Get back to work! Great software for reducing distractions
Your PC is a productivity tool—and a portal for infinite distraction. Whether you’re catching up on the latest cat videos, replying to every Facebook notification, or tweeting your lunch, you aren’t getting any work done.
It’s time to get some help. Check out these free distraction decimators: stand-alone programs, as well as Chrome extensions and Firefox add-ons, that are designed to help you hunker down, keep your eyes on your work, and focus on what’s important. Take a few minutes—just a few—to find the best one for you, then amaze your boss with how efficient you’ve become.
Note: You can click any of the images below to enlarge it.
No, you haven't entered the Matrix, and you haven’t gone back to the Zork days. Dark Room loads up a full-screened text editor that lacks any polish—on purpose. Even the most basic menus are hidden by default (you can access them by pressing F11 and exiting full-screen mode). Stay away from minimizing the full-screen view, and you will get your work done.
For a program that serves such a simple purpose, it offers a ton of customizable options. You can customize the font color, background color, font type, and page size via the "Preferences" menu. Other options let you convert tabs to spaces, auto-indent, and change the program’s opacity so you can reveal your desktop.
Dark Room can open text files, but stay away from Microsoft Word .doc files unless you’re fine with translating code. Even if you are fine with that, don’t do it. You’re just feeding your distraction problem.
Dark Room is free and doesn’t require you to install anything. Just run the executable.
In the same vein as Dark Room, CreaWriter also removes the distractions of a busy screen and gives you a simple, minimalistic interface to type on. The difference? Ambiance.
Set your own serene background image, load up a soothing sound or song, and enjoy the bliss of the full-screen text editor. CreaWriter has a few default options, including a sunset on a beach and the sounds of a crackling fire. The program’s opacity can be adjusted so you can keep an eye on something important in the background (but that's cheating!).
CreaWriter has both a free version and one for “donors” who may choose what to pay for the program via its website. Small features differentiate the two, including a word counter, the ability to add boldface, italic, and underline effects to text, a nice clicking sound when you use your keys (which you get anyway if you own a mechanical keyboard), and a break timer.
Like the others, Q10 is a text editor that covers your screen with a minimalist interface so you can focus on your work. Q10 has some nice options to keep tabs on your progress as you type away.
Pressing F1 brings up a list of hotkeys that you can waste time committing to memory, though I don’t recommend it. The usual options are available, such as changing the background and text color, the margin size, and some autocorrect options.
Q10 also sports some nifty settings, such as an alarm for structured writing periods, and a target counter where you can set how many words, pages, lines, paragraphs, or characters you must complete to consider yourself done. The info bar displays everything in real time, along with the completed percentage toward your goal. Finally, you can insert a note line (which refers to the document but isn’t part of the document’s content) by typing two periods at the beginning of a line. These are easily searchable with a hotkey and work well for coders.
A nice little touch is the soothing typewriter sound that audibly tells you how well you’re progressing. Of course, you can disable once it becomes annoying. Or just continue to write away, old-school style.
The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s as a way to accomplish any time-sensitive task. The theory is that frequent breaks can greatly boost your productivity. The technique breaks up the work into 25-minute intervals (each called a “pomodoro”) followed by a short, 5-to-15-minute break.
Focus Booster puts the technique to work in an easy-to-use way. The downloadable app counts down the 25-minute increment and the 5-minute break time to keep you on track. You can toggle the ticking noise it makes while running, the alarm that sounds at the end of a session, and whether to keep the window in front of everything else.
If you’re away from your computer, Focus Booster has a webpage with a timer and most of the options, no installation needed. Just remember, if you’re working for 5 minutes and taking 25-minute breaks, you're doing it wrong!
Read on for browser extensions and add-ons, including one that will nuke your greatest time-wasters.
Extensions and add-ons
Your willpower wavers, and you easily succumb to the siren call of time-wasting websites. Those classic Flash games sure are fun. Even if you can’t stay away, your browser can, with LeechBlock.
It's a Firefox add-on that organizes websites into categories, or “block sets,” and let you set how and when to block them. For example, take all your favorite video-watching websites, throw them into your “Video Watching” block set, and block them every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you try to access the site during the blocked time, you can have it route you to a “blocked” page, your home page, a blank page, or a delayed page with a customizable countdown timer that ticks away until you’re allowed access. That's like playing on easy mode.
Feel you deserve a little break for all the hard work you managed to get done? Each block set can be given a daily time limit. Go ahead, enjoy a cup of coffee and 15 minutes on Youtube every couple of hours. Once the time’s up and the page is blocked again, it’s time to get back to work.
Similar to LeechBlock, StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that will block the peskiest time-wasting websites after you spend your daily allotment surfing around.
From the Options menu, you can set the maximum total time allowed on any offending websites—so if you blow your goof-off time on YouTube, you can’t reset the clock and move on to Instagram. It's deeply customizable, with the ability to set the days and hours that it’s active, and what time everything resets. Some extreme options exist, such as setting up a typing challenge you must complete before you can change the options, making it as inconvenient as possible to change the settings and cheat, and disabling the options once your time limit is up. Finally, a "Nuclear Option" blocks all specified sites for a determined amount of time, regardless of active hours and days. This can’t be undone, so use it as a last resort.
StayFocusd is serious about keeping you productive and is willing to ruin your Web-browsing fun to get it done.
Not all websites are distracting. In fact you’ll probably need to browse a few for research purposes. Readability gets that and manages to let you read what you need and weed out unnecessary extras.
In other words, it turns a cluttered, ad-ridden article into a clean, straightforward page that’s easy to read and free of related links that make you stray. All those eye-catching stories and click-baiting pictures vanish.
And you can mark articles to read later, or send them directly to your Kindle to enjoy in your free time. Now you don’t have to worry about emailing or relying on your memory to read an interesting article you saw at work.
Evernote Clearly is the article cleanup tool for Firefox. Once the add-on is installed, you can turn any article into a big block of text. Right-click, select “Clearly,” and watch all the click-bait go away, leaving only the lean meat of the article.
Evernote users can send articles to their account, where they can be saved and read later from the Evernote desktop program or mobile app. A built-in highlighter makes any text stand out to aid in skimming for key information.
Finally, Clearly is easy on the eyes, with three different theme settings and the option to customize it to your liking. Choose the background and text colors, as well as font type and size.
And now you're ready to be productive
Technology brings distractions, and technology takes them away. Now that you've got the tools to get the job done, don't you think you should be getting back to work?