Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

There are several tools for managing online time, including hardware timers, parental controls, and personal control.

I find myself going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole on the internet when I should be using this time to be productive. I do love how useful the internet is, but I would really like a program that will limit my access to it to a set number of hours or minutes a day. The problem is, I get curious about esoteric things and having access to so much information that leads to thought after I thought and before I know it, three hours have slipped away. Are there any programs that will time my usage and allow me to set controls so that instead of finding out say, who the founding members of Queensryche are, I can instead spend my time being productive in my work and my home.

In this excerpt from Answercast #42, I look at several ways to manage time when surfing online.

Routers with timers

There are, I believe, routers that have some kind of a timer functionality that you can put in.

Parental controls

Otherwise, the thing to look for is parental controls.

Most often, this type of functionality (the type of functionality that you're looking for) is mostly associated with parents wanting to control the amount of time their children spend on the internet – much like you're trying to control your own time.

So the phrase to be looking for are things like parental controls.

Time management

That being said, you know, I've had this same problem from time to time; my solution is actually a little bit different. Maybe it's a little bit more self-reliant.

What I did is I went out and got myself a timer. There's a bunch of different timers. It's nothing more really than a stopwatch or an alarm clock or something like that.

  • You can use a physical one.

  • There are stopwatch and alarm clock applications for the PC readily available.

I set myself a time. I say, "You know what, for the next 45 minutes, I'm going to work." I make sure that during that 45 minutes, I don't go surfing on the internet or play World of Warcraft or get sucked into Facebook. I end up working on what I'm working on

Then, when the timer goes off, I then give myself permission to take another certain amount of time again with that timer, and say, "OK, fine. Now, it's time for another break. Now, we can play." Now, we can go ahead and do the kinds of things that we find ourselves all too easily doing.

But again, only for a limited time.

So, ultimately, yes, you can certainly go looking for parental control software, and for parental control hardware (in forms of routers). But if you can set yourself up, if you can discipline yourself to pay attention to it and follow through on it:

  • It could be as simple as just getting a timer or a clock;

  • And setting an alarm.

End of Answercast #42 Back to – Audio Segment

Article C5680 - August 9, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Rosie Perera
August 9, 2012 1:52 PM

I find that practicing mindfulness helps. The more I can train myself to become aware of the passage of time, the more easily I can pull myself back out of the rabbit hole if I get sucked in. I've found an app that helps me. It's called ClockSmith Lite. It plays the Westminster chimes every quarter hour and tolls the hour. Free, tiny, nice UI.

August 10, 2012 9:07 AM

I've done what you suggest re: alarm clocks using Instant Boss (not a sales pitch :).

But my favorite way of dealing with this is software that reminds you to get up and stretch and move around at some preset interval. So if you've gotten off-track, at some point you're interrupted and instructed to do something that's beneficial to mind and body. Which of course puts you in the right frame of mind to pore over 50,000-record spreadsheets. There are quite a few of these out there, quite a few are free. I like the ones that actually show stretches you can do.

August 10, 2012 9:15 AM

There are a couple of browser plugins you can use like Chrome Nanny (Chrome) and LeechBlock (Firefox). They have really flexible configurations. You can either set it to prevent access to certain websites between given times (9a-12pm, 1p-5pm for example)...or you can allow yourself a given time limit (45 total minutes for sites on your "block" list, after that you're locked out).

They're pretty easy to override/disable, so they still take a little self-control. But I find even a gentle reminder ("Shouldn't you be working?") will steer me back on task. I've used both extensions for years and don't know what I'd do without them.

August 12, 2012 8:53 AM

When I work remotely I use 2 laptops-one company issued one, and one personal.

I know if I use the company one, they can see everything I do (and that is understood and accepted). But if I go to my personal machine to check email or surf for something-because it is a lot better hardware that the company hardware-I find myself being pulled into the rabbit hole, only to emerge 15-30 minutes later.

In order to be most productive, I don't turn on my own machine until after several hours.

Anna Candler
August 14, 2012 4:54 PM

My solution is invest in a program called Freedom. It locks you out of the internet. You do get to select how long you want the lock-out to be. Quite scary at first .. but after a while you get to enjoy the ability to just work and not get distracted.

August 19, 2012 6:10 AM

I can recommend StayFocusd, the extension for Chrome browser. Its free, configurable, the help text / comments are fun. Does the job well.

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