Seven Free & Paid Tools to Help You Work Without Distractions

egg-timer-rsIf you freelance from home, you struggle with distractions all the time. It’s easy to give in to the lure of the TV, the seduction of the refrigerator and the enticement of your favorite videogame or book when you’re at home.

This is a problem, because a freelancer’s income is correlated with his productivity. The faster you can do your work, the more income you can earn. Therefore, it’s extremely important to develop the discipline of working without distractions.

How to Work Without Distractions

Some things are obvious. Turn off your phone’s ringer and let the answering machine do its work. On your computer, quit your email, Tweetdeck and web browser.

But sometimes, these simple things aren’t enough. Some of us need physical and virtual “blinders” to keep distractions at bay.

Here are a number of tools you can use to minimize and control distractions when you work. Some are free, some you have to pay for. Not all will work with your computer.

Check them out and see which ones are a good fit for you:

1. WriteMonkey

(Windows, free)

A software for writers, WriteMonkey blacks out your screen, so all you see are the words you type. This is best for writers who find all the bells and whistles of a typical word processor to be distracting. For example, if you’re tempted to format the text as soon as you type them, then WriteMonkey is probably right for you.

Users also rave about the ability to turn on the click-clack sound of an old-fashioned, manual typewriter.

2. WriteRoom

(Mac, $24.95 after free trial)

The distraction-busting software for writers on a Mac, WriteRoom also shows only a simple blank screen and the text you write. The default setting is a black screen with green text, reminiscent of when computers first became available for personal use in the ’80s. However, you can change the colors and fonts to anything you want.

3. Dark Room

(Windows, free)

Admittedly a clone of WriteRoom, Dark Room does pretty much what WriteRoom does, but on Windows and without costing anything.

Now let’s look at distraction minimizing tools for tasks other than writing:

4. Think

(Mac, free)

Think blacks out your screen, except for the one application of your choice. For example, if you’re processing your emails, launch Think and select the icon for your mail software. Only your mail window will be visible; the rest of your screen will be black.

You can control the opacity of the black backdrop, and you can move to another application easily, when you have to.

5. RescueTime

(Mac and Windows, free and paid versions)
We’ve already reviewed RescueTime RescueTime in an earlier list of productivity tools. However, I think it’s helpful to explain exactly how the tools works.

Here’s how it works: RescueTime tracks your web browsing behavior, making a log of the sites you visit and deciding which ones are distractions. You can, of course, override this list and add or remove certain sites. Then you tell RescueTime how long you’d like to focus. For that amount of time, you won’t be able to access your distracting sites.

RescueTime is web-based and therefore works on both Mac and Windows. It’s much more than a focusing tool. It also tracks how much time you spend on each of the computer applications you use, as well as the different sites you visit online. Therefore, RescueTime will help you learn exactly how you spend your time when you’re at the computer.

6. Freedom

(Mac, free)

This is the hardcore version of RescueTime. Freedom will disable all networking on your Mac for the amount of time you specify, up to a maximum of eight hours at a time. If you change your mind and decide you need the Internet sooner, you’ll have to reboot. Those on a local network can select a Local Access mode.

7. Egg Timer

(Mac and Windows, price varies)

This isn’t software, and you probably already have this in your kitchen somewhere. Yes, a good, old-fashioned egg timer may be all you need to work without distractions.

Set it for the amount of time you’d like to focus, and then simply shut everything out until it goes off. An egg timer works much better than watching the clock, because it constantly reminds you that your focus time does have an end. Knowing you have to focus for only two more minutes, for example, is enough to prevent you from stealing a glance at Tweetdeck.

Or, seeing you only have seven minutes left to finish that blog post may be all you need to simply get it done. Some of us work best under pressure, and the egg timer gives us that pressure — not to mention the pleasure of hearing it go off.

How Do You Focus?

Do you use any of the tools mentioned above? If so, what has been your experience so far? Or do you use another tool to manage distractions? Do share how you eliminate distractions when you work.

Image by Tanakawho

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Comments

  1. says

    Another help for focusing (especially on difficult projects) is to bookend the work you have to do. Find a freelance partner, and tell them “I’m going to work on x, now.” Your partner will then check in with you in a specified amount of time. It’s amazing how well this trick works.

  2. says

    @Ronda Levine – Thanks for the tip! I’d never thought of finding an accountability partner for my freelancing work before. I’ve done it for personal stuff and I know it works.

    @Anne-Marie Kirwan – You go, girl! Thanks for letting us know :-)

  3. says

    I find what works for me is to try not to think about what immediately at hand, only what I need to worrry/think about now, at this moment. This helps especially if you can break down a bigger task/thing down to piece small enough that you can focus on completely.

  4. says

    Mrs. Lexi, this is what I need, might just cut some of those 2-3am in the morning trying to get things finished up down to a minimum or none at all. I usually get done what I need to get done, but damn if I don’t make it harder on myself. Thanks again.

  5. says

    @Wong, @Carole & @Harry – Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll check out those tools as well.

    @Domenick – I hope one of the recommendations in this post will help you get more sleep :-)

    @Web Design New York – Glad to hear it :-)

    @Lisa – Just downloaded RescueTime too, but I’m almost too afraid to see my time log, LOL!

  6. says

    Great list! I’m going to consider using one of the apps you’ve mentioned. Right now I avoid distractions with will power. Will power is not always effective, but it’s an exercise in personal discipline for me as well.

  7. says

    There are some good tools here that I think will certainly help you work more efficiently and productively. Amongst the best seem to be the website blockers, as I think the main distractions for freelancers are social networking sites. Having twitter feeds running in the background or sidebar is certainly a major distraction, so anything that targets these can only help your workflow.

    I like the idea of ‘Write Room’ and its similar counterparts. The problem with word processing today is that it has so many tools and options that the basic task of writing is all too easily distracted. Having software that blocks out all of these, leaving only the bare text is essential for concentrating solely on the task of writing rather than formatting.

    I will be bookmarking this for future reference as the software covered could certainly come in useful at some stage. It will be interesting to read the comments and suggestion surrounding these choices.

  8. Louis V says

    I was looking exactly for something like Think!

    I have been using WriteRoom personally and it still amazes me how much more productive it can make me. The black background and green characters are also prevent eye fatigue compared to a bright white background.

    I highly recommend the pomodoro technique (structured version of the egg timer). Details can be found on http://www.pomodorotechnique.com. There are many apps on all platforms (including iphone) that work with the method. I personally use Pomodoro Desktop (Mac, Free, pomodoroug.olandini.com).

    Also if your eyes get tired easy from staring at a computer screen you can use F.lux (Mac & Windows, free, http://www.stereopsis.com/flux/) to help minimize the suffering. It gradually changes the color tone and brightness of the screen according to the time of day and the particular lighting in the room.

    Hope this helps!

    Cheers

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  10. says

    First of all, Lexi, I want to congratulate you for the blog, tips, news, and this tricks to keep concentration in your tasks. I’m a freelancer designer, and this will help me a lot. I know another program that may help other people too.
    I was talking to one of my customers, and he showed me that they are using a quite new software called WorkMeter, which instead of saying you what to do, or cut your internet connection, it only measures the real productive time you worked from the total work time.
    He told me that you setup a map of of the used software, with the productivity for each program and workteam, and you get feedback of your activity at any moment. This helps you to know how you spend your time, and how productive you are, and how to improve it continuously. Also you know how many times you are interrupted by calls, breaks, or other tasks.
    Even you can compare your productivity to the one of your work-group or the whole company. Quite complete I think.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Protect yourself from them. You accomplish this by getting your phone off the hook and letting your answering machine take care of your calls. You can also turn off the email notifications on your computer. Shut yourself in your home office, away from other people, the refrigerator, and entertainment devices. You can even use apps to keep external distractions at bay. [...]

  2. [...] 仕事を始める前には、可能な限り注意をそがれるものを減らしてください。 メールとソーシャルネットワーキング通知をオフにし、留守番電話をつけてください。 そして、グラスに水注いでください。 注意散漫を減少させるツールとアプリケーションを使用してください。 [...]

  3. [...] If you think you never get distracted, think again. Most freelancers find they spend a lot more time on non-core tasks than they think. The best way to find out is to use a tool like RescueTime, which operates in the background while you are working on your projects. It’s a great way to find out how much of your work time you really spend working — you might be surprised by the results. If you’re a writer, then check out tools like WriteMonkey, Dark Room and Think to create a distraction-free writing environment. [...]

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