Writers & Productivity: Do you need an Internet Blocker?

No Internet signLike many writers, my new year’s resolutions revolve around being more productive during my writing time. And for some people, just setting their minds to this seems to make it happen. Not me! A few days into 2015, nothing had changed. I was still spending too much time daydreaming (a problem I blogged about here) and flirting with The Internet (despite my attempts at setting boundaries, we’re still seeing way too much of each other). Clearly, I needed to get my act together. But how?

AntiSocialSo I researched Internet blockers. Some like AntiSocial block social media sites (the biggest distractors), but allow access to other websites so you can still do research, post to your blog, or send and receive emails. Most of these programs let you choose which sites to block (aka blacklist). This is perfect for writers working on research-heavy projects like historical fiction. But this wasn’t enough for me. Even when I blacklisted Facebook and Twitter, I found myself online perusing Goodreads or the long-range weather forecast (it’s a Canadian thing). So I blocked those sites too, but still wound up the web, reading the news or researching where to buy new snowpants. Make it stop! I needed all Internet access gone. 

ForceDraftA writer friend on Twitter recommended ForceDraft, which is a text editing software that blocks all other programs on your computer, forcing you to write for a set amount of time or words. In a way, this isn’t so much an Internet blocker as a program blocker. It works because you can’t access your browser or any other programs on your PC when you are writing in ForceDraft. Perfect for people who get distracted by games! This is a good solution if you are straight up drafting prose, but not ideal if you want to write a specially formatted outline in a program like Scrivener or Word because you can’t use those programs while in ForceDraft. Plus, ForceDraft isn’t yet compatible with Mac computers, so that’s a no-go for me.

FreedomI have some screenwriter friends who use a program called Freedom, so I checked it out. The best thing about Freedom is its simplicity: all it does is block the Internet. You set the timer for 15 minutes or 8 hours, and start writing! Now, if you have an emergency and absolutely need to get back online, you can do so by restarting your computer. I like this option because I work freelance and if I receive a call from a client who needs me to do something online immediately, I can. However, restarting my computer is enough of a pain in the butt to deter me from doing this just because I have an urge to check Facebook. Note that some blockers have no way of getting back the Internet until the time is up. I decided not to take a chance with those.

[important]NOTE: Freedom has been updated in 2016! Besides a fresh new look, users can now select “Block Everything” or “Block Social” or make personalized lists of websites to block.[/important]

So far I love Freedom! You can use the Timer or the Schedule feature. (NOTE: For 2016 the Timer version is free, but the Schedule feature is part of the paid Pro version.) The Timer is simple – you select how long you want to write for, and click “Start Freedom.” And boom! You’re offline!

Freedom Timer

But my favourite feature is the Schedule. I blocked off chunks of time to write throughout the whole week, and then just hit “Set Schedule.” Now, every day when it’s time to write, Freedom literally boots me off the Internet!

Freedom Schedule

This solves my oh-I’ll-just-check-Facebook-for-another-five-minutes thing. It’s never five minutes. It always turns into an hour. And I don’t have the willpower to stop! Now I have a computer bot to have willpower for me. Thanks technology!

One Week Later…

After only a few days using Freedom, the colossal amount of time I spend online became painfully clear. Even though I had scheduled a total of THREE HOURS throughout each workday to spend on The Internet (checking and responding to email, Twitter, Facebook and blog stuff), I barely put a dent in it. I found myself desperately rushing to get through everything before Freedom kicked me offline (as it should – good Freedom!), but my overflowing Inbox made me anxious. Irrefutably, I had way too much online baggage! So I unsubscribed to newsletters and newsfeeds (I am now relying on the boyfriend to tell me the news at dinner) and started responding much faster to personal emails and messages (friends, please forgive any grammatical errors I may now be making).

All in all, this is a good start to 2015! I’m already more productive and spending much less time online, but I still have other ideas to boost my productivity further that I will tell you about next week. 

What about you? Do you use Internet blockers? What are your favourites? Have they helped you write more?

Next Up from HeatherWriters & Productivity: The 7 Deadly Do’s & Don’ts of Deadlines.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

13 thoughts on “Writers & Productivity: Do you need an Internet Blocker?”

  1. This is awesome! I tried Freedom a few years ago but my finicky modem didn’t like it. I ended up having to powercycle every time I wanted the Internet back, and that annoyed my roommates. 😀

    Then a year ago I signed up for RescueTime, which tracks your Internet usage and has a “focus” option where you can block the sites you have rated “Very Distracting” for a set amount of time.

    I like using ForceDraft, but since I’m currently doing my Draft 2 rewrite, I need to flip back and forth between a couple of files, and ForceDraft doesn’t allow that.

    You’re tempting me to try Freedom again. I love the idea of the scheduling feature. If I scheduled 8-10 pm as writing time every night and didn’t allow myself to get online… Wow.

    1. Yep, the schedule feature is amazing! I love the way it just disconnects my laptop’s Internet, leaving me no choice but to write. Because, you know, what else am I going to do if I don’t have Internet? 😉 Thanks for the comment, and good luck with Freedom! Hope it works as well for you as it does for me.

  2. Great to know of the Freedom option, Heather! I had to unsubscribe to a few newsletters, too. Then decided to set up an email just for following my favorite news/blogs, so it’s “filed away” for when I have a few minutes a day to interact. Write on!

  3. If I were writing anything other than communication designed to be posted on the Internet and get people doing things together on social media, the answer would be a big ol’ yes.

    I may in fact need it to to get ahead on some blog post drafts at some point. Will definitely think about it if I ever get back to writing fiction.

    1. For sure! Even setting the timer just for an hour helps. I didn’t realize how unfocused I was until I used this thing. Geesh. You’d think Internet communication was my job… but it’s not. 😉

      1. LOL. At some point, I am going to have to cut back and do some writing. But not yet.

        four photos, a video post, and an emailed submission edited and loaded gets Sourcerer set through all of this week and though the next Wednesday.

        Apparently, the Internet communication IS my job, lol.

        Thanks so much for your help this weekend!

  4. I have and use freedom but thanks to this post I’m going to use the scheduling feature which a never even knew existed. Yay!!

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