Taming technology to help focus your day

Although technology can be very empowering, it can also be a huge time sink. Anyone who’s been sucked into that black hole of “just a little web research,” only to emerge dark eyed,  emaciated and unshaven (especially the ladies…) several days later will attest to the eon-gulping world of the web/social media. Einstein’s theories say that time slows down near a an extremely large mass or when traveling close to the speed of light – but he didn’t mention internet time dilation!

The problem is that there’s just so much to look at. Like the tale of “The Elephant’s Child” many of us are filled with that “satiable curiosity” and find it hard to resist that urge to click. Just.One.More.Link. Hell it’s like peanuts, only worse. The ultimate in “got the nibbles” syndrome, the Satan Mekratrig of time-sucks.

So what do you do?

Well, you could try determination and plenty o’spit, but sometimes focus needs a little help.

So, first thing. Switch off the TV, radio, phone, cellphone  or anything else that can lead to distraction. Then switch off the internet.

OMG!!! I can hear the gasps already. Switch.It.Off? But I NEED it.

Okay, you have a choice – do you want to write distraction free or spend the next thirteen zillion hours looking at cute pictures of babies dancing with cats? Take a deep breath. You probably don’t need to actually switch it off, but rather control it. Here’s how I do it.

If you’re running a “modern” operating system on your computer like Windows/OSX/Linux. Then you can almost certainly set up a new user account. Set one up now and call it something creative like “Writing” or “The Muse” or “Mighty-Lord-Asheronix-Who-Smites-The-Distracted.”

Doing this gives you a completely fresh desktop with its own settings, wallpaper, style etc. When you set up this account make sure you give it no password (or at least a very simple one). Also set your regular account to have a password that’s complex enough that you have to think a little to get it right.

Once you’ve done that, delete all the shortcut icons on your desktop leaving only the ones directly related to writing. Mine, for example, has just six icons. Scrivener, SmartEdit, Calibre, Firefox and a couple of custom pieces of software I wrote to help me. (Tip: if you’re in your “writing” account, you may need to switch back to your regular account temporarily to get rid of some icons).

So what you’ve done is created a distraction-free environment especially set up for your writing needs. Also, because the writing account has no password and your regular account has a complex one, you’re less likely to be tempted to switch back.

Now take control of the internet itself. There are many ways of doing this, from installing apps to control when and where you can access other programs to browser plugins. How you do this will depend on what level of distraction you suffer from. For me a simple browser based-block was enough.

I use Firefox as my browser and found a free add-on called Leechblock. This allows you to control what sites you can access and when. On my writing account I blocked all sites except a short “permissio” list. If I type in the URL for anything else like Twitter or Facebook it blocks the request and takes me to my writing website as a reminder. Importantly, set a complicated password for accessing the blocker too; I recommend a random one that’s almost impossible to remember. This way you won’t feel tempted to switch it off “just for a minute.”

Other browsers have the same features available, either by default or through addons/plugins. Do a search for “how to block websites” or “web access control” and the name of your browser and you should find them pretty easily. Note also that blocking the sites on your “writing” account won’t block them on your regular account, so when you switch back you’ll have full access again.

Now, pour a big steaming cup o’coffee. Sit down and start writing in distraction-free bliss.


Create a new user account (Windows): http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/create-user-account#create-user-account=windows-7

Firefox: http://www.firefox.com

Leechblock: http://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/leechblock/

Block site (Chrome): https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/block-site/

How to block (Internet Explorer): http://www.guidingtech.com/3274/block-certain-websites-internet-explorer/

Although I talk about focusing on writing here, the same ideas can be used for other activities. If you have any tips of your own, please leave a comment.



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