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How to Create Friction from Time-sucking Websites/Apps

The Benefits of Unplugging for 24 Hours

So I’m one of those people who has always suffered from “hot boredom”. If I don’t have something to do right now I start freaking out a little. I start fidgeting and looking for anything to fill to the little break in activity.

Take, for example, when I am downloading a new game for my Playstation 4. While I’m waiting for the download to complete, either my laptop is by my side looking up strategies for the game I’m about to play or I’m on my phone checking my emails or taking my turns on Words With Friends.

One time I was messing around on my laptop and my internet started to lag and I caught myself scanning my email on both my laptop and phone at the same time.

To say that I’m a person who needs a forced period of unplugging is a vast understatement.

The first step to recovery, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. But being the obsessive person I am, I had to figure out exactly what my problem was so that I could really begin to take steps towards overcoming it.

In my quest towards solving this problem, I began to pay attention to all of the little call to actions that hijacked my attention.

The little buzzes, nudges, *bings*, and whistles emanating from my phone and laptop battling for just a little bit more of my attention. And, spoiler alert, they mostly work. In my research I learned that it isn’t some kind of mental weakness that we keep getting sucked back in … companies and corporations pay millions (sometimes billions) of dollars in fierce competition for our attention.

Grabbing our attention is a scientific process and, at the end of the day, if we don’t put things in place to prevent these companies from having access to us we are going to lose.

So, if resistance is futile, let’s look at some things we can do to block these attention-sucking parasites from the jump.

As it turns out, there are lots of super smart people who have come before me that have considered this problem which is great news because it means there are lots of awesome solutions out there that can assist you in defending yourself again those billions dollar titans of industry.

2. Reclaim Productivity with Focus App

My absolute favorite piece of software that I use on my desktop is called Focus (for Mac users only…sorry!). 

I use it in hardcore mode (which means there is absolutely nothing you can do to get to any websites you block) from 10 am to 6 pm and it totally blocks all access to websites and apps that cause me to stumble.


2. Block Time-wasting Sites with StayFocusd

Another plug-in that I use on a daily basis (for my windows laptop) is a chrome-based plug-in called StayFocusd. This app allows you to set a daily allotment of time on the attention-sucking websites and then you just unleash the beast. The only problem I have with this app is that it only works on Chrome and I can change my time allotment before the countdown hits zero.

I will admit that on my weakest of days I have worked around StayFocusd but, for the most part, it works very well in curtailing my impulsive lapses.

If you want to unplug for a day and don’t trust yourself not to slip (and why would you trust yourself, honestly?), you can make the thing go nuclear and block ALL websites for a specific period of time.

3. Have someone trustworthy to create and keep the password

For the desktop and laptop, those are my 2 go-to apps. But what about the siren call of that little rectangular block I carry around that I call a “phone” yet mostly use for things that are completely and totally unrelated to making phone calls?

This was a tougher nut to crack than simply downloading a piece of software but I have set forth certain roadblocks that create friction in regards to accessing my favorite time-sucks that emanate from my precious cellphone.

First, I no longer have access to any web browser on my phone.

While I may not be able to delete Safari outright, what I have done is have my wife’s password protect Safari so that I am persistently locked out like the little child that I am.

If I absolutely need to look something up I will hand my phone to her, have her put in the password, look it up, and then have her password protect it again. Yes, this is super annoying for my wife. And, yes, not annoying my wife so that I can google “That movie where Hugh Jackman was a magician” is a bonus level of friction that keeps me from backsliding.

As for the initial time-suck stated in the opening of this article, checking my email, my solution for that is a pretty simple one– I just delete the gmail app from my phone.

If I really want to check my email I have to download the gmail app, put in my email address and password, and then login. Once again, the added friction reduces the chances that I slip into any time-suck compulsively. I give myself a one hour window (6-7 pm at night) to check emails on my phone and also play my beloved “Words With Friends”.

I have also turned off all push notifications and anything else that has the power to disrupt my attention and lose focus on what I choose to be doing.

4. Explore and connect with the real world

I will use all of the aforementioned programs and tactics on my electronic devices and then take it one step further–I get the hell out of dodge. My wife and I leave everything behind at our house and spend the day exploring our city, running errands, or engaging in a hobby that we both love.

If we need entertainment we will pack some books to take with us (alright, maybe the Kindle which is technically an electronic but we let it slide).

My experience on these days is that I feel so much less pressure than I normally do.

I feel like I have so much time to actually pay attention to my fellow humans around me, feel the air on my skin, notice the smells of my community, and hear the sounds of life that I normally filter out. On these blessed unplugged days, I genuinely feel completely free.

It may be a strange way of thinking about it, but when I imagine retirement and enjoying the end of my life … these would exactly the types of days that I want my life to consist of. I really, really don’t want to be constantly glued to my phone or clicking around like a maniac on my computer.

I want to feel energized and truly connect with other people.

With all of that being said, the time leading up to these days can feel a little bit like torture.

I’ll equate it to taking a long bike ride that you know is going to leave your legs feeling rubbery and leave you mentally and physically exhausted. While you’re on your way to the trail, you’re dreading the mental and physical exertion you’re about to go through.

After the first couple of miles you’re telling yourself that maybe it’s ok to turn back because you’ve already done enough to get your heart pumping and that’s all you really need to do, right? Right?

But you keep going. You push through until, finally, you can no longer feel your ass and you aren’t exactly sure how much longer you can pedal. And then you pedal 100 more times and end up back at your car completely and utterly exhausted.

And then after about a half hour’s rest something magical happens and you start bearing the fruits of your labors. You find clarity and mental energy that you previously couldn’t access.

Your mood enhances and the earlier fog you felt starts to dissipate. You now ask yourself, “Why the hell do I not do this more often?”

These are the same exact thoughts you will have after you make it through the first half of your day unplugging. You will have mental clarity and amazing insights you wouldn’t have been able to have and feel an all encompassing calm that is impossible to feel while being plugged in.

You’ll be walking through nature or laying on your couch and ask yourself, “Why the hell don’t I do this more often?”

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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