Image Creative Commons licensed by Flickr user underminingme

As a grad student in my last year of study, I enjoy a pretty flexible schedule and work environment. I work from home a few days a week, and conduct a lot of my research in online spaces, so being constantly connected to the internet is essential for me. However, this constant connectivity is a double-edged sword; I find myself distracted from my work almost as often as I’m focused on it, and as I settle in to struggle with my dissertation and job market materials, I have a hard time shutting out the siren song of Facebook. Lucky for me, a cottage industry of anti-distraction apps has sprung up to keep people like me from destroying themselves one tweet at a time. Here are a few of them.

The most severe–and for me, most effective–solution out there is Freedom (OSX, $10). Freedom works by completely cutting off your computer’s access to the internet for up to eight hours at a time. You lose access to the internet, your background apps, your mail servers, everything. The only way you can regain internet access during the time Freedom is working is if you reboot your machine.

Another potentially harsh solution is the app SelfControl (OSX, free). This app blocks access to a specified set of websites on your “blacklist” for up to 24 hours. Unlike Freedom, however, SelfControl can’t be turned off by rebooting your machine, so if you want access to the internet while the app is still running, you’re out of luck.

One standalone option that isn’t quite as severe as Freedom and SelfControl is Concentrate (OSX, $29). Concentrate allows you to create specialized working activities by customizing a set of actions that your computer can perform automatically. For example, you might create a “writing” activity that blocks a handful of websites, sets your iChat status to “away,” and simultaneously opens up a blank Word document. You can set Concentrate to work for an unlimited amount of time, and if you need to get back to your normal setup, you can quit the app without having to reboot.

A wise person once said, “Writing is 3% talent, 97% not getting distracted by the internet.” On days like today, when I’m visiting Reddit every five minutes while wondering if I’ll ever finish my dissertation, that statement seems particularly pertinent. Time to break out Freedom.

What apps help keep you on task? Let us know in the comments below.


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