Tools of My Trade: StayFocusd

I’ve got a MacBook that apparently has gremlins in it. I was getting the spinning beachball of death and scripting errors every day, all day, whenever I had a Safari browser window open, even when doing nothing more than opening a simple email. It would crash the browser and sometimes the Word .doc I had open at the same time. So I tried switching to Firefox, and it didn’t take long for the gremlins to get Firefox too. So I tried one more browser, this time Chrome and wow! So far so good. Once in a while it’ll get hung up, but overall the performance is usable, while before the laptop was becoming unusable and I was one click away from buying that new laptop in my shopping cart.

But I digress. The real point of this post is the world of extensions that Chrome opened to me. OMG it’s like being a kid in a candy store going to the Chrome store and installing all the fun free apps and extensions. I now have a Calendar on my browser toolbar that will also give me a countdown to any date I click on–invaluable for checking exactly how many days away that deadline or convention is. I installed a Facebook and a Hotmail Inbox notifier so any comments or messages are shown on my browser toolbar. There’s a calculator app right on my Chrome homepage as well as a notepad, but all that is just fun stuff I could have accessed elsewhere, it’s just nice having it all in one browser window. The real point of this post is one extension. This one is the key, and it’s proven itself to work in just the 3 days I’ve been using it. STAYFOCUSD.

A shout out to author Eliza Gayle for turning me on to this extension because it is helping me  steadily plow through my Work in Progress by doing exactly as the name implies, making me Stay Focused. How? It literally blocks the internet, and with a sense of humor to boot.

There are many settings to choose from. I can limit the amount of time I’m allowed to spend on a specific site per day, and when that time is up, after a warning, it is blocked for the rest of the day. I started day 1 limiting Facebook to 10 minutes a day. I soon found that went by in a blink of an eye, so I changed it to 20 minutes, at which time the app lectured me about that decision for a good 3 minutes or so with clever messages such as “Are you sure you really want to do that?”, moving to “This is why we can’t have nice things” to finally allowing the change but immediately booting me to a CalPoly published paper on procrastination. You can block some sites totally, block all sites except for certain user specified exceptions, or go Nuclear, which is what I currently have set. From 5 am to 10 am daily I can’t open any websites at all. None. Why? Because I know those are my most productive writing hours but I also know the lure of the internet is strong and I will often wander around the world wide web wasting time first thing in the morning. Of course, I can still wander around the house instead of writing… feed the animals, shower, cook, clean (gasp), but actually those are all things that have to be done anyway so I cut myself some slack if I do that for an hour or so each morning. So far so good. I’ve actually gotten my daily minimum word count in each morning and have even managed to cook dinner, and run errands out in the real world later in the day without guilt because at least my minimum is done.

Can I cheat? Yes, but I try not to. The buggy versions of Safari and Firefox are both still installed and Chrome’s extension doesn’t stop me from using them. I can still open Tweetdeck but I try not to do that until after 10 am. I can still access the net and social sites on my iPad but I’ve been fairly good about not taking advantage of that. I can still have Yahoo IM up on the laptop for coworkers to contact me if I want, but I don’t think anyone will be upset, or judge me, if I don’t get back to them before 10AM eastern time. Especially since I work with so many west coasters.

Sometimes when working from home it’s hard to remember I don’t have to be on call 24 hours a day. Just because my office is in my home doesn’t mean I have to check email the moment I wake up at 5 or 6am. Or that I have to check it again in bed before going to sleep. But when technology is so accessible, and your job has no time or geographical restraints, it’s easy to become a slave to it. And one thing StayFocusd has started to do is break me of that instant response, 24/7 mentality.

Give it a try. You don’t have to go nuclear. And you can reset it if you do and decide you can’t hack it. Either way, it’s going to help me turn in my book to Kensington two months before deadline, and those results (for a born procrastinator) can not be disputed.

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