Distraction Graphic

Internet Blackout: How to Limit Online Distractions

It happens to almost everyone I know: an important deadline is drawing near and just as you’re about to write that final page, you stop to check your email inbox.

The dreaded ping of incoming emails and text messages is enough to derail anyone from even the most productive work session. While these distractions seem temporary –only a few seconds– their implications are far greater and far more distracting then they appear. Research revealed that it takes about 23 minutes to return to a task once distracted; and while this may seem like a short amount of time, it adds up over the course of a work or school day.

To find what methods people were using to limit their information intake, I decided to crowd source the problem on Facebook. After all, I hypothesized that the people most active on social networking sites were also the most likely to have figured out a way to control themselves…or not.

Best free application: SelfControl

Positives

SelfControl allows you to block any website you want for a desired time period. As a free download, you can’t beat the price.

Drawbacks

There is no way to undo the application. If you’re done working and want to return to sites you blocked, you have to wait until the timer runs out. It’s also only available for Mac users, which is bad news if you’re a PC person.

 Testimonial

Brooke Baldinger, a junior education major at SU, said she used it all of last year to help her work. “I used it when I had a deadline, was tired, and needed to focus. It’s nice to completely get rid of all distractions, but I did need my internet to go on and off of blackboard,” Baldinger said.

“The app also gives you a time limit for how long you study so it makes you more productive. If I know I only have an hour and a half without distraction, I get a lot more done, and then I can take a mental break and block another 30 minutes.”

Most limiting application: Freedom for Mac

 Positives

If you have absolutely zero self control, it blocks every internet browser you have on a Mac or PC. It also allows you to resume web browsing by restarting the computer, which is good in case of emergency.

 Drawbacks

The program has a one-time cost of $10.00, which seems like a lot if you’re used to getting software apps for free. Also, internet blocking can be undone by restarting, which can be tempting if you’re craving distraction.

 Testimonial

Sonja Forgo, a senior International Relations and CRS major at SU, has been using it for a year and a half. “I don’t think I can right a paper of more than 3 pages without it,” she said. “It forces me to do my research beforehand and once I start writing the paper, I’m focused on writing.”

According to Forgo, the cost should not dissuade potential users. “It’s ten times better than the free software because you can’t get around it really easily,” Forgo said. “I would never download the free software after. I can distract myself with anything when I want to procrastinate.”

Forgo also addressed a downside of the program: “Once I’ve finished what I was working on I want to return to the internet, but the only way to override the program is to restart the computer. It’s frustrating, but at the same time it’s worth it. It’s rewarding to restart the computer because you know you accomplished your work.”

Best application for social media addicts: Anti-Social

Positives

Anti-Social turns off social parts of the internet for up to eight hours on a Mac or PC. It also allows you to block the domains of other sites and the option of keeping or disabling email access.

Drawbacks

This application, also made by the Freedom for Mac developers, costs $15.00. It’s also not the most practical for heavy internet users, as you would have to manually predict and add every other internet site that might distract you.

Testimonial

I downloaded the trial version and found that I was not as tempted to visit social networking sites or the internet in general. Once I finished my tasks, I did have to restart my computer in order to access social sites again. It was not that much of a hassle and I enjoyed having an uninterrupted window of time to work. However, I don’t think the software is limiting enough, so I’ll probably use SelfControl in the future.

When I asked about potential drawbacks to internet-limiting software, Baldinger made a great point: “I don’t think there are drawbacks unless you desperately need Facebook,” she said. “But I doubt you can’t wait an hour to go on a social site.”

None of the software applications limited smartphone use, but I found that simply putting my phone in airplane mode was an easy way to prevent distractions.

With the constant stream of information, do you think it’s vital for people to figure out a way to limit their intake in the workplace to increase productivity? Let us know in the comments!