When the work's piling up, during an essay writing session or just before that crucial job application deadline, distractions are the worst. From aimlessly surfing Facebook, to quickly checking Twitter just one last time, 21st century tech sometimes feels like an endless sea of time sinks. Fortunately, help is at hand. There is a range of Chrome extensions, Mac apps and Windows add-ons that block out the noise and help keep you on track. Here are six of the best ways to stay focused.
StayFocusd (Google Chrome)
StayFocusd is a free Chrome add-on that stops a user-defined list of websites from loading. The extension offers a "nuclear option" that blocks all websites, when the work needs doing now, as well as a "SmartBomb" option that just blocks content like videos and pictures.
StayFocusd even offers the option to demand the user complete a challenge before changing any settings. This makes meddling with the settings slightly inconvenient, enough so to make changing the rules not worth it.
Freedom (iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac and Windows)
Freedom is a website blocker that runs on a wide range of platforms. The developers say it is the only distraction-blocker to work on the iPhone and iPad, and it has the ability to shut off internet access from the entire device, not just Safari. The login system means settings are shared among all devices. Perfect for staying on task.
While the basic plan is permanently free, Freedom offers a plus version at $2 per month that enables blocking using the same settings on up to three devices alongside a range of other extra tools. Upgrading to premium for $3.75 per month removes the device limit and enables blocking on mobile devices.
Byword (Mac, iPhone, iPad)
Byword is a very simple word processor. The app has a very limited range of settings, but still offers some handy features for workers on deadline. One of the few options that is included is a special focus setting, which will highlight either the current line or paragraph and dim out the rest of the screen. It's an ideal way to work out how a particular passage reads without having to squint at the screen. On the Mac side, Byword is $11.99, while the iPhone and iPad version is $5.99.
Writemonkey is a lot like Byword, but for the PC. Windows users who need to get that essay done will appreciate the distraction-free writing environment, but the beauty of Writemonkey is that it's highly customizable, so anyone needing a niche extra feature can add it in themselves. Best of all, it's totally free.
SelfControl is a free Mac app that blocks websites from loading. Simply tell SelfControl which websites to block, set the timer, and they'll stop loading. The clever part is that the websites will stay blocked even if the computer is restarted or the app is deleted. There's no getting around it. Use it to block Facebook during essay writing, or ban YouTube during work hours.
Single Application Mode (Mac)
Last but not least, every Mac actually has a hidden mode that disables its multi app interface. With "Single Application Mode" enabled, the current windows will minimize when the user switches from one app to another. It's the perfect way to avoid background distractions.
To switch it on, open up the Terminal application included with every Mac. It's normally inside the Utilities folder under Applications. Then enter this command (without the final period): defaults write com.apple.dock single-app -bool true; killall Dock. To switch it off again, simply enter this command: defaults write com.apple.dock single-app -bool false; killall Dock.