Time Out of Mind: 5 Apps That Help Prevent Distraction

Sep 19, 2017 | Stephen Jackson

While I like to think I have a pretty strong work ethic, I’ll admit that sites like Facebook and The Daily Beast give my professional focus a run for its money. In fact, a recent study reports that the average person will spend five years and four months on social media in their lifetime.

Sometimes I’ll just sneak a peak as a small reward for completing a mini-task (say, a section of a blog post) but when I’m really letting it all hang out, I’ll look up from my internet delirium to find that I’ve wasted hours away from the places that make me money (for example, a google doc in which I’m writing a blog post).

If you’re like me and need a helping hand when it comes to curbing visits to distracting websites… well, here’s an app for that.

In fact, there are tons of apps for that, and here is a handy little guide to a few of them. Enjoy!


This is a great tool. It’s only available for Macs, but the source code is free, and a similar app, ColdTurkey, works for Windows and Chrome OS as well. SelfControl is super simple to use. After adding sites to your “black list,” just set the timer and anything on the list will be blocked. But take note, these dudes aren’t messing around. Once a site is blocked, it cannot be undone until the timer is up — even if you delete the app or restart your computer. You can find more details on their delightfully cheeky FAQ page.

In fact, go ahead and give SelfControl a whirl so you can concentrate on the rest of this post…


StayFocused is a Chrome extension that also blocks pesky, time-wasting websites. But while SelfControl and ColdTurkey are marked by their simplicity, StayFocused offers a comprehensive set of features. For one, you can set a limit for the maximum amount of time allowed on your blocked websites. You can also set particular days of the week in which unwanted sites are blocked, along with specific times of day.

You can even choose the “nuclear option,” which can block all websites for a set period of time. Within this option you can still add a list of allowed sites, and you can even just block certain aspects of sites, such as multimedia, forms (so you can’t make comments), login pages, or images.

However, the most notable aspect on this app — whose creators seem authentically committed to saving you time — is the “require challenge” feature. Though StayFocused makes it nearly impossible to reverse blocks once they’re set, it offers an interesting hack for those who still want the option to disable them. But you’re gonna have to work for it. Basically, if you want to go to a site you’ve sworn off for the day, you have to re-type a really specific, annoyingly-worded passage perfectly. If you mess up, you have to start all over again. Here’s the default passage:

The procrastinator is often remarkably optimistic about his ability to complete a task on a tight deadline; this is usually accompanied by expressions of reassurance that everything is under control. (Therefore, there is no need to start.) Lulled by a false sense of security, time passes. At some point, he crosses over an imaginary starting time and suddenly realizes, “Oh no! I am not in control! There isn’t enough time!”

Pretty lame, right? Now stop trying, and get back to work!


This one speaks to a different kind of problem — the amount of time we spend incessantly checking our phones. Unlike the two apps above that really focus on shutting down your web-browsing fun, AntiSocial empowers users with data on exactly how much they’re staring into their smartphones. Spoiler: A 2017 study found that Americans spend an average of five hours a day on their smartphones.

That’s… a lot. And the folks at AntiSocial want to help.

The app compares your time on social media to other users worldwide in order to give you an idea of how your usage measures up. It also tracks all the other ways you use your phone, and after two weeks it summarizes everything into an easy-to-read report. Of course, AntiSocial also gives you the ability to block certain sites if you really need that extra push to wrest yourself from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or wherever else you spend too much time.

I think this app is particularly cool because it places the user in the driver’s seat when it comes to regulating his or her behavior. Much in the same way using your phone to track the amount of steps you take each day helps incentivize you to be more active, AntiSocial puts a mirror up to unproductive behavior in an effort to break bad habits.