We’ve all been there: your indulgent break gets longer, and longer, and longer, until you notice you’re going hours at a time without working. While taking breaks is important for self-care and maximizing our productivity, it’s important to keep our breaks in check so they don’t control us! Here are some great tools you can use.
Taking breaks throughout the workday is absolutely essential. No one can reasonably be expected to have full focus and productivity for 7-9 hours per day. Mitigating stress with a walk around the block, easy do-at-your-desk exercises, listening to music or ambient noise that increases focus, or a meditation break can be healthy and efficient ways to relax without succumbing to the black hole of notifications and clickholes.
However, we can all think of a time when the quick “five-minute break” to check social media turns into 30 minutes, an hour, or even multiple hours of distraction. In fact, a study from the University of California at Irvine found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to a task after getting distracted by a notification.
This can apply even if you’re attempting to clear some of the busy work or emails from your plate before tackling a project that requires more critical thinking. A 2017 study from Carleton University in Canada surveyed 1,500 professionals, finding that workers spent one-third of their time in the office on email and 50% of it on email while working at home. Unsurprisingly, the respondents estimated that for 30% of that time, the emails are neither urgent nor important.
All of this time on unimportant mindless tasks related to work—or worse still, on totally unrelated websites like social media, video streaming, or games—adds up to hours of lost work every week. Distractions might be minimized if you have a well-arranged work station, such as a standing desk to optimize for blood flow and movement breaks, or an ergonomic chair for better posture and back support. Still, even the best equipment and setup cannot eliminate the endless temptations of social media or video streaming.
For those of us with less self-control, and ‘airplane mode’ just isn’t cutting it, these websites and apps might help you keep focused with limited break time or busy work time.
Self-destruct your distractions with Take a Five
The website TakeAFive.com is an ingenious way to limit your break time catching up on social media, sports highlights, or news alerts. Open the website in a new tab, and the tab will automatically “self-destruct” after a pre-set amount of time.
Simply go to the website and select the amount of time you’d like to limit your break to, such as a pre-set 1-minute, 5-minute, or 10-minute limit, or choose a custom amount. Then, you can copy and paste the link you’d like to visit into the URL bar. Alternatively, the website can link automatically to popular distraction sits like Reddit, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Netflix, and many others.
If you’d like a break from work but do not have a specific activity in mind, the site also includes a section of virtual games to play, including classics such as Snake and Pac Man in addition to original games. Furthermore, there is a section for trending news articles and videos.
A new tab with your selection opens up, with a warning that the tab will self-destruct after time is up. While you browse or play, a small countdown clock ticks in the original tab, and once time is up the distraction tab will close with an alert that your time is up. (And usually, a funny meme, gif, or quote about time management.)
Avoid email black holes with the Inbox Pause extension
Are you trying to focus on a project, but feel like you need to continue checking email to make sure you haven’t missed something important, only to get sucked into nonessential responding? Inbox Pause is a browser extension compatible with Gmail, Outlook, and iPhone Mail that prevents new emails from coming for a certain time period.
This tool allows you to block off times from email while you focus on serious work, but switch it off periodically as needed. If you’re expecting an important email, you can customize the app so that specific senders or keywords still come through.
Get serious with the LeechBlock extension
If you use a web browser for work that frequently devolves into dog videos or other distractions, there are a number of browser extensions which block distracting websites for free. One of the most popular is LeechBlock, which allows you many options for pre-setting and restricting website access across Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera internet browsers.
The extension lets you schedule times for apps/websites to be blocked, or you can customize time limits for distractions with ‘rules.’ (For example, only allowing 20 minutes of YouTube per day, or 4 minutes of Twitter per hour.) You can even set specific rules by time period, such as only allowing 5 minutes of Instagram time between 9AM-5PM. Plus you can always keep it simple with a simple on-off lockdown period.
Since this tool is a browser extension, you can of course give in to temptation by switching browsers, so installing it on all browsers will help to minimize distraction.
Eliminate device switching with the Freedom app
Sure, you can stay away from distracting websites while working on your computer, but what happens when an Instagram notification pings on your phone? The Freedom app blocks pre-set websites and apps on all of your devices simultaneously to allow for truly distraction-free focus time.
The app is available across all software (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Chrome). One downside is that a subscription costs $6.99/month, but a limited free trial period lets you run six distraction-free sessions which should be enough to see if this app works for you.
When all else fails, the SelfControl app
This app is simple but ruthlessly effective. Unfortunately, it is only available for Mac users at this time.
SelfControl is a relatively bare app that allows the user to make a list of blocked websites, set a timer for how long the block period will be, and press ‘Start.’ Although simple, its effectiveness is due to the fact that once the block period has started, it is nearly impossible to undo.
Once the block period has started, the blocked websites cannot be reached even if you close the app, ‘Force Quit’ the app, delete the app from your computer, or even restart your computer. The only way to disable blocking is to reinstall your MacOS software entirely (which would delete all of your apps, settings, and documents).
If you’re the sort of person that uses blocking technology, only to give in before the blocked time period is over, this app is for you! And best of all, it is free.
Cover image by pressfoto via Freepik
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