The Internet is a distraction. Without its perpetual pull of diversions I would find other ways to ignore my work, yet, it offers a particularly powerful challenge. Previously, I used Rescue Time to monitor my application and website usage history, and blocked distracting websites with its “concentrate” functionality. It worked fairly well (I was never that satisfied with the web GUI’s usability—it would frequently get confused when I wanted to see various usage reports), but it was expensive ($10/month). Rescue Time’s website blocking technique was, arguably, better than something like Freedom, since it would permit useful websites and only block distracting websites, but what’s useful one day is not necessarily useful the next, and it only permitted one (master) blacklist.
Searching for a cheaper alternative, perhaps that addresses some of my issues, I have come upon a new set of applications that, after a limited amount of use, seem to be working well.
For blocking websites I decided on Self Control. I had considered Freedom, but Freedom is an all-or-nothing blocking application (though the developer also offers an additional application, Anti-Social, that blocks distracting social networking sites). Further, a person I know uses Freedom and has experienced some issues with it not shutting down properly, and even a kernel panic. Self Control offers the option to block all Internet traffic (including port blocking), but it can also be configured to use self-defined whitelists or blacklists (which are managed with a simple save and open functionality). And, unlike Freedom, Self Control cannot be stopped once it is set (Freedom simply requires a restart). Best of all, Self Control is open source and free (Freedom is $15, and Anti-Social is an additional $15). Self Control is dead simple, works, and has a couple of subtle features that really impress.
For tracking my application and website usage I purchased Time Sink for $5 from the Apple OS X App Store (also available as Free Trial on their website). It records websites usage per browser, but the details of how much time was spent on a particular website is only available in the exported data. This doesn’t too much concern me, and I like the option to export data for slicing and dicing on my own. It records application usage per open window, exactly as you would expect. The application sits in your menu bar or dock and offers two views of your time spent. You can also group applications into “pools” for sub-sorting, so that you can, e.g., see how long you have spent on “writing” versus “web browsing”.
In addition to these two excellent applications, I have downloaded the free, handy menu bar application Menubar Countdown to prompt me back to work from breaks. Once my Self Control countdown has expired I permit myself a set amount of time for a break. Menubar Countdown ticks down for the set amount of time and then offers a few alarms (including speaking text) for when my break is up.