Do you struggle with getting your assignments completed because you get distracted while working on your computer? Do you start to do research, then find yourself watching kitten videos? Fortunately, there are apps designed to help you put virtual blinders on and do what you set out to do. Each of the options listed below is free and can be used with both Mac and PC.
LeechBlock is an add-on for Firefox that lets you select sites that you want to block during certain times. If you know that it is hard for you not to check Facebook, for example, you can ban yourself from the site during the time you plan to study. You can also set a maximum amount of time you can spend on a site, such as 5 minutes per hour or 30 minutes total per day. If you just need a small reminder not to get caught up in distractions, you can set a password to unlock LeechBlock, which at least gives you a small speed bump between your impulses and your carefully-crafted schedule. Download it from Mozilla Firefox Add-Ons.
StayFocusd, a Google Chrome extension, lets you block sites, pages, or even specific types of content such as videos. Similar to LeechBlock, it is excellent for making sites unavailable during different times of the day and for setting time limits on how long you can spend on sites you choose. It will even suggest sites that you might want to block. This product is regularly featured in articles on productivity. Download it from the Google Chrome store.
RescueTime keeps a record of the sites you go to and how much time you spend there. The free version doesn’t block sites but lets you see exactly how you spend your time online. It’s an eye opener to have to face up to the fact that you had two hours set aside to work on your paper and you spent 38 minutes looking at sweaters for your dog. The premium version allows you to block sites, track the other productive things you spend your time on, list your accomplishments, and set notifications. Both versions let you set productivity goals and get a productivity score to help you improve your performance. Detailed reports are also included as a core feature. This one is an award-winner. Available for android devices as well as Mac and PC computers (an iOS version is in development).
Cold Turkey has several different options to help both block distractions and keep you focused on writing. While the other programs have work arounds if you try hard enough, the Cold Turkey products are harder to circumvent—these are great if you find out that you cheat the other site blockers! The website blocker (Cold Turkey Blocker) offers free and paid versions, but the paid versions are a one-time fee rather than a subscription, making them very affordable. The writing version (Cold Turkey Writer) locks down all other programs on your computer, releasing them only when you meet the criteria you set, such as words written or a certain amount of time. It also has a free and paid version.
One last suggestion: if you work better in silence, a white noise generator can help you tune out noise from the TV, people, dogs, etc. to make it easier to focus on your work. SimplyNoise offers several different options for white noise and nature sounds and can be listened to directly from the website or downloaded to listen to on a loop (some download options are free). If you can pair this with noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll practically be in a cone of silence. We know from experience that this technique can allow you to work on a research paper even while your family is watching football on a home theater system on the other side of the room!