My anti-akrasia tools I: minimizing distraction

My name is Alex, and I am a procrastinator. I avoid emotionally charged, tiresome, or long-term tasks, and have bad emotional relationships with them. When I am avoiding an important task, I am easily distracted.

"Akrasia" is the term us fancy-ass people use for when we deliberately and knowingly act against our own best judgment. It's from ancient Greek, and so gives our blog-post reading a retrospective air of classical severity.

I'm not alone in being a procrastinator, certainly, but I do have certain behaviors that have been a burden on me since at least junior high school.

As our modern interactive environment has provided more, easier, and more satisfying distractions, it has also provided tools for structuring our mental processing so that we can more successfully achieve our goals.

Note: there are a variety of procrastinations, and some of these may work better for you than others. I will list the ones I currently use, why I use them, and what effects I think they have.

Distraction elimination: Cold Turkey, Leechblock, StayFocusd

I work on a computer that is connected to the internet. To prevent myself from randomly surfing, which I am more likely to do when I'm tired or the task is challenging, I use Cold Turkey. I know which sites I am most likely to try to distract myself with. Cold Turkey lets you make a "block list" of those. When I want a block of working time, I turn on the block, and can no longer get access to any of those sites, on any browser.

I have the paid version, so I also have a more severe list, which blocks every site, with a few whitelisted exceptions (mostly things related to my freelance business, so I can still work with leads, schedules, or invoices). It also lets me block specific applications. There are a few games on my computer that are good distractions, so I can lock myself out of them for a specified period.

Sometimes I forget I've blocked sites and try to goof off using one. Cold Turkey will give you an image of a nebula and an inspirational quote. "Either you run the day or the day runs you" is the one that just came up, because I have it on right now, to get this post done.

 I've also used Leechblock, which is Firefox-specific, and StayFocusd, for Chrome. Leechblock will let you set how many minutes per hour (or whatever interval you specify) you can goof off, which can be a bit less harsh. StayFocusd also lets you browse for some limited time, but has the additional feature that sites you get to by clicking on a link in a block list site will count against your time--it warns you about this. So, if you've said you'll only be on Facebook five minutes an hour, and you click on one of those news stories, that story will still count against your time.

I used to rely entirely on Leechblock, but am currently finding Cold Turkey both more flexible and more severe. It has various more severe options, like locking you out of your computer completely for some specific period of time, that I don't use.

And that's where you need to make your choices. I find that once I put a blocker in place, I am not tempted to circumvent it. My urge to goof off is everpresent, but a bit of resistance reminds me of what I am supposed to be accomplishing, and I usually accept it. Your urge to distract may well be stronger.

Some people wanting to lose weight can leave a box of cookies on the counter and not be tempted to eat them until after dinner. Some might need to hide the box in a drawer, but won't open the drawer. Some need to put it in a container that takes some time to open--I've seen food safes with timers. And some may need to ban cookies from their house for the duration of their diet because they'll find themselves breaking into the safe with a hacksaw (in which case a diet is probably not the best long-term solution to a weight concern, but that's a different issue).

So the severity of a site and application blocker will have to match your own self-control profile. I use mine daily, and it makes a difference to my productivity. Actually, it just dinged to tell me I can goof off online again, so I'm done with this post.