SelfControl for those without self control

This isn’t becoming a productivity blog, I promise (no time for that). However, I did want to take a second to recommend a free program for Macs that has the potential to substantially increase your productivity.

If I’m working outdoors I can usually focus on the task at hand until it is complete. However, this is not always the case when I’m working at the computer. (See previous post regarding browser home pages.) There are days when I close all my browser windows, twitter streams, and mail programs only to reopen them in a short amount of time. The next thing I know, I’ve wasted another twenty minutes of my day.

Apparently this is a common problem. Thankfully Steve Lambert has created a program called SelfControl (website) to help us out, and he’s made it available for the low cost of free. What SelfControl does is simple. You open the program, select the duration of time that you want to work distraction free, and then hit start. Once the program begins to run, your computer is blocked from all internet activity. One of the main differences between SelfControl and other similar programs (besides being free of course) is that there is no way to stop the program before that set time is up.

What if you quit the program? Nope, sorry, no internet.

Okay, what if you log out and log back in again? Nope, that won’t work either.

Fine then, what if you shut down and restart the entire computer? Again, still no internet.

This is, of course, an extreme measure. But that’s the point. Once that timer starts, you are left with nothing to do except work on that project. Here one might object that this is too extreme to be useful for most people. What if, for example, your project requires you to use some part of the web? If you have no internet connection you obviously wouldn’t be able to work on that project. Or, what if you tend to only be distracted by a few websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Well, the developer has thought of these types of scenarios and has given you the ability to run SelfControl using either a “whitelist” or a “blacklist.”

Using the whitelist you can have SelfControl block all internet activity, except for the web addresses you specifically enter. If you’re working on a project within Google Docs you could enter the Google Docs web address and everything else would be blocked. Using the blacklist you can have SelfControl allow all internet activity, except for the web addresses you specifcally enter. So, if Facebook and Twitter are your major sources of distraction just enter and and you won’t be able to access those account until the timer runs out.

There’s one additional tool that you might find useful, depending on your situation. If you use Apple Mail, you can also have SelfControl import your incoming or outgoing (or both) mail servers so that you can still have access to email while the app is running. Since emails are almost never my source of distraction, I find this particularly helpful.

So, for those of us that don’t have self control when it comes to computer usage, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of SelfControl.