Apr 1, 2015

Blocking distracting websites comes down to SelfControl | afr.com

SelfControl app
Self-control. So boring. First, we have to practise it around food, then exercise and now, it turns out, the freaking internet.
Self-control is still needed to stop internet distractions.
Self-control is still needed to stop internet distractions. Kerrie Leishman
I know, I know. Naturally, it's better for our productivity levels if we don't spend large periods of our work day surfing non-relevant websites and, if I'm honest, I've often found a bit of enforced online discipline isn't such a bad thing. When I use sites such as Freedom, which allows users to block the internet for a set period of time, I get a lot done, quickly.
However, there's a downside to Freedom: often we actually need to be online to get our job done. Enter SelfControl. This free application lets Mac users block their access to "distracting websites, mail servers or anything else on the internet". Set a timer, choose sites to blacklist, and click start, but once you're in, you're really in: no number of restarts or even deleting the app will let you back online until the allocated time is up.
I spend my first morning monitoring just how much of a problem I have. Like most of us, before I start work, I'll often check my personal email account, but because both that and my work accounts are on Gmail, I can't restrict access to one without blocking both. Bingo: my first workaround.
Travel websites get the same treatment. What if I'm researching an upcoming travel-writing trip? It's an easy way to justify letting itchy-feet candy such as Skyscanner, Webjet and Airbnb through the net.
I've quickly discovered the first problem with self-regulation: my idea of what's OK in the short term is not necessarily in line with my greater productive good. Clearly, something has to go. Facebook is the obvious low-hanging fruit. Twitter too. eBay, Gumtree and Etsy are all out.
Of course, the first thing I do once I've set SelfControl to start is test all my blacklisted sites. Yes, it really works. Although I would be happy to see a message saying, "SelfControl has blocked this site on your own request, so why the hell are you trying to access it?", trying to access a blacklisted domain just generates a "Can't connect" message, which is probably far less distracting.
However, testing does provide me some small satisfaction when I accidently beat the system by forgetting one of my blacklisted domains was a .au site, meaning my test of the .com address actually lets me in.
It's representative of the overriding challenge. On the surface, SelfControl is a solid concept, but there's a problem with the middle man – me. My brain wants to do what's best for me, but too much trust proves too much for me to manage. If I were sharing my computer with a child or a teen, and wanted to make sure they were doing homework instead of hanging out on Facebook? Sure. But can I restrict my own usage? Not as well as I had thought.
For me, the productivity winner in internet self-censorship is an all or nothing approach. Use Freedom to block the whole show with one click, or surf to my heart's content in the name of pretending to get stuff done.
Sue White is a freelance writer who clearly isn't as disciplined as she had once thought.

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