Adding some SelfControl

I’m certain I’m not the only one out there who struggles with this, but I suffer from a combination of addiction to my online world and a tendency towards distractibility. I seriously can have problems with my ability to focus, which can be a real detriment to both research and writing. I know of some who simply work on a computer that isn’t hooked up to the virtual world. As my workflow has evolved over the years, this simply isn’t an option for me. In the process of both researching and writing, I am constantly looking up citations, chasing down bits of information, and the like. But, there are only a handful of domains that are legitimately part of that workflow– and twitter, facebook, cyclingnews, netnewswire, and the rest of places I often let distract me aren’t on that list.

What to do? Well, recently I’ve been using the Mac app SelfControl to help force me out of my bad habits. SelfControl allows you to blacklist domains (and their subdomains) along with mail servers — or any other paths to the internet. There is an option to whitelist domains, but I’ve found it doesn’t work as well. So, I’ve been slowly adding places from my virtual world onto the list of unacceptables. When SelfControl is turned on, blacklisted places simply cannot be accessed until the timer runs out. You pick how long you want the blocking to occur, and then it does. There’s no way around it except letting the clock run out. Then, your system’s full access to resources is restored. It’s almost like a counter-growl, cutting off the possibility of distracting notifications.

Other programs do this as well– I’ve also used Freedom a bit, which completely cuts your machine off from the internets. But, that’s too drastic for me as I explained above. For Windows users out there, you could try StopDistractions.

Now get to work.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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One comment on “Adding some SelfControl
  1. Lee says:

    Interesting notion. I can definitely relate as I live on my laptop, but seldom, even the minority of the time I’d say it is in truly productive use. It is really self control to use an egg timer to forcibly remove your apps?

    Isn’t it just as easy to find other modes of distraction if you aren’t will to just say it is time to go to work?

    I liken it to sailing and trying to quit smoking. Sailors are always trying to quit by going on long passages without smokes so that they won’t have the option to run and buy more and therefor quitting. However, as soon as they make landfall they immediately buy some and smoke away. The only ones I’ve seen actually quit are the ones who make the conscious choice to quit when the temptation is still right and readily at hand.

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Chad Black

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