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)