Stay focused by blocking websites and mobile apps

Stay focused by blocking websites and mobile apps

I’m currently reading The 4-Hour Workweek, which have some great ideas to focusing your time. Five years ago, I wrote a blog series about optimizing your time (part 1, part 2, part 3). When looking back through the posts, I still use some of the tips, while others no longer makes sense. I was surprised that not a single tip centered around my usage of TV, mobile phone and web browsing. This post is a summary of a couple of experiments I’ve done to improve that during the last 3 weeks. Working from home is extremely hard (this is funny cause it’s true) and require a lot of structure and self control.

While reading the book, I started evaluating if I were focused during the day. I knew that I probably used my phone too much and that I had developed a bad habit of browsing while “waiting for a deployment”, “needing a break” … insert random excuse here. A quick look through my browser history revealed multiple visits to news media, YouTube, Facebook and similar. The 4 Hour Workweek recommend an extension for Chrome to limit the time on social media, but I couldn’t get that one working. After a quick Google search (yet another), I found StayFocusd. StayFocusd lets me choose how much time I’m allowed to use during working hours, on a range of predefined websites. Setting up the tool is extremely easy and a small icon on the header makes adding new websites to StayFocusd a one-click:

From 7 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon, I’ve allowed myself 10 minutes on social media, news sites, IMDB, Netflix and similar. When reaching the limit, the extension simply shows a message, rather than opening a time-consuming site. During the first couple of days, I reached the limit before lunch. The last week, I haven’t even seen the message. I may not be as informed about what my friends are posting on Facebook or what ever dumb things presidents do or don’t. You know what? I don’t care.

Next up was my mobile phone habits. I knew that I might have a problem there as well, but I didn’t knew the extend of it. To get an overview, I started by installing QualityTime. QualityTime is a nice little app for Android, that monitor how much you use your phone and on which apps. It also shows you a notification, when unlocking your phone more than 50 times a day. The result was pretty clear (and scary) after just 2 weeks of usage. I used my phone almost 2½ hours every day (!). Instagram, Facebook and Chrome were the biggest time consumers. I still don’t understand how I found it interesting to check Instagram multiple times of day, but statistics don’t lie. Something had to be done.

Another Google search, let me to a number of mobile apps similar to StayFocusd. I ended up trialing (and buying) an app named AppBlock. Much like StayFocusd, AppBlock lets me choose which apps I’m allowed to use during working hours. I’ve made the decision not to allow Facebook, Instagram, Netflix etc. during work hours. Not even 10 minutes. Since I watch everything on TV through Chromecast, I’m no longer able to open any streaming apps from 7-5. The nice thing about AppBlock is, that it not only blocks app usage, but also the notifications from each app.

To sum up, focusing on being productive have been a fun experiment with great results. I’m sure I will start picking up some of my bad habits at some point. By constantly focusing on my productivity, I hope to find new solutions and get back on track when my brain starts to convince me that “An episode of Sons of Anarchy sounds like the best thing to do right now” 🙂