Tech to hold distractions in check.

“So you work from home, eh? Online? How cool is that!” That is what everyone tells me when they first learn about my working habits that do not involve commuting to work, having frequent chai sessions with co-workers or other distractions around the water cooler where time just seems to fly by. Guess what, telecommuting to work has its own set of challenges. Chai sessions get replaced by IM sessions, water cooler gossips are done over Twitter and not to forget the ‘link baits’ strewn all over Facebook and Wikipedia that lead you into a timewarp that’s impossible to escape. Once you get sucked in, there’s no going back to optimum productivity levels any time soon.

Thankfully, there are apps, browser plug-ins and even divine intervention to ensure you stay focussed on your work. Some apps are the equivalent of self-help books that tell you how you are wasting your time online while others are like rehab centres where you are made to repeat constantly that you are an addict till you get your groove back. Here are the seven apps that would let you stay focussed online and get your work done.

RescueTime

The first step to get rid of online distractions is to figure out what distracts you from work. RescueTime is one of the best online tools to find those distractions. It tracks the time spent on apps, web sites and other activities and presents them in easy to comprehend charts. You can set goals for yourself and see your progress in almost real-time. It can also block particularly distracting web sites for short bursts of time for tasks that require deep focus. However, it costs $6 per month for all these features. The free version only tracks your PC activity and provides trends.

Slife

Slife is again similar in concept to RescueTime but has basic features. It also tracks all activities on the computer and gives details of every website or application you have used and the time you spent on them. It also comes with a monthly subscription plan depending on the number of activities a user can categorise on the computer.

Yaware

This is among my favourite time tracking solutions. Yaware is similar to both RescueTime and Slife but offers simple controls and gives details of your productive, neutral and unproductive time. You can set which activities come under productive time and Yaware does the rest. My favourite part is I can know how much time I wasted at a glance without having to go into detailed reports.

StayFocusd

Once you have a fair idea of what’s really distracting you, it is time to act on removing these distractions. If you use Chrome browser, StayFocusd will come pretty handy. It is a plug-in for the browser where you can create a list of blocked sites (the ones that distract you) and set a time for which you can access them every day. The default is 10 minutes meaning you can visit that site for just 10 minutes a day. There is also an option to go “nuclear” that would let you block all sites or those that you have blocked or only those that you have allowed for a specific period of time. This action cannot be undone.

LeechBlock

What StayFocusd does for Chrome, LeechBlock does for Firefox. Here too you can identify distracting sites and set rules for accessing them. One neat feature is the ability to club multiple sites into one category and set the same rules for them.

Freedom

Use this only when things get out of control and there is no solution in sight. Freedom is available on Mac for $10 and completely disconnects your computer from the Internet. In order to reconnect again, you will have to restart your Mac.

Howler Timer

A free app, Howler Timer is a simple timer for keeping track of time. You promise to be on Facebook for 10 minutes before resuming work? Set 10 minutes on Howler Timer and a wolf starts howling as soon as you hit 10 minutes. You’d have no choice but to turn if off and return to the task at hand.

(The author is Executive Editor of www.bgr.in)

(This article was published on August 16, 2012)
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