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 isĀ 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