How to Quit Mindlessly Surfing the Internet and Actually Get Stuff Done

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 17, 2011 · 145 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

9 pm. A college campus in the Midwest. Rob sits down to study. His inner monologue:

Okay, time to hit the books. I’m really going to get crap done tonight. Let me just sit down here and crack open my giant textbook. Mmmm, interesting, interesting. But I don’t understand this term here on pg. 307. I should look it up on Wikipedia. Okay, got it. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to check my gmail tab before I get back to the book. Oh, Amanda sent me a Facebook message, let me just get on Facebook really quick and write her back. Hey, the Art of Manliness put another article up. And I love pirates! I’ve got to check that out–I’ll just skim it really fast. That was good. I wonder if anything has happened on Facebook since I read the article, let me check that real quick. And I guess it wouldn’t hurt to give the front page of Reddit a fast little scan, and then I’ll get back to studying. Wow, this thread has links to a lot of interesting sites, I’m just going to click on a few…

12:00 am. Textbook is still open to page 307. Rob’s inner monologue:

Arrrrghhh! What happened?

Why Is the Internet So #$!# Distracting!?

Distractions have existed since the beginning of time, but the internet represents an entirely new level of itch. The desire to read Treasure Island and or listen to a radio show exerts a certain pull, but not like the force that keeps you surfing from page to page to page on the internet. Why is this?

Researchers speculate that evolution has wired our brains to be constantly scanning for changes in our environment; if a change is sensed, our minds direct our attention towards that thing. For our primitive ancestors this ability was a safeguard against dangers and predators. In the modern age, that sense has been hijacked by the constant stream of incoming stimuli. “Look, I see a bear!” has become “Look a funny video on Youtube! An interesting article on this news site! A photo of my friend on Facebook….”

So that may be part of it, although it doesn’t quite explain why when you’re siting on the couch reading a book, your mind feels an itch to check your phone or your computer. Indeed, there’s a bigger issue at play here. It used to be thought that the reward centers of our brains only lit up when dealing with basic needs, “primary reinforcers” like food and water…and, of course, those dopamine hard-hitters, drugs. But then experiments found that not only did money, food, and sex also activate these reward centers, even pictures of these things had the same effect. And most recently, an experiment done with monkeys showed that even a little bit of information stimulates our brains’ reward centers. And what is the internet besides a collection of millions of bits of information–hit after dopamine-releasing hit. The internet is really like a giant information slot machine. Every time you surf to a new page, you pull that lever, and wait to see what pops up. Pull the lever. Pull the lever. Pull the lever. Ding-ding-ding-ding. It’s easy to get entranced and lose track of time.

So what’s a man to do? Despite its sort of addicting quality, the internet is an amazing tool that most people absolutely do not want to give up. So you probably don’t want to chuck your laptop out the window, even if you sometimes feel like you do.

You can try to limit your penchant for mindless surfing through sheer willpower alone. But as we’ve discussed, your willpower is a finite resource which is depleted by every choice you have to make. Do you really want to use up your willpower trying to stay off of Reddit, when you really need it to work or study effectively? Instead, simply eliminate the decision of whether or not to screw around on the web from your available choices altogether, without taking a sledge hammer to your computer. Here’s how.

First: Perform an Audit of Your Online Time-Wasters

The first step in stopping the scourge of mindless surfing is to make a list of which sites you’re wasting the most time on. You probably already know what they are. Write those down.

If you want a more thorough audit, you might consider signing up for one of the many online services that show you how you spend your time online. Such as:

RescueTime. RescueTime is a paid service that allows you track how much time you spend on certain websites and even how long you use certain apps on your computer. You simply create an account with RescueTime, install the RescueTime program on your computer, and RescueTime takes care of the rest. At the end of each week, RescueTime will send you an email report that gives you a breakdown of how and where you spent your time while sitting (or standing!) at your computer. It also has some other nifty features like the ability to block distracting websites and create goals for how you want to spend your time online.

Time Tracker. Time Tracker is a free browser extension for both Firefox and Chrome browsers. Pretty simple.

There used to be a whole slew of free time-tracking plugins for Firefox, but it looks like most of them are dead. Such a shame. They were good ones, too. Support your developers, folks.

Quit Screwing Around Online Method 1: Block Time-Wasting Sites Entirely (AKA The Nuclear Option)

If you want to completely banish time-wasting sites from your computer, you’ll needed to get into your computer’s host files and do some hacking. Don’t worry. You won’t break your computer in the process. What we’ll be doing is simply telling your computer that these time-wasting sites live on your computer’s hard drive. Because these websites don’t really live on your hard drive, you’ll get a “server not found” message when you try to surf to those addresses.

What’s great about this method is that it blocks these sites across all browsers. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Firefox, Chrome, or Explorer, if you try to visit sites on your blocked list, you’ll get a message saying your browser couldn’t connect with the site.

Another benefit to this method is that it provides a pretty strong firewall to prevent backsliding into mindless surfing. While this method is reversible, it’s kind of a pain in the butt to change. Any time you want to visit your blocked sites, you’ll have to go through the rigamarole below and “comment out” your added lines (add a # to the beginning of the lines) in your host file.

Obviously, using this method is best for sites that you really think are pointless but still find yourself addicted to reading–sites where you’d rather do without the temptation entirely. If you’re going to use this method to block sites that you still want to read occasionally, I recommend having a set-up such as the one I use myself and outline at the end of the post.

Here’s how it works, using Facebook.com as an example:

Mac

  1. Open up Terminal
  2. Type  sudo nano /etc/hosts
  3. Enter your computer’s password
  4. To block your time-wasting sites, type in the following: 127.0.0.1   facebook.com
  5. Repeat step 4 until you’ve entered all your time-wasting sites
  6. Save the host file by hitting ctrl+o and then the return key
  7. Flush your computer’s cache by entering the following line: sudo dscacheutil -flushcache

Windows (Windows 7/Vista/XP)

  1. Open Notepad and click File –> Open
  2. Open up the following file:  C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\ETC\HOST
  3. To block your time-wasting sites, type in the following: 127.0.0.1 facebook.com  www.facebook.com
  4. Repeat step 3 until you’ve entered all your time-wasting sites
  5. Save the file and close

Linux

If you’re using Linux, you’re probably a geek and don’t need some guy who blogs about manliness to tell you how to edit your host file.

Quit Screwing Around Online Method 2: Block Time-Wasting Sites for Certain Periods of Time

Another, less drastic way to avoid the pull of time-sucking websites is by using various browser plugins that allow you to block sites for certain periods of time. This option gives you the flexibility to plan periods where you want to work distraction-free and periods where you want to be able to surf at will.

This is also a good method if you want to limit how much you check your web-based email. You probably want to be able to access your email during the day, but maybe you only want to be able to check it at certain times. This method will allow you to do that.

Firefox

Leechblock. Leechblock is a super robust plugin for Firefox that allows you to block time-wasting sites in several ways. First, you enter which sites you want to block. Next, you tell Leechblock when you want them blocked. For example, you can set Leechblock to block your designated sites until 5PM on weekdays, but keep them available to you all day on the weekends. Another way you can set up Leechblock is to block certain sites after you visit them for a certain amount of time. So if you want to limit your Facebook browsing to just 30 minutes a day, you can have Leechblock block Facebook after you’ve reached your 30 minute time limit.

This is a fantastic plugin. It helped me stay focused while I was in law school.

But keep in mind that Leechblock only works for when you’re using Firefox as your browser. You can still switch over to Chrome and surf freely. So if that’s going to be a temptation for you, you’ll need to put blocker plugins on your other browsers too.

Download LeechBlock

Chrome

StayFocused. StayFocused is a super simple site-blocker for Chrome. You simply enter in your time-wasting sites and then allot yourself an amount of time you want to be able to screw around on these sites each day. When you’ve used up all your time, the sites you have blocked will be inaccessible for the rest of the day.

To prevent you from changing how much time you’ve allotted yourself to surf freely, StayFocused gives you a highly annoying challenge. You have to type this long paragraph, letter for letter, without making a single typo. If you make a typo, everything will be cleared from the text box, and you’ll have to start all over again. And no, you can’t just copy and paste the challenge text. I tried that. It knows when you’re trying to cheat.

Download StayFocused

Concentrate. Concentrate allows you to set how long you want to block specific sites. Add your time-wasting sites, set the timer, and get to work. While the timer is going, you can’t access your time-wasting sites.

Download Concentrate

Chrome Nanny. Chrome Nanny is the Chrome version of Leechblock for Firefox. It works pretty much the same way. Unfortunately, the developer of this extension recently took it down from the Google Chrome Web Store without any explanation. Hopefully he’ll bring it back or someone will develop something similar.

My Personal Set-Up

I currently have a screwing around firewall system that incorporates both methods.

I’ve edited the host file on my Macbook so that it blocks my biggest time sink offenders. These include news sites and web forums I enjoy browsing, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, Google Reader. I can’t access these sites at all on my work computer. Yeah, I could change the host file back to what it was, but like I said, it’s kind of a pain to do that, so I don’t even bother. My laziness is actually a boon here. Huzzah!

If I want to check these sites out, I use my iPad. When I need to get work done, I’ll just keep the iPad in another room or drive to a coffee shop and leave the iPad at home. Also, by having a computer just for work, I find myself getting into a work frame of mind much faster than before.

I use the second, less restrictive site blocking method to limit my time spent on gmail and a few sites that monitor web traffic on AoM. These sites are important for work, and I still want to be able to access them on my work computer, but they can distract me from actually getting work done. I use Chrome Nanny (got it before the developer took it down) to grant me access to my gmail account and my web analytics during short time windows throughout the day.

By implementing these methods to curb my mindless surfing, I suddenly found myself with a ton of free time I didn’t know existed. It was amazing. Give it a try if you’re looking to be a more productive, industrious, and successful man.

What tactics do you use to reduce the amount of time you waste online? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 145 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jacob October 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm

For Mac, there is also the program SelfControl which will deny access to a specific list of websites you create for a pre-determined amount of time that you set no matter what web browser you use. I have found it quite helpful when I need to crack down and get to work

2 Fox October 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I’m actually procrastinating writing a paper right now. Time to hit the books.

3 AT October 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Is it ironic that I was reading this instead of doing work?

4 kirri October 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I’m giving a guilty laugh right now…got up at 5am to write and so far have checked email, facebook, twitter and then got distracted by YOU. I’m bookmarking this page because you have provided some great strategies that I think will actually help me.
Thank you :)

5 Richard October 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I actually use a completely different method that, while not always as a effective, works pretty well. Since I use a laptop, when it’s time to get some reading or studying done, I shut my computer so that I have to physically open it if I want to get online and then wait for it to get everything back up. The act of not even having the screen present works pretty well for me as then I’m not thinking about it. Another thing I do is go to a room without the laptop or any distractions entirely, or just go outside, and do my work there. If I do need the laptop to do something, which is often the case for papers and whatnot, I set a timer for doing stuff. If I time myself when I’m doing work I know I have to do work until the timer goes off. It keeps me focused and I know that while the timer is going I have to do my work. I’ve associated the timer with doing work and it helps a lot. Might be a little easier and less extreme than blocking certain websites for some people.

6 nick nemer October 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm

A useful routine would be to decide on certain moment in the day where you specifically waste time and check those websites and email. Set up an alarm for a specific period of time (like 30 min) and when the time is up, get back to work. You might think that you have to check email 30 times a day, thus leading to time wasting, but for most people 2-3 times max a day is more then enough, nothing in your email is THAT important.

7 PitBull Pappa October 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I really need to go get the dishes done and finish cleaning the kitchen… really… I really need to get it done. Why did I have to find this article? I was supposed to already be doing it… I guess I should stop commenting now and go get it done. I wonder if that hottie I gave my email address today has written me yet? Maybe I should go check my email really quick before I start on the dish pile…;)

It really is easy to put off mundane tasks for something more entertaining.

8 David October 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Love your posts. Thank you for trying to guide others on such a noble cause

9 Harry October 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Ok, it’s not just me. Now I need to actually set up some of these. Is there a smartphone version of these? I’m an android abuser.

10 Josh October 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

That first paragraph was a frighteningly accurate portrayal of me trying to do homework.

11 Ryan October 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’m pretty sure I found a newer version of Chrome Nanny. It seems it’s just been renamed. https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/cljcgchbnolheggdgaeclffeagnnmhno?hc=search&hcp=main

12 Wilson October 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I can attest to the usefulness of Leechblock. Got me through my undergrad career. Use it. Love it. (Or hate it for keeping you from your e-crack.)

13 Michael D October 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I had to take a more drastic approach to time wasting sites, I just removed my Facebook account completely I was starting to play Mafia Wars for hours a day( I was a level 900+ when I realized there really was no point, or winner or even an end to the darn game) so I pulled the plug on that, which then allowed to have time for things like, AOM, themodernsurvivalist.com and Netflix Streaming which was the one thing I was actually paying for. I know Netflix was a kinda lateral change but at least sometimes I would watch a documentary or a tv which I enjoyed more and had an easier to get off the computer where I still wanted to do the things above after playing mafia wars.

14 Joe October 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Great article, Brett. I’m shutting you down and getting back to work… ;-)

15 Joseph October 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm

“If you’re using Linux, you’re probably a geek and don’t need some guy who blogs about manliness to tell you how to edit your host file.”

That’s not entirely true anymore. Distributions like Ubuntu are making it possible for clueless people to get into it, too. I understand that methods change (if only slightly) from distro to distro, but perhaps you could include instructions for editing it in Ubuntu?

16 Phil Bear October 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm

So says the website I found while mindlessly surfing the internet.

17 Tieson Wooten October 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I was so pumped about the good info in this article that I started reading more AoM articles for more wisdom…half an hour later nothing at work was done! Oh the irony!

18 Dennis October 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Totally off topic, but the image at the top of the article was a major flashback for me. I owned that very book as a child. That two page spread is something I think about from time to time and smile as we get closer to the future I imagined so many years ago.

19 Blake Van Egeren October 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I used to find myself mindlessly looking at facebook at photos, comments and status updates of these people I knew or knew at one point of my life. I felt more times then most I formed negative opinions of these people. I also stepped back and analyzed what I was reading, most of the time it was pointless. I had enough and deleted my facebook page a month ago. I have been enjoying this new freedom from the voice in my head to keep checking Facebook every hour or so. It was out of habit that I would instantly goto facebook and sign in not enjoyment of being on the site. I still keep in touch with those I want to keep in touch with through email and find my conversations to be more personal than those on facebook. I also find that when I do hang out with friends in person or old friends my conversations are more meaningful because I’m not looking or stooping around in there lives everyday. We are all different but this was a positive change for me and may be for others.

20 Mike October 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I’ve tried the programs and apps that monitor how much time I spend on various things but I just ended up wasting even more time. What I tend to do now is give myself 30 mins at the very end of the day to browse the cyber net and that’s it. It works most of the time although to get into that habit took 2 months or so!

21 MSM October 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm

In your list of Mac instructions, lines 6 and 7 are in the wrong order. Save the hosts file, then flush the DNS cache.

22 Phillip Holland October 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I use Stayfocusd at work, and it is great. My biggest issue is when I get home, I need a Stayfocusd for life! There is TV, video games, music, friends, swimming pool, kittehs – all sorts of distractions, and that’s on top of mindless internet browsing. My greatest success comes in talking myself into just STARTING something productive. Once I get the ball rolling, I’m less likely to slip back into time-wasting mode. But if I don’t do that right when I get home, I often blow the entire night before I realize it. It’s sort of an all-or-nothing thing, ya know?

23 Taylor Smith October 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I have an old laptop that is pretty much only good for word-processing, and which doesn’t work with wi-fi anymore. I just set that up in the guest room on an old desk and work there!

24 Daren Redekopp October 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I started doing my writing on paper, and much to my surprise, its quality increased while its composition time decreased! All of that not least because going analog has meant the removal of such time & inspiration suckers as those you mentioned.

25 William October 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Way to call me out, AOM. Well…, back to work, I guess.

26 Mitch October 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Great article. Just commenting real quick to point out a typo that caught my eye. I believe you meant “127.0.0.1″ for the Mac hosts file instructions to point Facebook back to your localhost. You have the IP right in the Windows section, so I bet you just mistyped and left out the last dot. Just thought I’d point that out in case anyone is following your instructions verbatim. :)

27 Joe October 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm

i am reading this instead of working…. hmmmm

28 Zach October 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Why can’t we all just exercise a little self-control? What a lame excuse for not working! I’m a hypocrite for sure, and have fallen into the trap many times, but it’s still a tumultous atrocity.

29 Vadim P. October 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm

@Joseph: The Mac part mostly applies. There was also a graphical app for blocking for doing that; http://svn.jklmnop.net/projects/SelfControl.html

30 Lee October 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Agreed with AT, it does seem kind of ironic. This site certainly takes up a lot of time reading all the articles. That said, I haven’t really hit this problem of wasting time on the internet when I’m supposed to work.

I refuse to check facebook. It just seems like a huge time sink for not a lot of substantial information. In fact, most of the time, I find myself trying to find stuff to do on the internet because I’m bored. Although I must admit sometimes searching for reviews on products takes up a lot of my time.

What I do is block off time in hour long chunks. Work for an hour, take a break, work for another hour. Seems to work for me.

31 brian t October 17, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I try and follow websites through their RSS feeds, in Google Reader. So I don’t need to go trawling sites, they come to me instead, kinda. I have them categorised under various headings, and one of them is “A-List”: the best feeds, which I deem to be important and usually get read. As for the rest … if I have time, I’ll look at a few categories, but otherwise I’ll skim the headings and hit the “Mark All As Read” button. Done.

32 David October 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I tried using the Nuke method with windows 7 and C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\ETC\HOST
wouldn’t come up. I could get to C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\ETC but that was it. Anyone know what to do?

33 Jack October 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Sand-Timer.

My study date busted one out at a coffee shop. She would just point to the still-trickling sand anytime I was going to distract her or myself. When the 15 minutes ran out, we would then decide to chat or to flip the timer for another work-session burst.

34 Laura October 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Thank you so so so much! It’s ridiculous how much time I will waste on certain websites. This is fantastic (because self control will fail me, every time).

35 Erik S. October 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm

For Safari users, you can install an extension called “WasteNoTime” which will also help to mitigate your time.

Plugs right into Safari.

http://bumblebeesystems.dyndns.org/wastenotime/

36 Genevieve October 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm

This is the best, most relevant AOM article I have ever read. It definitely does not only apply to men. Ideally, I would not have to use the internet for anything school related, however I often use programs such as Mathematica and LaTeX and need to look up certain commands. This then results in my spending time looking up other interesting things (such as the news or wikipedia articles) that are not directly related to my homework.

I just downloaded the free version of RescueTime, so hopefully being aware of where my time is spent will help me manage it better.

37 DMz October 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I spent a lot of Law School class time on AoM. Hey, at least I wasn’t wasting it reading the garbage on Above the Law. Or shopping (the girl in front of me).

38 Dan Smith October 17, 2011 at 9:57 pm

I’m a Linux geek, and for the record, we get mad distracted too. Have you ever gone through the change logs before? It can be fairly wasteful.

39 Howard October 17, 2011 at 10:00 pm

In order to control my surfing at work, I implemented the hosts file idea above, with one difference. I created two files, one with Facebook, IMDB, CNN, etc. blocked and one with them open. I created a scheduled job which copies the unblocked file over my hosts file at 11:30am (when my lunchbreak begins), and copies the blocked version back at 12:30pm.

40 Brandon October 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm

I just had to manually adjust my time wasting days… I deleted my facebook account and pulled all but three websites off of my bookmark bar. One I moderate, the other two aren’t updated very often. I deleted everything off of my phone’s browser, also.

I then decided to shut my computer off two hours before bed and work on home projects, or get caught up on work. I telecommute, and have regulated myself to one round of email checking in the morning, and again at lunch with some surfing, and again a little before I turn off the computer. I do use google quite a bit throughout the day, but without my bookmarks on the bar, I haven’t been straying off the path.

Productivity went up, and I have been surprisingly more effective at my job. By shutting the computer off before bed I have been falling asleep better and getting those little home projects finished that were weighing on my brain.

Basically I pulled the plug on my mouse potato habits and rebuilt my day structure. It took a week or so to get used to, but it’s worked.

41 Kevin October 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Another way to block sites entirely, without editing host files, is to use OpenDNS. It’s free, and pretty easy to manage.

42 Nick October 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm

The Linux crack made me laugh.

43 Michael wait October 17, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Alright, back to studying

44 Rebecca October 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Similar story here. I’m in a bar trying to read the new Eugenides book and instead am distracted by Twitter and this article.
The Freedom application is a life saver. It costs 10$ but it forced me to stop the mind-roaming and just FOCUS and WRITE. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through grad school (and my Google Reader addiction) without it.

45 Jack October 17, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Brilliant! I’ve now deleted facebook from my internet procrastination list!

46 Kevin Burke October 18, 2011 at 12:12 am

“If you’re using Linux, you’re probably a geek and don’t need some guy who blogs about manliness to tell you how to edit your host file.” –Brett

” That’s not entirely true anymore. Distributions like Ubuntu are making it possible for clueless people to get into it, too. I understand that methods change (if only slightly) from distro to distro, but perhaps you could include instructions for editing it in ” Ubuntu?” — Joseph

Agreed with Joseph. Linux was exclusively for geeks in the 1990s but that is no longer the case now. So I’ll rewrite this for Brett :

If you are using FreeBSD, OpenBSD or NetBSD you are a definitely a Geek and don’t need some guy who blogs about manliness to tell you how to edit a host file.

I use FreeBSD, OpenBSD and Windows (I own more than 2 computers) but unless you are a geek you never heard of of the *BSDs before.

47 Anonymous October 18, 2011 at 12:21 am

Use something like ReadItLater. If you get back to it, fine. Otherwise, it wasn’t meant to be.

48 Ad®ian October 18, 2011 at 1:14 am

I purchased Vitamin-R for this very task. It quits applications for me.

49 Patrick M October 18, 2011 at 1:33 am

OM writer, Self Control, Pomodoro, Omnifocus, deleted FB acct entirely. Not perfect, but bettOOOH! SHINY!!

50 Bob the ab October 18, 2011 at 3:02 am

Incredible ! This wil reduce my procrastination at work ! And banish some shamely websites I still visit when my manliness goes down…(whistle)…

51 Shoe October 18, 2011 at 4:24 am

Personally I do not like the idea that I need a software to prevent me from acting like an idiot. Perhaps installing one of these programs could be a first step towards achieving self control, but it cannot end there. Otherwise you would still be like a child who needs his mother to restrain him, definitely not a man.

“Do you really want to use up your willpower trying to stay off of Reddit, when you really need it to work or study effectively?”

I think that using conscious effort to stay off the internet would be a transitory phase for anyone who chooses the path of self control. But the ultimate reward, in my opinion, is worth enduring a few weeks or months of these minor mental trials.

Fortunately for me, I have it easy at least in that regard. I’m a math student, so I can leave my laptop in my apartment and do most of my work with an old fashioned pen and paper at the library.

52 Rahul October 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

Great article, Brett. The internet is the biggest time waster in my life. I seem to have an insatiable appetite for random information. In fact, I had researched on this very topic earlier and yes, its like the reward centre in your brain lights up and gives you a shot of dopamine everytime you get a new scrap of info. Also, as you search for more information, these dopamine shots apparently start giving diminishing returns and yes, there are withdrawal symptoms. In other words, its just like a drug.

I actually came to your site in the morning (usually waste some time just after breakfast and before getting ready to work), saw the title, stopped myself and am reading it now in office (well, its lunch break :-))

@Michael, I really like your idea of shutting the laptop off and moving to a different room. I am definitely going to try it as I think it’ll work for me. I kind of use similar strategy in controlling what I eat ie: I excercise control during the shopping.

53 Jakob October 18, 2011 at 4:56 am

Since reading the “bookend your day”-article I’ve been very much inspired to becoming more disciplined in my everyday doings, and it actually works by just changing your way of thinking. Alot of it is just about _making_ that decision. And it’s much thanks to AOM I’ve come to see this. Our western society is otherwise so very feeling/impulsive/if-it-feels-good-it’s-good/spontanious-kind of orientated and I’ve come to see that this thinking really is alot of crap (most of it), it makes body and mind lazy. And while thinking like this it’s extremely easy to fall into this endlessly-surfing-the-internet-addictive-behavior. And few of us really need that.

Growing up I always spent hours every day playing games and endlessly surfing the internet. Now as I’m 23 I realize how little it gave me (except for a somewhat improved english perhaps). I recently deleted my facebook after thinking about it for six months, it sort of like “clicked” (can’t describe it in any other way really) inside of me and I felt: “Oh, I should delete my facebook. Or… eh, no, wait I shouldn’t, I’ll regret it!” and then I thought “Hey! It’ll never feel easier any other time than it feels right now.” So I just did it without giving it any real thought (what will happen to my pictures? videos? conversations I’ve had? etc) And it was done and I felt a great relief actually.

The root problem is not facebook really, but rather this kind of non-conciousness, naïv attitude (that I don’t give things so much tought before doing them) about my everyday doings, that would enable me to impulsively do things like surfing the internet, playing the piano instead of studying, etc. The bookending your day article about getting a good morning and evening routine have really been a great inspiration. I’ve probably brought it up 20 times discussing with friends since I read it, because so many things we talk about could get improved by this way of thinking.

“Bookend Your Day: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines”
http://artofmanliness.com/2011/09/05/bookend-your-day-the-power-of-morning-and-evening-routines/

Cheers from Sweden!

54 Watcher October 18, 2011 at 5:05 am

I would suggest OpenDNS.
Not only does it help prevent the baddies from doing baddie things, but you can set up the parental controls to block certain sites at certain times.

I haven’t used it for that because I know I will just take the time to change it, and then spend the time playing anyway, so i actually save time by not setting the parental controls!
But still set it up for your DNS Service since it speeds up DNS lookups…

55 Joshua Lachkovic October 18, 2011 at 5:19 am

This is a very clever blogpost. Because by reading it I’ve just distracted myself for another 10 minutes (being on a non-work page allows me to check Twitter/FB/News in new tabs of course).

56 Dan K October 18, 2011 at 5:33 am

The burning question we all need to be asking is: when are we going to live in awesome space homes and wearing sweet stripy jumpsuits?! If internet surfing is holding us back from that reality then it is time to get to work!

57 andy_c_hu October 18, 2011 at 5:51 am

I can’t imagine how much time I have poured down the drain surfing the internet. I’ve come to the point where I’ve decided the best thing to do would be to sell my computer. I have a smartphone that fills my internet needs, and I also have my dad’s typewriter (if I need to type anything up for school).

58 a October 18, 2011 at 6:36 am
59 IslandGirl October 18, 2011 at 8:03 am

http://macfreedom.com/

Works for both Mac and Windows.

60 matt October 18, 2011 at 8:28 am

Drastic matters were necessary for me
so for 2 years now I dont even have internet on my workstation,
just on the family laptop who is 2 stairs down.
I use an usb stick to transfer files but as little as possible.

61 Will October 18, 2011 at 9:39 am

It would be nearly impossible to quantify the time I’ve wasted on the internet, sadly. Now 25, I’m making strides to change that.

RescueTime is hugely helpful, and they have both a paid and free service. The free service is just individual monitoring, with some blocking and goal-tracking services. It’s been a huge help as I understood what I was wasting time on exactly, and they have a “Get Focused” option that will block all distracting sites for a specified period of time.

Also turning off all email notifications from Twitter/facebook/rss/whatever helps a ton. No more “Ding” then that impulsive switch over to your email app or tab, just to find that a friend commented on a photo you also commented on. Every time I get a marketing email from a company I opted into at one point and cared about but no longer do, there is always an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the email.

This is a real challenge, as I feel that everything on the internet is designed to distract us, and attract our attention their direction. Good luck.

62 Samuel Warren October 18, 2011 at 10:03 am

And just in case there’s someone out there that IS using linux and DOESN’T know how to edit their hosts file, just check your man pages (http://linux.die.net/man/5/hosts). It’s /etc/hosts.

63 bobster October 18, 2011 at 10:22 am

Facebook is the white sugar of the internet. If you wanna end up a mentally fat nerd in your mommy’s basement, keep abusing it.

More charitably:
>It is very hard to go from dopamine shots to nothing. Withdrawal is tough. The better strategy is replacement, not renouncement. Train yourself to set your mind on your higher goals and get a jolt from them. Savor the fruit of what you are aiming for. Ponder the thing in your mind, whether it’s your degree, making wine, or a promotion, your garden, or that project you are building in the basement.

>You should learn to savor the value of your job too. Believe it or not, whatever honest work you do is for the greater good of society – not just your paycheck. Every job – crossing guard or trash collector or insurance agent or plumber – is doing a worthwhile thing that contributes to the welfare of all. Think of how you can be a blessing to your co-workers too … so be a man and work like you mean it. Real satisfaction will result.

>My current thing is cleaning out and rebuilding my workshop before winter. I try to put my extra thought time into how I want to lay it out, where I am gonna store my motorcycles, the work bench I am gonna relocate, how I can go out there in the winter and not feel so locked in, where I am gonna put the refrigerator and dartboard :-). etc. Now I am getting a buzz from something worthwhile, something that will endure.

>Finally, the internet is a useful tool. my key suggestion for its use is having a fixed time that has a Hard Break at its end – like having to go to work, or an alarm clock in another room, or sitting down to dinner, etc.

So, get satisfaction from the meat and potatoes of life and minimize the Slurpy that is web-surfing.

64 Jon Sangster October 18, 2011 at 10:29 am

The instructions for Linux are identical to those for Mac OSX, except you don’t need to do step 7. This is because they are both systems based off UNIX.

1. Open up Terminal
2. Type sudo nano /etc/hosts
3. Enter your computer’s password
4. To block your time-wasting sites, type in the following: 127.0.0.1 facebook.com
5. Repeat step 4 until you’ve entered all your time-wasting sites
6. Save the host file by hitting ctrl+o and then the return key

65 Doug October 18, 2011 at 10:42 am

Man !! this is me. I agree with other posters- software won’t help this. Discipline in following a routine are what help me. I am absolutely convinced that I would have not made it through college with the internet around (graduated in 91) – sort of a sweet spot I guess- PC’s actually were productive things (except for an occasional escape into Flight Simulator or text based adventure game). I had an information addiction/surfing problem well before the internet.. I would go into the library bookstack (15 floor tower of books) to do research for a paper or project and get distracted in the craziest places. The government periodicals and publications and patents were a particularly dangerous place for me. Reports, manuals, articles on every crazy topic! My garage and offices are still like libraries and my hard drives are bursting at the seems. I find myself going over the edge once in a while and have to ‘reign in’;

66 Calvo October 18, 2011 at 10:44 am

Nice article Brett.

OH MY GOD 9GAG JUST GOT UPDATED.

67 Kevin October 18, 2011 at 11:21 am

Brett, I think you missed this one. Manliness is not about setting up your computer to block certain websites. Men will find a way around any obstacle, especially when it comes to procrastinating. Instead, try two things that men are really good at: lists and challenges. Make a list of what needs to get done. I’m sure there’s an article about making to-do lists here, and if not, there should be. You can organize it by importance, or by time; the point is that you get it in ink. Set a personal challenge to cross 3 things off before checking reddit or messaging a facebook friend. Improving your own work ethic and willpower is much more effective in the long run than altering a host file.

68 Zac October 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Thanks for this. I would rather that I could summon the willpower to eliminate my internet time-wasting, but it’s crunch time for the semester and the Concentrate app for Google Chrome is a veritable Godsend right now. Thank you.

69 Lauren October 18, 2011 at 12:44 pm

So, I actually kind of like reading the daily articles that my husband gets sent to his email. I found this one pretty useful considering I’m a student who has to constantly use computers to do my work…which means I have an infinite supply of constant distractions at my fingertips. I’m going to try out some of the suggestions. I particularly liked the idea to permanently block certain sites on one computer and not the other. Just wanted to note that the tracker download for Firefox said that it isn’t compatible with the version of Firefox that I’m running. Not sure if I haven’t updated my browser or not, but thought I’d put it out there! :)

70 Tom King October 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm

The great irony here, Brett, is that AOM is one of the first things my new time-suck monitor software wanted me to block. Not good for AOM’s page hit numbers I would imagine! – Tom

71 Erick October 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Your instructions for Windows probably will not work. Vista and 7 will more than likely prevent you from saving the file due to User Access restrictions. XP may give you the same kind of problem.

Starting with step 5, here’s how to do it:
(Be sure you are an administrator on the PC)
5. Go to File -> Save As…
Name the file simply “hosts” without the quotes, change the file type to blank or all files, and save it to your desktop.
If the file shows up as a text file or has a .txt on the end, re-name it and remove the file extension. If it shows up with a text file icon, but no extension, open an explorer window and click on Tools/Organize (depends on windows version) -> Folder and Search options. Click on the view tab, and un-check the box for hiding extensions of known file types. Now, you can re-name it.

6.Now, drag this new file into the window where you had open the path “C:\windows\system32\drivers” and confirm that you want to overwrite the original host file. If you don’t get prompted to overwrite the file, you didn’t name the original correctly.

7. If you want to undo it, go here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/972034

*Note: You need to add an “s” to the end of step 2. It’s “hosts” not “host.”

72 Lauren October 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I use “self control”- its a free app you can download for Macs that blocks whatever websites you list for a certain amount of time! Its very popular on my college campus. I also use Focus Booster, which gives you a timer that schedules work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break.

73 matt c October 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I found a much much better way to do this on a mac. It’s called Selfcontrol, it’s a free app, look here http://visitsteve.com/made/selfcontrol/ there is a great description here.

You just say which websites to block, select a number of hours and go. It’ll even block email servers to keep email addicts working.

I admit I find the net way too distracting, and ought to get more productive. So tonight I’ve turned it on, and it’s time for a work out.

74 The Desert Rat October 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Controlling web surfing time nothing more than a bit of practice with willpower. Sure, there are gimmicks, but what works best is just saying “no thanks, I’ve had enough today”. Just like you would for dieting, snack foods, drinking alcohol, taking a mid-day nap and a host of other things. Go ahead and do them but, all things in moderation! You need to learn to have the ability to parcel out your time wisely without gimmicks. Use your daily journal everyday. Then review your journal (briefly once a week, more in depth once month and take nearly a full day once a year); if you’re not happy with your progress of what you are accomplishing in your life – time to man up and make some changes how you spend your time.

75 Joe Roy October 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm

In response to the comments decrying these tools as unmanly, is it more unmanly to employ some useful tools, or to accidentally slip back into the same bad habits? These tools exist for people who desire to change, but need a little guidance. This is no different, in my view, than throwing away unhealthy snacks and buying nothing but nutritious foods. (Bobster, “Facebook is the white sugar of the internet” is hilarious!)

Personally, I just got sick of wasting time on Facebook when I could have been reading an actual book, so I stopped checking it except at night. It’s amazing how much extra time I have now. If I had known about these, I might have just limited myself to 30 minutes throughout the day, but again, I don’t see how consciously limiting myself is less manly. The decision and the follow through are what’s truly manly, and that’s coming from someone who does almost everything the hard way. I’m kind of stupid in that regard.

76 Brett McKay October 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

To address the comments saying that you shouldn’t use tools like this, and that instead you should control your internet surfing through willpower alone:

As mentioned in the post, research has shown that every person has a finite amount of willpower available to them each day, and every choice we have to make depletes that willpower supply. Sure, you can use part of that willpower supply to simply choose not to surf around, but personally, I want as much of my willpower as possible to be available for the things that are really important to me–doing good work, being kind to family and friends, and staying fit. Those things are hard enough without needlessly making them harder. Why squander that resource when you don’t have to?

Just like Joe says, when you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t stock your house with junk food, just so you can say no to it and choose salad instead. You clear the junk food out and stock your house with healthy stuff. Smart men cut out the option altogether.

Scientific research has proven that cutting down on the decisions you have to make allows you to make the most effective and efficient use of your willpower. And men strive to be efficient, logical, and rational, no?

77 Jon Merkling October 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm

What do you do if you have to use Facebook (or Twitter) as part of your job?

78 Korezaan Su October 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I’m a student, so all I have to do is bring my work and music (and a sketchbook for recreation) to the university library. I don’t ever feel comfortable using a computer in public, so it solves almost all of my problems. More work can be done without the computer than most people realize. It helps that the house I live in is old, has poor sound and heat insulation, and is on a corner of a relatively large intersection.

As for the work that actually does need to be done on the computer, I get in a working mood before I touch it. Wash dishes, do laundry, something easy enough to start, but also something that keeps me focused. From there I work my way up things I need to do. If it’s low effort work like a humanities reading journal, then I don’t need to do much. If it’s higher effort work, like a engineering lab report, then I do lots of things beforehand.

79 kevin Burke October 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Korezaan Su : I do the samethings more or less but the only difference is when it comes to reading something online (you used the example of a humanities journal) what I do is download the article{s} or file{s} to my computer and then upload it to an ereader (sometimes I’ll convert it to another format first using a program like Calibre) like the Amazon Kindle (Actually I own two SONY ereaders but the Kindle is the most widely known. That way I don’t have to actually read the article{s} on my computer.

80 kevin Burke October 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I just thought of another way that might help some people. This is a highly rational/intellectual way so it may only help a small amount of people if at all. Here it goes :

Rationalize to yourself that you should prefer books to periodicals and websites since periodicals and websites are more transitory in worth and websites don’t (at least not usually depends on the website) have the same publishing standards (anyone can publish a website. In order to get to the truth on any matter one must syntopically compare books, periodicals and websites on the same issue.

Anyway this might only work for truth seekers and people who highly value freedom (used to be most Americans). Why the latter ? People can’t be free if they are ignorant and the more knowledgeable they are the more likely they are to be able to free themselves.

Things like google whacking are simply a waste of time and reading articles on various websites is not intellectually preferable to books and in school we are mostly dealing with working from books. I’m not sure if this rationalization can work but I am going to try it right now.

81 Matt October 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I am saddened to say, midway through reading this article it reminded me that I got facebook notifications earlier while working and never checked them out. Now I am ashamed, having been distracted enough to have to check facebook while reading an article about not being distracted by facebook.

82 Matt October 18, 2011 at 10:03 pm

This article was excellent! I installed Concentrate for Chrome and had a solid block of 2 hours for reading without distraction! Thanks Art of Manliness!

83 Joey October 19, 2011 at 4:06 pm

“Linux

If you’re using Linux, you’re probably a geek and don’t need some guy who blogs about manliness to tell you how to edit your host file.”

What?!?!? lol

84 Brent Pittman October 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Good ideas. I just started using Google Chrome, so I’ll try the the Chrome Nanny program. Then I’ll be able to focus on blogging instead of looking at cool sites like yours…but then how will I learn how I learn to save time? Good article!

85 Josh Knowles October 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

I have taken a bit more old-fashioned and crude approach to getting things done. This semester, I rented a study cubicle at my school library and I didn’t sign up for wireless at the school. I go their to work on my studies and I am amazed at how much work I can get done in a couple hours because I’m not checking Facebook (and other time sucking sites) every five minutes.

It works for me, and it helps separate my work and home life. That’s also helpful.

86 Aaron October 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

If you want an even more “Nuclear” approach:
Grab a screwdriver, open up your PC’s case and get the LAN/WLAN adapter out.

I did this a couple of times when the end of the semester came, and boy, it helped me to get through and perform. Of course I had to use the Internet to some extent, but when I needed so I used the family computer – which I couldn’t occupy for hours.

Of course if you have a laptop, or your LAN is integrated on your motherboard: you’re doomed.

87 Matt October 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

@Brett: I Get what you’re saying about having a finite amount of willpower, but I think a better long-term solution would be to form habits. That is, when I need to look something up on the internet, I look it up and then I go back to work. I think the term “decision fatigue” is a good term here. The key, I think, is to not make a decision; don’t stop and think, “do I have time for a quick break?” decide in advance when you’re going to take a break and how long it’s going to be and stick to it. If you see something interesting, make a bookmark so you can go back and read it later.

The slot-machine metaphor is dead on and highlights another problem with the Internet. Even when I haven’t had anything important to do, there have been times when I’ve wasted way to much time surfing the Internet without reading anything particularly enlightening or entertaining. Afterwards I wish I’d read a book or something instead but you just keep going hoping that the next article/video/whatever as going to be the “jackpot”.

88 Jack October 21, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Great tips.

I personally use the plugin “blocksite” on firefox to block any site I just find useless to me. Not only does it include most social networking sites *cough* facebook. But it also containt man’s worst enemy in the pursuit of women. I’m talking about porn.

89 Tim October 23, 2011 at 1:05 am

I know this goes slightly off the scope of the article, but as someone trying to quit porn I tried the “nuclear” method. It would block some websites, but others still load perfectly. Is anyone able to explain why this happens and how to fix it? I would just use parental control software, but I’d rather not explain to my friends and family why its on the computer.

Nice article by the way

90 hex October 23, 2011 at 8:11 am

Hi good method, but still how do you stop being distracted from new websites not the old ones.

91 Jake October 23, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Hi everyone

I was wondering if there is a programm for mac/safari that works as well as leechblock. I use that on my brother and mine’s gaming tower. At work however we use macbooks.
Are there any (free?) programms that work as well as leechblock? Macfreedom and selfcontrol both only block out sites for while. I’d like to have them banned during the day.

thanks in advance
Jake

92 Chuck October 23, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I manage distractions by creating ‘work time slots’. This could vary from 45mins to 4 hours. I make a mental note to do only ‘work’ during that time period without getting distracted. If I manage to devote myself fully to work during that time, I reward myself by allowing 20mins of surf time, youtube time, google time, wikipedia time etc. Once the 20mins are up, I repeat for another work time slot.

If I fail to do work during the time slot, I don’t reward myself. Seems to have helped so far. I’ve spent 20mins reading this article and typing my comment. So see you in 3 hours :)……

93 Jeffrey Guterman October 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Good article. I recognize that the Internet, and the Universe at large, serve as distractions when I set out to get something done. My basic solution is, first, to carve out a limited time period for the task, usually no more than 60 or 75 minutes. Immediately after I complete my work during that 60 or 75 second time period, I evaluate my progress and determine what the next step needs to be for completion. I might choose to continue working, or choose to take a break and work later, or choose to schedule working at a much later time such as the next day, the next week, or the next month. Focus and planning is always the key.

94 Vincent October 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Great article! I struggle with this stuff myself. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people addicted to porn. The internet is all about instant gratification and wasting time in small bits. When our work is distracted our leisure is poisoned by feelings of not deserving it and nagging doubts about the work we need to do. Also, people need to have activities and things that excite them in life outside of media. Feel free to click on my name.

95 Vincent October 23, 2011 at 6:17 pm

One last thing that helps me is to come up with breaks from work that do not involvew internet, such as taking a walk.

96 Martin October 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I’m trying to edit the Host Files but it won’t let me save the changes at all, it constantly says I need to make sure the path and file name. What should I do to get it to save. Especially considering I’m in community college to be a System Information Security Specialist, this knowledge would be great to know.

97 Kurt Swanson October 26, 2011 at 12:42 am

So I downloaded Leechblock and went through all the steps…and it doesn’t seem to be working. Aaghh!! Anyone know what I might be doing wrong?

98 Raul Riera October 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

Haha, I have that same book you scanned the picture from, since I was a kid. Awesome book, by the way. Keep up the great work!

99 chris October 27, 2011 at 12:08 am

good article

100 Evan October 27, 2011 at 6:36 am

Amazing article. This website improves some aspect of my life every day! I just tried all three: concentrate, stay focused and nanny. I like nanny the best personally. It allows you the most customization so you can block certain websites Monday through Friday all day long and allot certain times of the day for the same(or different) sites Saturdays and Sundays.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter