7 Apps And 6 Solutions To Help You Tune Out Distractions

by Pam Neely last updated on

Have you ever had a day that you felt like, the entire world was conspiring to prevent you from getting any work done? Sure you have. Almost everyone has. It’s the nature of modern work; and of modern life.

But just because there’s a cloud of distractions buzzing around your head, that doesn’t mean you have to give in. With the right tools, you can regain your focus and get back to your priorities.

To help you avoid distractions – and thus get way more done – here’s a roundup of the best tools and apps for achieving optimal focus.

Block social media and distracting sites

Of all the distractions around, social media and “non-work related sites” have got to be the two hardest things to resist. For goodness sake, they’re right there in front of you, only a click away…

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The best way to minimize these distractions is to block them. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help you do this.

1) SelfControl

I bet most of you have already heard of SelfControl. It’s the classic tool for blocking sites. It’s free, but for Macs only – unless you use the Chrome extension for PC users. But while it’s one of the best-known site blockers, it’s not necessarily the best.

2) Freedom

Freedom may not be as well-known as SelfControl, but it does far more. Actually, this may be the one-stop solution for many of you. For starters, it works on Macs and PCs. It also works on iPhones and iPads. And it blocks websites, social media, and applications. The cost? $29 a year or $6.99 a month. But there is a free trial.

If you ever used the social media site blocker Anti-Social, you’ll probably like this as well – Freedom bought Anti-Social awhile back and has rolled that Mac-only blocker app into itself.

3) Focus

This is another popular site-blocker but only for Macs. It costs $20. For that extra coin, you’ll get the ability to block applications as well as using it as a Pomodoro timer.

4) Cold Turkey

Here’s one for you PC users, and it’s a good one. There’s a free version that will block sites, then, a paid version for $19 that has all the bells and whistles of any site blocker – exceptions, timer, scheduling and more. You can block applications with the free version too.

5) LeechBlock

This is free but, only available as a Firefox extension. If you’re comfortable with semi-technical instructions, you can set it up to either block specific sites at specific times of day (or add exceptions for a few essential sites).

You can also set it up to give you a set amount of time on a given site each day. That might be more realistic than simply cutting yourself off. So, if you wanted to give yourself just one hour a day on Facebook, for example, you could set LeechBlock up for that.

6) StayFocusd

This is similar to LeechBlock, in that it’s an extension, but a Chrome extension. It also has a similar timer feature to LeechBlock.

7) RescueTime

This is a more comprehensive productivity tool, though it does include a site blocker. RescueTime tracks how you spend your time. That includes how you spend time away from your computer too – like on calls, on your commute or in meetings. Then it gives you a report of where your time is going. You can also set goals, get daily highlights and more.

App/Tool NameFor MacsFor PCsWhat it doesCostHas a browser extension
SelfControlYesNoBlocks sites, but not applicationsFreeFor Chrome
FreedomYesYesBlocks sites, social media and applications. Also works on iPhones and iPads.$29 per year or $6.99 a monthNo
Cold TurkeyNoYesFree version blocks sites. Paid version block sites and applications. It also has a timer, scheduler and other features.Free version, or $19 paid versionNo
FocusYesNoBlocks sites and applications$20No
LeechBlockExtension OnlyExtension OnlyBlocks sites, but not applications. Lets you give yourself a set amount of time on certain sites.FreeFor Firefox
StayFocusdExtension OnlyExtension OnlyLets you give yourself a set amount of time on certain sites.FreeFor Chrome
RescueTimeYesYesBlock sites and tracks which sites and apps you spend the most time on.Free version. Paid is $9 per month or $72 per year.For Firefox and Chrome, but consider desktop version instead

Know of any other good apps or tools for site blocking? Give them a shout out in the comments.

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6 other low to no-tech tactics for blocking distractions

1) Thin your inbox

Do you know ‘that productivity trick’ where you’re only supposed to check email twice a day, at pre-scheduled times? Ever tried it? Ever failed miserably at it? Me too.

But don’t give up on the dream. It’s possible to achieve inbox zero on a regular basis. The secret? Purge. Use Unroll.me to unsubscribe from dozens of email lists fast. This tool shows you all the email lists you’re subscribed to and gives you a one-click unsubscribe for every one. You’ll feel freer in minutes.

2) Turn off your phone

Studies have shown that even if you don’t respond to every beep and buzz your phone makes, the notifications are still quashing your productivity – and causing you to make three to four times as many mistakes. So do it. Do the thinkable. Turn off your phone for a while.

I know it’s hard but, phones have ‘off’ switches. You know this. Can’t bring yourself to even do that? Then consider simply laying the phone down, so the screen faces down. Just that tiny little change can reduce how many times your eyes wander away from your work.

3) Use headphones

 If there’s any one device used for blocking distractions, it’s got to be a pair of headphones. They work outside of the office too and you don’t even need to have them plugged in – just wearing them will keep most of your co-workers from interrupting you. The other benefit of headphones is the noise control. Ends up, this is important. Author Peter Rogers says:

Ambient sounds, especially with words, occupy about 5-10% of your intellectual bandwidth. By wearing ear protectors, you acoustically isolate yourself. This freed up bandwidth can now be focused on the desired task. It’s a great deal. Just put on some earmuffs and you become 5-10% smarter.”

If earmuffs aren’t your style, consider headphones with white noise. Or plug into other sounds, like a coffee shop. For the rain and other natural background noises, there’s Noisli.

4) Unplug your office phone

Phone calls are one of the worst distractions around. That’s why one of the primary roles of an in-person assistant is to block as many unwanted calls as possible.

If you don’t yet have an assistant, consider doing the next best thing: Manage calls as if they were your email inbox. Check voicemail and make calls at two pre-scheduled times per day. Other than those times, let everything go to voicemail.

5) Close your door

Offices are becoming rarer with the rise of open-plan workspaces but, if you still have an office, use it: Close the door and get some work done.

6) Find a place to hide

Don’t have an office? Don’t have a way to escape the distractions all around you? Then find a quiet place where you can work.

Unused conference rooms are good for this. So are abandoned offices or even a corner of a waiting room. Some people even sneak out and go to a nearby coffee shop or even the nearest bar.

This trick may not work but, if you’re at the end of your rope, it’s worth a try. As a last resort, consider working from home.

Back to you

What distracts you most often? How do you manage it? Leave a comment and tell us how you stay focused.

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