Setup Restricted User Accounts to Focus and Get Things Done

Setup Restricted User Accounts to Focus and Get Things Done

    Do you have your email alerts on, Twitter apps pinging you every second, or IM up and running 24/7? Have you noticed that these constant distractions tend to, well, distract you? If so, rather than turning these things off you can design and create totally different user accounts on your Mac or PC to help you concentrate on the work at hand.

    Figure out what you need

    The first thing you must do is figure out what tools you need in what context and then create a separate user account that contains those tools. For example, if you are a writer you may want to have a “writing account” where all you have access to is a simple text tool (or whatever writing tool that you prefer) and everything else is locked down.


    Some contexts that you work in require access to a bunch of tools, so you have to sit down and list out only the tools you actually need. This is the first step to create environments on your computer that don’t destroy your concentration and attention.

    Figure out what you don’t want

    Next, after you know the contexts of your life and also the tools that those contexts require, you have to list the things that you want to stay away from in those contexts. Maybe for your “writing account” you don’t want to have access to the Internet, or maybe you want to only access a certain site on the internet (your blog for instance). You may want to also limit the apps that you can use on this account to a few different text editors and utilities.

    It’s important to be honest with yourself and not to fall into the trap of saying, “yeah, I probably will be fine if I enable IM on this account. I mean, how will people get ahold of me?” The real question should be, “what is the bare minimum I need to get things done while doing (insert the context of your life here)?”


    Process and tools

    Setting up these accounts is pretty easy on a Mac or PC.

    On your Mac, probably the best way to do this is to go to Settings -> Parental Controls and create a new user. Give it the name of the context that you are trying to work under. From there you can setup application restrictions, site restrictions, etc.

    On a PC (Windows 7) you can access Parental Controls by clicking the Start Menu, search for “parental controls” and clicking on the option that comes up. From there you can create new accounts as well as control their time usage and applications restrictions.


    Of course, you can always get around these restrictions by using your administrator password, but it is another burier to cross. When you are about to enable IM on your account that you are trying to get things done on, you can stop for a moment and refocus.

    There are also ways to block certain websites or only allow certain websites (which may be an easier thing to do in some cases). But, if you want to get very binary with this you could use a tool like Freedom or even turn off Internet access completely on certain accounts. Freedom is a great tool to turn off your Internet access for a set period time. It disables your network access at a physical level, so only a reboot of the computer will get it back. Yet another burier to keep you from wasting time.


    Creating separate accounts for the different contexts in your life to enable and disable certain tools and software may seem like overkill. But, if you are struggling to pay attention while you are working on your computer, it may just be the exact thing you need. Give it a try to see if restricting yourself and controlling your computer accounts can help you get things done.


    (Photo credit: Modern laptop with metal padlock on screen via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    To Automate or not to Automate Your Personal Productivity System

    To Automate or not to Automate Your Personal Productivity System

    We are all about doing things faster and better around here at Lifehack. And part of doing things faster and better is having a solid personal productivity system that you use on a daily basis.

    This system can be just about anything that helps you get through your mountain of projects or tasks, and helps you get closer to your goals in life. Whether it’s paper or pixels, it doesn’t really matter. But, since you are reading Lifehack I have to assume that pixels and technological devices are an important part of your workflow.

    “Personal Productivity System” defined

    A personal productivity system (at least the definition that this article will use) is a set of workflows and tools that allow an individual to optimally get their work done.

    Workflows can be how you import and handle your photos from your camera, how you write and create blog posts, how you deploy compiled code to a server, etc.


    Tools are the things like planners, todo managers, calendars, development environments, applications, etc.

    When automation is bad

    You may be thinking that the more that we automate our systems, the more we will get done. This is mostly the case, but there is one very big “gotcha” when it comes to automation of anything.

    Automation is a bad thing for your personal productivity system when you don’t inherently understand the process of something.

    Let’s take paying your bills for example. This may seem very obvious, but if you can’t stick to a monthly budget and have trouble finding the money to make payments on time, then automating your bill payment every month is completely useless and can be dangerous for your personal finances.


    Another example is using a productivity tool to “tell you” what tasks are important and what to do next. If you haven’t taken a step back and figured out just how your productivity systems should work together, this type of automation will likely keep you from getting things done.

    You can only automate something in your personal productivity system that have managed for a while. If you try to automate things that aren’t managed well already, you will probably feel a bit out of control and have a greater sense of overwhelm.

    Another thing to remember is that some things should always be done by yourself, like responding to important emails and communicating with others. Automating these things can show your coworkers and colleagues that you don’t care enough to communicate yourself.

    When automation is good

    On the other hand, automation is a great thing for your personal productivity system when you understand the process of something and can then automatically get the steps done. When you know how to manage something effectively and understand the step-by-step process of a portion of your system, it’s probably a great time to automate it.


    I have several workflows that I have introduced in the last year that takes some of the “mindless” work from me so I can be more creative and not have to worry about the details of something.

    On my Mac I use a combination of Automator workflows, TextExpander snippets, and now Keyboard Maestro shortcuts to do things like automatically touch-up photos imported from my iPhone 4S or open all the apps and websites needed for a weekly meeting to the forefront of my desktop by typing a few keys. Once you open yourself up to automating a few of your processes, you start to see other pieces of your system that can benefit from automation.

    Once again; none of this works unless you understand your processes and know what tools you can use to get them done automatically.

    The three steps to determine if something is “ripe” for automation

    If your workflow passes these three steps, then automate away, baby:


    1. You can do this process in your sleep and it doesn’t require your full, if any form of attention. It can (and has been) managed in some form prior to automating it.
    2. The process is time consuming.
    3. The process doesn’t require “human finesse” (ie. communicating and responding to something personally)

    Automating your personal productivity systems can be a great for you in the long run if you are careful and mindful of what you are doing. You first need to understand the processes that you are trying to automate before automating them though. Don’t get stuck in thinking that anything and everything should be automated in your life, because it probably shouldn’t.

    Pick and choose these processes wisely and you’ll find the ones that take up most of your time to be the best ones to automate. What have you automated in your personal productivity system?

    Featured photo credit: Bram Naus via

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