Free Tools #1—Chrome Nanny
The answer is Chrome Nanny or its cousin, Leech Block for Firefox. Chrome Nanny lets you block specific sites during particular parts of the day, so you can avoid the least productive sites during your most productive hours—yet still visit the fun sites on your off time.
But what if you’re determined to procrastinate? What if you try to override the block? Chrome Nanny comes with an unlocking mechanism that requires you to retype a long line of random characters. (You can’t copy and paste.)
It takes a while to retype these characters, and if you make a typo, you need to start over. This dissuades you from quick procrastination but still lets you access the blocked sites if it’s an emergency.
Chrome Nanny can help keep you on track when you feel like slacking off on the Internet.
Free Tools #2—No Flash
Whether its Flash-based games or Flash-based TV shows and movies, nothing on the Internet is more addictive than Flash-based content. It’s easy to get started and forget to stop.
The cure for that is simple, so simple you don’t even need free tools to do it in most cases—just turn off Flash when you need to work.
You can quickly turn off Flash in most Web browsers: either go into the Tools menu and disable all the plugins or go to the plugins screen and disable just Flash.
Of course, you can always quickly undo the previous steps to see Flash content. If that’s a problem for you, try uninstalling Flash. Don’t worry—most websites work fine without Flash.
Disable Flash for Firefox
1. Go to the tools menu at the top of the program.
2. Choose Add-ons from the menu.
3. Choose Plugins from the side menu.
4. Scroll down and find “shockwave flash” and disable it.
Free Tools #3—A Simple Timer
The best trick I know for minimizing wasted time is to always set an alarm when you might get carried away.
Say you want to check Facebook. You know it should only take about 10 minutes to check the important stuff and maybe make a few comments. If you don’t set a timer, that 10 minutes could turn into an hour or more. But if you set an alarm—and heed it—you’ll definitely be done in 10 minutes.
I find that time limits help me focus so I can do more in less time and also have more fun doing it. (Especially since I won’t be wracked by guilt afterwords for wasting a whole hour.) Plus, if you divide things into small chunks, you can do them more often. Again, if you spend an hour on Facebook every time you visit, you’re not going to want to visit more than once or twice a day. But if you stick to 10 minutes, you can treat yourself to visits more often throughout the day.
A quick search for timer apps revels hundreds for your computer or cell phone, so I won’t bother to mention them here. There are so many iPhone apps and Android apps available for free. Any simple timer will do, even an old-fashioned wind-up egg timer. Just pick one and start using it.
Free Tools #4—Bed Time
Do you wake up groggy and unable to work even after morning coffee? Could it be because you stayed up too late on the computer?
There’s a simple totally free tool built into every modern version of Windows that can help with that. It’s called the task scheduler.
The task scheduler can run certain programs at particular times. Most people use it to defragment their disk drives while they sleep or do other mundane tasks when the computer is idle, but you can use the task scheduler to help you keep a daily schedule.
The trick is to schedule a shutdown job. Tell the computer to shut itself off at a particular time—no matter what you’re doing. (A better alternative is to hibernate—that way you don’t lose any unsaved documents.)
Let’s say your regular bedtime is 10pm, but you have a bad habit of staying up to midnight surfing the Web. Simply put in a schedule job to turn off your computer at 9:45pm—now you have time to brush your teeth, change into your pajamas, and get into bed on time.
I use this trick myself, but I set my cut-off time really early—5pm. I find that I enjoy my evenings more when they’re spent away from the computer.
Free Tools #5—MacFreedom
Not just for Macs, I hesitated adding this tool to the list because it only has a free trial version. You have to pay $10 for the full version.
But it’s the best tool on this list, and it deserved a mention. It’s been recommended by Seth Godin, Peter Sagal, Nora Ephrom, and a whole bunch of other famous people.
MacFreedom simply blocks the Internet for a little while on your PC or Mac. You choose the amount of time—it can be between five minutes and eight hours.
During that time, MacFreedom will prevent you from surfing the Web or receiving email or instant messaging your best friend. You’ll either have to play solitaire or work. (And solitaire gets boring fast.)
One of the free tools I use for Linux called Lockout which does the same thing and I figure it doubles my productivity—which means that one of these simple free tools doubles my income.