Few things kill productivity like distractions. One minute you’re clipping along on an important project, the next you’re sucked into the Buzzfeed blackhole. Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and the only thing you’ve accomplished is figuring out which character you are from You’ve Got Mail.
And here’s the thing: distractions are really costly, both personally and to our society. Several years ago, it was estimated that unfocused workers were costing businesses around $650 billion per year. And how much time every day do these interruptions consume? As much as 6 hours per day. That is an absurdly high amount of time. Imagine what you could accomplish if you reclaimed 6 hours from every day?
Additionally, distractions are far more destructive than you might think. It’s not like you can hop on Facebook and then jump right back into what you were doing. It has been estimated that it can take up to 25 minutes to get back on track after you are distracted from the task at hand.
Of course, it’s easy to talk about this in the abstract, but how do you actually make progress in eliminating distractions?
In this post, I’ve put together a list of the top 10 apps for eliminating the distractions in your day. Try using at least one of these when your focus starts to waver.
App #1 – Freedom
PLATFORM: Web, Mac, PC, iOS
Freedom is a powerful distraction blocker for both your computer and your mobile devices. Once you’ve installed it, you have a central dashboard you can use to block distracting websites and apps that will kill your productivity.
One particular bonus of Freedom is that you can schedule focus sessions in advance. For example, let’s say your willpower is always weak when you first get to work and you have a tendency to visit social media sites. You can create a daily focus session that will automatically begin at a set time and prevent you from visiting those sites. This is key for implementing the “eat that frog” principle.
If you really want to hunker down, you can use the “Locked Mode” to prevent you from disabling the app.
One thing to note. Occasionally Freedom can cause unintended problems with other apps. For example, it can prevent iMessages from sending even though you’re not trying to block them.
App #2 – RescueTime
PLATFORM: Mac, Windows, Android, Linux
RescueTime does it all. It does the standard things like allowing you to block websites, but it also runs in the background of your computer and mobile devices, tracking all the websites you visit and apps you use. It’s like Big Brother except you’re Big Brother.
RescueTime can give you detailed analysis, down to the minute, of how you’ve spent your time, which then allows you to make important adjustments. It’s difficult to evaluate yourself honestly, and this app confronts you with hard data.
Every week, you’ll get an email summary of how you did in terms of productivity, and you can then use that information to set daily productivity goals.
On top of all this, RescueTime gives you a productivity score based on your overall achievements.
App #3 – Self-Control
Self-Control lets you specify the sites that distract you and then block them for a specified session. You can either list the sites you don’t want to go to or whitelist the only sites you’ll permit yourself. This is particularly helpful if you have certain sites you need for work but don’t want access to the rest of the internet.
The one downside (or upside) is that once you start Self-Control, the only way to stop it is to reboot your computer. This can be a bit inconvenient if something comes up and you need to access a site you’ve blocked. Of course, it also prevents you from caving in moments of weakness.
Self-Control is open source, so it’s completely free. It is only for Mac, however.
The good news? Self-Control is completely free and open-source. The bad news? It’s only for Mac.
App #4 – LeechBlock
PLATFORM: Firefox browser
LeechBlock is a Firefox exclusive extension that allows you to specify which sites you want to block and how long you want to block them. Additionally, it keeps track of how much time you spend on specified sites when they’re not blocked, which can be particularly useful information.
One additional nice feature of LeechBlock is that you can set timers for specific distracting sites so that after a certain number of minutes, the site will become blocked. For example, let’s say you want to only allow yourself 10 minutes of headline skimming. You can set the extension so that after 10 minutes you’ll no longer have access to the Huffington Post (or whatever site you specify).
Additionally, you can set up a redirect page for every time you attempt to access a blocked site. If you want to stay off Facebook, set the page to redirect elsewhere every time you try to access it.
If you really, really don’t trust yourself, LeechBlock has a password function. Have someone else set the password and then tell them not to give it up, no matter how much you plead.
App #5: StayFocusd
PLATFORM: Chrome browser
Similar to LeechBlock, StayFocusd is a Chrome extension with a variety of website blockers. The one distinct advantage of StayFocusd is that you can set a total time allowed on all distracting websites. If you want to give yourself 20 minutes max for skimming social media, news headlines, and stocks, you can do that. How you use your time is up to you, but once the 20 minutes is up, you’re locked out of all the sites you’ve blacklisted.
If you really need to enter the zone, StayFocusd has a “Nuclear Option,” which blocks everything on your list and can’t be deactivated.
App #6 – Focus
Focus is a Mac App that relies on the power of inspiration to fight distractions. Yes, you can block websites, but it does more than that. When you try to access a blocked site, it will show you an inspirational quote in your browser instead of an error message. It comes with preloaded quotes and the option of adding your own as well.
The app can also block applications like Skype and Apple Mail which tend to generate a lot of notifications.
App #7 – Focus Booster
PLATFORM: Web, Mac, Windows
If you use the Pomodoro method of productivity, this may be the perfect app for you. The app allows you to run Pomodoro sessions (typically 25 minutes) and then records your sessions automatically into a timesheet. This is especially helpful if you’re a freelancer or simply want to track your time.
You also have access to a dashboard that gives you a visual representation of how you have been spending your time. This can be a boost to your productivity levels, especially if you get more satisfaction from visuals than numbers.
App #8 – Zero Willpower
Zero Willpower is an iOS only app that does one thing and one thing only: block the distracting websites. It’s easy to use and has all the standard blocking options that the above apps do.
Given that we spend multiple hours every day on our phones, it’s critical to have an app like this.
App #9 – Focus Lock
Focus Lock is an Android specific app designed for those of you who can’t seem to put your phone down. It allows you to block apps for specific times so that you can focus on what’s important. It also integrates nicely with the Pomodoro method.
The advantage of Focus Lock is that it doesn’t require you to shut down all applications or put your phone in airplane mode.
App #10 – Pen and Paper
Obviously, this isn’t an actual app. But sometimes the perfect solution for distractions is to simply get away from the screen. Turn off the laptop, put the phone in airplane mode, and start getting things down with pen and paper.
Because you only have a blank sheet in front of you, using pen and paper can promote a sort of hyper focus that isn’t possible when you’re in front of a screen. Notifications simply don’t exist in the analog world, and that can be an enormous boost to your productivity.
Distractions are everywhere. Unless you seclude yourself in a monastery, there’s simply no way to avoid them. The key to success is not completely eliminating distractions, but learning to manage them. To quarantine them for a time. To keep them at bay during your most important moments of focus.
Focus is like a magnifying glass. It brings all your creative energies together into a single beam, creating heat. Use these tools to help you hold the magnifying glass.
Next we’re hosting free, online training for Asian Efficiency readers. The topic is “How to achieve a year’s worth of work in the next 30 days” and we’ll reveal our Focus&Finish System that allows you to do that. We’ll be giving away some of our best materials. We could have easily charged hundreds of dollars for this training but for this one-time event, we’ll do it for free. Click here to sign up.
(If you can’t make it live, still signup and we’ll send you the recording of it.)