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The power of focus is undeniable. The power of distractions is inescapable (almost).

Have you ever noticed how many times during a day you reach for your phone? It probably happens more than you think. It is a reflex that people develop over time. When an activity is repeated it is installed like a program that runs automatically.

One day my phone battery died. Throughout the remainder of the day, I found myself reaching for a device that did not work. Before that day I was unaware of how often I reach for my phone. I realized that through repetition, I programmed my brain for distraction. Even in moments when there was no valid reason to look at my phone, I reached for it anyway.

The digital world is designed to be addictive. Ten-minute breaks can turn into one hour without you realizing it. Knowledge workers have to confront the dangers of distraction on the internet every day. Fortunately, there are some ways to win the battle and maintain your focus with tools that allow you to block websites or even the entire internet. Blocked websites cannot tap you on the shoulder and call your attention away from an important project.

The Science Behind Distraction And Focus

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s process for how it re-wires itself. In other words, your thoughts and behavior can actually re-shape your mind. Some of the changes are good while others may have a negative impact on your productivity. For example, needlessly checking your phone or email inbox throughout the day can break your focus and limit your productivity.

Distractions Kill Productivity

Anytime your mind wanders away from the real goal, it requires a lot of brainpower to fight the distraction and return to focus mode.

The problem with working in a hyper-connected world is that your brain involuntarily responds to stimuli. Every time you receive a notification for a text message, email, or social media activity, your brain responds automatically to process the new information. There is a trigger (notification) and a response (check email). If it happens enough, your brain is conditioned for those behaviors.

The Cost of Distractions

Do the math on distractions. If you waste 10-15 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon, you can easily lose 2 hours per week (probably more). In one month the wasted time adds up to an entire workday that is lost on unproductive distractions.

Lost time is multiplied by lost focus. Studies show that it can take up to 23 minutes to regain your focus after visiting a distracting website.

Focus In The Age Of The Internet

The internet captures your attention, then scatters the focus across an almost infinite number of inputs. You might be writing a blog post, listening to Spotify, surfing the internet across multiple open tabs, and responding to messages in Slack — all at the same time.

Certain websites are designed to capture your attention by endless distractions. Watching one YouTube video can lead to watching ten YouTube videos. Watching one episode on Netflix leads to binge-watching entire seasons. Opening your email can take your mind in multiple directions unrelated to the work you are supposed to be doing at the moment.

Web Content In Business

Business is driven by the internet. Certain apps are necessary. Communication happens through email, messenger, Slack, and Zoom. Documents are digital. Commerce and banking happen electronically. Phones and tablets are common tools for getting work done. It is an unavoidable reality.

Technology is intended to make us more productive, but it is also a source of distraction. The multitude of options the internet makes possible opens the door to distractions that can kill productivity. In order to break the cycle, you have to be proactive about how you manage your time and attention.

Common Internet Distractions

  • Checking email
  • Surfing social media
  • Listening to music
  • Watching a video on YouTube
  • Reading the news
  • Watching a television episode or movie on Netflix

Block Websites That Break Your Focus

An effective way to protect your focus is to block websites that hijack your attention. You can leverage technology to restrict access to the internet or even block specific websites. There are three primary methods of blocking websites including your device settings, third-party services and applications, and browser extensions.

Reasons to Block Websites

There are many reasons why you would want to block a website.

  • Maintain focus (Give your willpower an extra boost!)
  • Protect your computer from possible viruses
  • Parents who want to keep their children safe from inappropriate content
  • Limit adult content
Productivity Benefits When You Block Websites
  • Replace bad habits with good habits that increase your ability to focus
  • Increase your willpower
  • Stay more motivated
  • Accomplish more of what matters most

How To Block Sites On Your Computer Or Mobile Devices

1. Block Sites Using Parental Controls

Windows 10 allows an administrator to set up and use parental controls to set content restrictions, block inappropriate websites, and set web browsing limits.

On macOS, a user can set restrictions in System Preferences using the Screen Time application to allow or restrict certain websites or limit adult websites.

Pro Tip: Use the Screen Time application to show you where you spend the most time online.

2. Software and Services to Block Sites

Freedom (Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS) Freedom has a mission to help people gain control over their relationship with technology. It has a strong fan base with over 2 million registered users. It has a full suite of features including blocking specific websites (or the entire internet), blocking apps, customized blocklists, advanced scheduling, and syncing across devices.

Freedom is available for a monthly or annual subscription and a one-time “forever” plan. There is a free version with feature limitations.

FocusMe allows you to take control of your focus with the push of a button. You can completely block the internet or block websites that you know will be distracting while your work. The application is extremely customizable. Set plans in advance for the level of commitment you want to make for specific activities. Allow partial access to sites you need for work (like Google Drive or Asana). You can set daily limits for how much time you spend on certain websites. FocusMe is available on Windows, macOS, and Android.

FocusMe is available for a monthly, annual, or 3-year subscription. There is a 30 day free trial period.

Cold Turkey is a simple-to-use application that gives you all the tools you need to block websites, block specific website URLs, block keywords in a Google search, or block the entire internet. Pro features allow users to block apps, schedule blocks, use a Pomodoro timer, and set up allowances (allowed time to use a site before it is blocked). For moments when your willpower needs a little extra help, you can enter locked mode. In the locked mode you cannot disable or uninstall the extension.

Cold Turkey is available for a one-time purchase for a lifetime license. There is a free version with feature limitations.

SelfControl is a free and open-source application that allows you to block specific sites. You create your own list of block sites, choose a period of time, and click “start.” Once the timer begins you will not be able to access those sites until the time period ends – even if you restart your computer or delete the application. SelfControl is a Mac-only application.

3. Browser Extension for Blocking Sites

BlockSite is a free browser extension for Chrome and Firefox and an app for Android and iOS. Block Sites allows you to create a customizable list of blocked websites that will work in your browser and on your mobile device. You can create a different list for work mode, and there is a mode to limit adult websites. There is a Pomodoro-style timer to set intervals that will allow you to visit blocked sites only during the schedule “distraction” breaks.

StayFocused is a free browser extension available at the Chrome web store. StayFocused allows users to set limits for how much time you spend on time-wasting websites. It works on all devices through the Chrome browser. Set the amount of time you deem appropriate for each site on your block list. Once the allowed time has expired, you will be blocked from that site for the remainder of the day.

Pause is a Google Chrome browser that takes a unique approach. When you visit a potentially distracting website, Pause interrupts you by displaying a calming green screen for 5 seconds (adjustable). Following the interruption, you can choose whether or not you want to continue to the site. It prompts you to be intentional about how you are spending your time online. Pause is preloaded with 50 of the top distracting websites. You can edit the list to remove sites from the blocked list or add your own.

Next Steps For Blocking Websites To Protect Your Focus

Distractions are habit-forming. The tiny little hits of dopamine that happen as we mindlessly surf the internet, check email and scroll social media are building an addiction to distraction. However, you have a choice. You can choose to avoid distracting sites on your own or use technology to disable websites (or even the entire internet) so you can maintain your focus.

When you block websites or restrict internet access, you are training your mind for focus and building better productivity habits. It is like updating the operating system of your mind to optimize your productivity. Willpower is a finite resource. Sometimes it is not enough. To be productive, we need to use other methods of protecting our attention and maintaining our focus.

Block A Website

Here is how to get started today.

  1. Be Proactive. Be aware of how much time is lost as a result of distractions and make intentional choices about how you use the internet.
  2. Choose a website you want to block. Think about where you spend the most time online. Which websites are the biggest distractions.
  3. Block websites that are distracting you. Use of the applications listed above as a free trial to experiment with how it improves your focus and makes you more productive.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.


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