How to Stay Focused Online

Guest post by Lauren Bailey

Like many writers, I need to be able to research topics quickly to sound the least bit convincing that I have any idea what I’m saying. This research relies heavily on the Internet, which as you may know, is filled with endless mountains of distraction.

I used to look down on those stay-focused-and-block-you-from-distracting-sites web applications and the people who used them, thinking, “How about you just learn some self-control.” But that was before I fully realized the time-wasting beauty that is Reddit. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate these time-management apps. In fact, one of the main reasons I’m writing this post as opposed to surfing YouTube is because my browser blocked me from those sites after I reached my time-wasting quota of the day.
StayFocusdFor Chrome
I use the Google Chrome browser for most of my Internet needs. While Chrome didn’t always allow extensions or addons (as Firefox calls them) to their browser, the browser is now equipped with a full arsenal of extensions. StayFocusd is the extension designed to limit the amount of time you waste on the Internet at unproductive websites.
It works by allowing you to select which sites you wish to block; you can type in URLs manually or select popular sites from their list. You can also add sites to the list while you’re surfing the web with the browser extension button. The button turns red when you’re visiting a blocked site.
By now you may be a little confused, thinking, “Isn’t this supposed to block me from distracting sites?” The beauty of StayFocusd is that it blocks sites on your terms. You give the extension a “Maximum Time Allowed Per Day” value that sets the maximum time you can spend on all of your blocked sites combined. You can also specify StayFocusd to only actively restrict your blocked websites on certain days and/or hours of the day.
Let’s say you need to get some work done right now even though you haven’t exceeded your “Maximum Time Allowed.” Thankfully StayFocusd gives you “The Nuclear Option” which lets you block sites for the number of hours you indicate. If I know I need to get some work done in the next three hours, I’ll “Nuke” my time-wasting sites so that I have less distractions preventing me from getting things done.
One awesome/cute aspect of the web application is that it knows whether you are trying to “hack” it when you change settings. For instance, if I try to raise my “Maximum Time Allowed Per Day,” StayFocusd will prompt a series of dialogue boxes with the following:

(You get the idea.)
LeechBlockfor Firefox
For those of you dedicated to surfing the web with Firefox, fear not because you have quite a powerful anti-time-wasting addon at your disposal. In fact, I would say LeechBlock gives you more options in terms of customizing which sites you want to block when.
Like StayFocusd, LeechBlock allows you to specify which days and at what time you would like to limit your time-wasting sites. LeechBlock also lets you set a time limit for how long you can surf your blocked sites before they are blocked for the day.
In addition to all these features though, LeechBlock also gives you six different “Sets” of sites in which you can make different parameters for different sites or time periods. So if I plan to work every Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., I will create one Block Set that might completely limit my time-wasting sites. After 5 p.m., I give myself more time to waste. Deep down I still know I have some personal projects to finish, so I create another Block Set for after 5 p.m., but it allows me to surf my time-wasting sites for three hours.
This also allows you to dictate more strict blocks on certain sites. My Google Reader page can actually help my research process or career path, so maybe I will allow myself to use that site five hours a day. Facebook, on the other hand, I think I will limit to only an hour a day.
Bottom Line
Both of these web applications can serve you well, provided you are honest about which sites you actually waste your time on. So it really all comes down to which browser you prefer. Also, I realize that you can easily “hack” either of these extensions by simply surfing on another browser, but honestly I think the strength of these applications is that they set visible benchmarks that allow you to see how much time you spend (and waste) on certain websites.
Sure, a much more top-down approach would be to simply prioritize the things that you really need to do in a reliable system which consistently reminds you of these priorities until they are completed. In other words, it would be more ideal to focus on the tasks at hand rather than focus on how to limit distractions away from those tasks. After all, distractions are often self-fulfilling desires stemming from a lack of motivation. At least that’s what they said before the Internet. Now that the Internet is around and everywhere though, I’m going to stick with StayFocusd to help me get things done.

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for best online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99

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