This post is from staff writer April Dykman.
There have been days when I’ve wasted an embarrassing amount of time mindlessly surfing the Internet. While I try to make that the exception rather than the rule, it’s a massive time suck that usually puts me behind on things I actually needed to do that day.
Obviously the web makes life easier in many respects. We have virtually every type of media, every bit of information, right at our fingertips. But with so much media so easily available, it’s easy to stray off-task.
For example, I’m writing an article on a productivity app right now, but I was just sidetracked for a good 30 minutes while researching it because I found a way to put my to-do list on my desktop. That’s not something that needed my immediate attention, yet I stopped writing to chase new browser tabs. Ultimately, I decided probably wouldn’t use it and got back to the task at hand.
Productivity is boring
I don’t particularly like to think about productivity. When I read too much about ways to “maximize your productivity” and squeeze value from every second, it makes me want to curl up on the couch and catch up on missed episodes of 30 Rock.
But we all have tasks we need to complete and things we need to remember. When you have a personal to-do list or a task list for work and need to put nose to grindstone, online distractions can cost you both time and money (and sometimes your sanity as you get closer to due dates). Plus, despite the way productivity talk makes me want to rebel, it feels really good to get things done on time — and even better to finish something early.
Web-based solutions to web-enabled procrastination
Today I’d like to share a solution that’s been working well to minimize procrastination online. When it comes to Internet distractions, I’ve found that technology can help solve some of the problems it creates.
The first application I’ve found helpful is LeechBlock, a Firefox extension. Most likely, there are a handful of websites on which you particularly enjoy wasting time. LeechBlock blocks those sites based on the parameters you set.
To use LeechBlock, you specify up to six sets of sites to block, with an unlimited number of sites in each set. Next, you specify the rules for blocking each set. You can block within certain periods of time, such as between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., after a time limit is reached (30 minutes each day), or both (30 minutes between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.). You can block by day of the week, as well.
LeechBlock tracks the amount of time you spend actively looking at a site (it won’t count a tab that is open, but not active), and during blocked times or after reaching your time limit, you’ll be redirected from the blocked site to a page notifying you that you’ve been blocked.
While it’s possible to go around your self-imposed block, LeechBlock offers a password feature to make you take another step before you can bypass. The delay requires you to think for a moment and hopefully remember why you’ve set the block in the first place. LeechBlock recommends setting a “lengthy but memorable” password. Maybe something like getbacktoworkyoubum?
A daily task application
Leechblock has been working well to remind myself when I’m spending too much time on specific sites, but I still needed something to better organize my to-do lists. Without a clear plan each day, it was too easy to get blocked from Facebook only to find new sites to browse that weren’t blocked or to complete random, unimportant tasks around the house.
Paper and pen seemed ideal in theory, but in practice, it wasn’t working out. I had too many repeating tasks, and I would only keep up with a system for a couple of weeks before it fell apart. After looking into a few options, I read that Remember the Milk (RTM) was voted the favorite web-based to-do list manager by Lifehacker readers, so I gave it a go.
Launched in 2005, RTM strives to make managing tasks an enjoyable experience. While I don’t know if to-do lists will ever be enjoyable, RTM makes them more than tolerable, and I admit I like checking things off as I complete tasks. I also like knowing that everything I need to remember, from getting a wedding gift for my cousin to taking out the trash on Thursday mornings, is organized in one system I can access from anywhere (There are RTM smartphone apps, as well.).
LeechBlock and Remember the Milk, working together
Recently I read about a great productivity hack that combines LeechBlock’s blocking abilities with RTM’s task-reminding superpowers.
Within Leechblock, you can specify which website you want to be redirected to once you’ve been blocked. If you set Leechblock to redirect you to your RTM task list, you are instantly reminded that you’ve exceeded the time limit you’ve set for yourself, and that you have a list of tasks that need your attention.
This has worked beautifully for me. Not only am I redirected from time-sucking sites, but seeing my RTM task list gives me a jumping in point. Often the hardest part of completing a task list is getting started. After being blocked, I’ll pick a couple of tasks that look quick and easy, and check them off the list. By that time, I’m focused again and I’ve got the momentum to tackle bigger tasks. I’ve used this hack for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how it has improved my productivity.
Since I’m on a get-things-done kick, let me know what you think about this method in the comments, and share any tricks you use to stay on task.
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