day, but in practice I stopped doing this almost a year ago when my life went through some upheavals. I think I’m going to start getting that back on track today.

  • Alaya

    …thanks for reminding me that I should turn on leechblock and stop faffing around on the internet. Yikes!

    Back to work :)

  • Now that I own a brick-and-mortar bookstore, versus the online bookselling I’ve been doing, I find I have to choreograph my Internet time and balance it with customer time and paperwork time.

    I have brought my Stephen Fry alarm clock to work, and I let Jeeves tell me when to stop faffing about.

  • Ingrid

    Mechanizing self-discipline…this could be useful. Should I call this artificial conscience instead of artificial intelligence?

  • Richard