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A Windows App that helps you block distracting websites, time your work sessions, and improve your focus.
How to Stop Procrastination & Increase Your Productivity NOW!
Window Blocker is a software tool that prevents distracting websites and apps from opening on your desktop. This allows you to tune-out distractions, and concentrate on your work!
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Do you have trouble concentrating online? What if you could prevent distracting websites from opening while you're working? Have you ever been in this situation: You've just got home from school or work, and now, it's time to write a paper or do some homework. But first, you glance at Facebook or your Gmail inbox. And what do you see? Your friend has sent you a link to a post about Paris Hilton. Since you're a good friend, you dutifully examine the article and write out a 500-word reply.
Your friend reads your reply and immediately Skypes you her response, followed by another wave of requisite links--this time to Wikipedia. This prompts a spirited exchange about the existential implications of celebrities on Twitter. To which another friend responds with a volley of essential YouTube links.
You breeze through each video and ultimately end up spending another hour searching for the perfect kitten video. But now, two hours have gone by and of course, you haven't gotten anything done.
Well, that's why we created Window Blocker.
Window Blocker is a Time Management application for Windows. Once started, it tucks itself away in your Microsoft Windows Taskbar. And then, you simply type in a list websites that you'd like to block. Then you set the timer and get to work. Block all distracting websites like:
It's easy. If your willpower ever gets low, and you reach over to start up YouTube again, don't worry. Because as soon as Window Blocker sees the YouTube browser window, it'll kill it.
You're not allowed to access any distracting websites until your timer is up. See? Window Blocker has a built-in Pomodoro Timer.
What's a Pomodoro Timer? You may have heard of the "Pomodoro Technique." If not, the concept is very simple.
But just having a simple Pomodoro Timer alone is not enough!
Because nobody has the willpower to resist kitten videos on YouTube. So there is where the magic of WindowBlocker happens. Because WindowBlocker is a:
Pomodoro Timer + Website Blocker
Meaning that, for your 25-minute work session, no distracting websites will be allowed to open! The best way to defeat these distractions, is to eliminate them!
And that is exactly what Window Blocker does.
Window Blocker works in all the top Web Browsers:
How to focus your mind, concentrate on your work, stop procrastination, and increase your personal productivity in a digital world.
Why do we put things off until the last minute?
How do we stop procrastinating?
How do we be more productive?
As you can probably imagine, many people have attempted to answer these questions in a variety of ways. Much has been written about these topics. But, the first part of the solution is pretty obvious. And that involves the simple act of eliminating distractions from your workstation.
Imagine that you had to write a ten page book report for school. Your report is due on Monday and let's suppose that on Sunday afternoon, an evil scientist locked you in a plain white room. This white room is completely free from distraction. It contains:
The only thing in the room is your book, and a desk, and a pen, and some paper.
Further, suppose that the evil scientist told you that he'd only let you out of this white room, once you completely finished your book report.
Now close your eyes, and try to place yourself in this room. Think back to your early school days. Remember when you knew that you had the entire weekend to finish your report. But you somehow always managed to put the work off until Sunday. And even when you finally got to it on Sunday afternoon, you'll probably remember procrastinating. Fiddling around with various objects in your room, eyeing your book cover, and desperately trying to avoid sitting down to work.
Now imagine how things would have turned out if this younger, schoolboy version of yourself was actually shoved into this white room.
I think it's pretty clear that in such a scenario, you would have had a much easier time dealing with procrastination and overcoming distractions. Because there's literally nothing else in the room to occupy your thoughts. There isn't even any sound! (Did I mention the walls were soundproof?) There's nothing in this room for you to play with.
Our brains have an insatiable desire to seek out novelty. We have been programmed to pursue activities that result in pleasurable sensations--no matter how fleeting, or how useless, (or even how bad for us), these little mental pursuits may be.
So, if we could simply eliminate all other stimuli from our environment (as we've done in this thought experiment), then our brain would have a much easier time focusing on our work. Why? Because there's nothing else in the room for our brain to focus on anyway!
We're not giving our brain a choice in the matter.
So, eliminating distractions is the first step. It's not the only step, but it's the first step.
And unfortunately, most people will never get this far. They're going to leave a distracting application (like Facebook) running on their PC's desktop background as they work. And, their brains are going to want to glance at it every five minutes because our brains are designed to secrete a neurophysiological response to social stimuli (particularly dopamine).
Most people don't realize this, and they will never fully comprehend how much time their losing per day.
Most of the wasted fuel in your car comes from starting and stopping--the act of repeatedly accelerating and breaking. When you drive at a constant speed your car engine is much more efficient and uses much less fuel.
"Quick acceleration and heavy braking can reduce fuel economy by up to 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent around town."
The same thing happens to you when you're working through a task. Every time you get distracted and stop working, you're reducing your productivity.
But, unfortunately, this is how most people work. Their brains are introduced to a constant barrage of distractions all day long, and a task that could have taken one hour to complete, might easily end up taking five hours.
So I hope it's apparent now how important it is to eliminate distractions from your workstation. But this is easier said than done. Because, in the real world, nobody is going to lock you in a white room until you finish your homework.
And, in the modern era, nobody writes their "book report" with a pencil and paper anymore. We spend our entire lives hooked to a magic box. These amazing gadgets called "computers." And, in turn, the computers are tied to an even more amazing gadget called "The Internet."
So, while it might have been possible to eliminate distractions a few decades ago, it's almost entirely impossible to do so these days. Because when we sit down to work, we're sitting down in front of this machine--which is (quite literally) the most distracting device ever invented in the history of mankind. (Especially given the advent of social media.)
When you sit down at a typical office workstation, you're hooked up to a million distractions like:
So, how can we ever hope to get any work done?
I hope the problem we all face is becoming apparent. The problem might be summed up in one sentence:
The device we use for work, is also the device we use for play.
We can use our computer to build a space ship. Or we can use our computer to waste our life away playing solitaire and watching kitten videos. That's a problem. Because we're setting ourselves up for disaster if we can't find some way to keep the "play time," separate from the "work time."
And that's why I had to sit down and develop my own Time Management app: Window Blocker. Basically, it's a program that you use to prevent other distracting programs from opening while you're working.
That's one part of the solution but let's talk about some others.
So here is the first part of the secret sauce. If you understand these two concepts, then you'll be well on your road to defeating procrastination for good. The trick, is to understand what Cognitive Psychologists call:
Let's start with the first one:
Mental fatigue is when your brain is tired. Of course. In the last 25 years, there's been some amazing research which has revealed some odd findings about the effects of fatigue on the brain. The experiments themselves can be pretty complicated. But the results are clear. Basically these clever scientists have figured out that:
"When your brain gets tired, it starts to suck."
Particularly important, is how rapidly the following skills will fade, as you get tired or hungry (or both):
These are the four things you need, to be a productive human being. But, unfortunately, these are the four things that fade as we get tired.
Now, this isn't a very controversial statement. You've probably noticed this yourself. When you first come to work in the morning, then you've probably realized that your will to "dive into a task" is more readily accessible. The brain is able to "muster up" your willpower in the morning. Complex tasks seem easier in the beginning of the day
As the old saying goes:
"Things always look brighter in the morning."
I think everyone has experienced that to some extent. But, there has been some new and very interesting research which shows that our brains succumb to the effects of fatigue a lot quicker than we might realize, and, fatigue affects our mind in very peculiar ways.
Even highly intelligent people, and people working in very important careers, still can rapidly suffer from the detrimental effects of mental fatigue. Even just mild mental fatigue (as one would encounter in a typical office environment), still rapidly takes its toll upon our mental states.
In 2010, researchers from Columbia and Ben-Guron University publishes a paper humbly entitled "Extraneous factors in judicial decisions." Their findings were more than a little disheartening. Basically, they found that a judge will grant parole to approximately 65 percent of the cases he receives after his lunch break. However, just before his lunch break, the chance that the judge will grant parole approaches zero.
I hope this results scares you as much as it scares me. These judges are supposedly highly educated and responsible citizens. They're paid to be! And yet, they are actually deciding to keep other people in a jail cell (in-part) based on if they have (or have not) gone on their lunch break yet.
Why does this happen?
Because right before their lunch break, these judges are suffering from the same mood altering effects that we all suffer from. They are tired and hungry.
Fatigue (and perhaps the amount of glucose in their blood stream) is affecting their mental state, and, in turn, their decision-making abilities.
I hope this experiment drives home the point, regarding how precious your own mental resources are. You have to learn to guard them. You must protect your own time and brain power--in the same way you would protect your own bank account. Because, as many famous people have said:
"All the money in the world will not buy one second of time."
This is sometimes attributed to Thomas Edison, but many, many others have said the same thing.
"We can't buy one minute of time with cash; if we could, rich people would live longer." - O. Henry
"You can't buy time or save it, common idioms notwithstanding. You can only spend it." - Eric Zorn
"Time will take your money, but money won't buy time." - James Taylor
"Lost time is never found again." - Benjamin Franklin
"The one thing you can't buy, find, or create is time." - Michele Bachmann
Your time is the most valuable thing you own when you come into this world. And the amount of time wasted per day is a real tragedy.
So one of the most important principles in improving your productivity lies in remaining ever-cognizant of your own current level of Mental Fatigue. Particularly, learning to order your tasks, so that the most difficult chores are accomplished at the beginning of the day--when your brain is still nice and fresh. Or, in the least, you want to be sure to schedule periodic break times, and do the more complex tasks after you've given your brain a break.
But now let's talk about the second principle from our list: Dynamic Inconsistency.
The term "Dynamic Inconsistency" is a fancy word which basically means that, what we decide at Time A, is not what we're going to decide at Time B.
For example, when you're driving home from work at 5pm, you might remind yourself of the benefits of exercise. And, you might decide to lift weights as soon as you get home.
But, an hour later, when 6pm actually comes, you may decide to merely watch reruns on T.V., and you won't exercise at all.
This is what humans do. It's what we all do.
Humans behave inconsistently:
What we decide to do now, is not what we'll decide to do in the future.
So the goal in Time Management, is to trick our Future Self into doing what our Present Self wants us to do. Our Future Self is a tired and whiny person. And he's not going to want to do anything--except play on Facebook, and talk on the phone. One of the keys to successful living (in everything we do in life) is the ancient Greek phrase (or the Latin version of the phrase):
Often translated simply as: "Know thyself."
In other words, you should be constantly performing the chore of introspection--in a never-ending attempt to know your own mind better.
You have to always be thinking about how the Future You is going to react to an upcoming situation. We have to come up with a way to outsmart this future person. Because he can be very flaky and lazy.
And to do this, we need to borrow a term from Game Theory. We need a "Commitment Mechanism."
So what is a commitment mechanism?
It's just a system that we setup now, so that our Future Self will be committed to doing what we want him to do later.
Here's a famous example:
In the Odyssey, Odysseus really wants to hear the Siren's beautiful song. But Odysseus knows that when his Future Self hears the song, he will not be able to resist temptation. He's going to go mad with lust and he's going to crash his boat into the island rocks.
So, to avoid this catastrophe, Odysseus uses a commitment mechanism. He puts wax in his men's ears and he ties himself to his ship's mast. And he tells his men not to untie him, until the Sirens are gone. Odysseus is a smart guy. He knows himself, and he knows how his brain is going to react when faced with the temptation of the Sirens. So, Odysseus utilizes a commitment mechanism to save his own life.
In the same sense, when we want to overcome mindless temptations at work (like Facebook and YouTube), we need to use a commitment mechanism too. We need some way to keep our Future Self "tied" to our work.
I'll be talking more about the commitment mechanism I built ("Window Blocker") later. But first, we need one final piece to the Time Management puzzle. And, you may have heard of it before. It's called the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo over 30 years ago. It's a very simple Time Management technique with just four steps:
You'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish just by using this simple method.
If you can actually get through just eight 25-minute Pomodoros per day (that's a measly four hours of concentrated work), then, you're probably doing better than the vast majority of all office workers on the planet. The November 2012 issue of Forbes Magazine had an article about the Salary.com productivity survey, and quoted the CEO of ContentWatch, Russ Warner, as saying:
"Simply put, the average employee admits to wasting anywhere from 2 to 3 hours a day."
Now remember, that's how much time the employees were actually admitting that they waste. Not how much time they actually waste. People tend to think they're being productive even when they're not. And further, this number doesn't include lunch times and break times either.
So, don't be too hard on yourself if you struggle with productivity and procrastination. Most people on the planet are not very productive at all. And this will become increasingly apparent to you when you start getting into Personal Time Management. You'll start to notice the mistakes your coworkers are making at their workstation.
You'll begin to realize how much time people waste each day--as they're dealing with interruptions and mindless distractions--particularly digital distractions from the internet.
Now, one of the problems with the original Pomodoro Technique is that it was invented in the 1980's. That was before the days of The Internet, and the prevalence computers in the workplace. Back then, people used to still do a fair amount of work atop their desk--without digital distraction. (They weren't tied to computers all day long like we are now.)
But these days, it's much more difficult to implement any time management technique. Because, all the devices in the modern office are connected to The Internet all the time. And we have a plethoray of new distracting inventions among us--like YouTube, Facebook, Email, and Skype. Hence, the willpower required to simply concentrate on your work (particularly at an Internet-enabled PC), has grown substantially.
Unfortunately, PC's don't come with a way to block these distracting applications from starting while we work. And, of course, that's why I created Window Blocker. Window Blocker allows you to prevent non work-related windows from opening on your PC.
So, while you're using the applications that you need for work (like maybe Microsoft Word or Excel), Window Blocker will block the distracting applications that you should not be using (like YouTube and Facebook).
So, I hope you can see why this is a major asset in the battle for attention. Window Blocker combines both a "Pomodoro Timer," and, a "Commitment Mechanism."
When you start Window Blocker's timer, then you're committing yourself to a distraction-free work environment. Because, if your brain ever starts to sway from its goal, it doesn't matter--because Window Blocker won't let any distracting apps run until your work session is over.
So, just as Odysseus tied himself to his ship, Window Blocker allows you to tie yourself to your work.
Let's try to tie these concepts all together. We've introduced some important items:
Mental Fatigue happens when your brain gets tired. You have a limited amount of cognitive resources per day. And these resources will fade with each passing hour. So you have to remain aware of this and be sure to stack your most complicated tasks toward the beginning of your day, (or after your "break times")--after your brain has had a chance to recharge.
And you must give your brain a chance to recharge. It's not healthy to force your brain to keep working constantly. You need to take little breaks throughout your work day, and that's why we use a Pomodoro Timer. Because it directs us to concentrate on our work for a firm amount of time, and then allows us to take a brief break--to recharge our mind.
Dynamic Inconsistency refers to the phenomenon in which: what we decide to do at Time A, is not what we're going to want to do at Time B. So while we're engaged in a work session, we have to use a Commitment Mechanism to make sure that we stay "on-task." Our "Present Self" makes a decision to implement the Commitment Mechanism, to prevent our lazy "Future Self" from getting distracted and wasting time.
When we understand how our brain works, and, when we use a commitment mechanism, in conjunction with a Pomodoro Timer, then that's when the magic happens. This is the cure for procrastination. This is how you can triple your productivity overnight.
This is what worked for me.
You may have heard of Dr. Walter Mischel's famous "Stanford Marshmallow Experiment." In this experiment, kids were given a marshmallow (or sometimes a cookie or a pretzel) and told that if they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, then they'll get two marshmallows.
So decades later, they tracked the kids from the experiment down. And, the ones who were able to resist temptation (the kids who were able to avoid eating that first marshmallow for 15 minutes), had:
So, your ability to simply "stick to something," is perhaps even more important than your IQ, or your level of education. There was another revealing study by Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth and Patrick Quinn (Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania), published in their paper titled: "Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale."
The Grit Scale is just a short personality test--that attempts to measure how much "perseverance," "hardiness," or "resilience," you have. In other words, it's a test of how much "True Grit" you have. (It was named after the original 1969 cowboy film with John Wayne.)
And as it turns out, GRIT is pretty important to your success. This brief personality test was able to somewhat predict:
Now keep in mind, that the GRIT test often beat the IQ test. As they say in their paper:
"In four separate samples, grit was found to be either orthogonal to, or slightly inversely correlated with intelligence."
In other words:
"Intelligence isn't enough."
Your ability to succeed at something may be less about how "smart and talented" you are, and more about your ability to simply "stick with" something.
To just "stay the course" and do the work.
You can take the Grit test now to gauge your own level of "True Grit."
Please respond to the following 8 items. Select one answer per question. Be honest. There are no right or wrong answers!
1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.*
2. Setbacks (delays and obstacles) don't discourage me. I bounce back from disappointments faster than most people.
3. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.
4. I am a hard worker.
5. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue (follow) a different one.
6. I have difficulty maintaining (keeping) my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.
7. I finish whatever I begin.
8. I am diligent (hard working and careful).
For questions 2, 4, 7 and 8 assign the following points:
For questions 1, 3, 5 and 6 assign the following points:
If you're going to get serious about The Art and Science of Time Management, then you're going to, of course, need some timing tools. Fortunately, these days, there are all sorts of timers, buzzers, counters, and clocks on the market.
But, before we get into the "meat and potatoes" of exactly how to use these tools to fight procrastination and increase your focus, I'm going to talk about some of the timing tools that serve a supportive function to our overall goal of productivity.
As you know, I have my own Time Management tool called "Window Blocker." And it combines many of such supportive timing tools into one software app. When I first started building it, I realized I had several timer apps on my PC already--that were doing many different functions. I was using:
So, I've managed to combine all of these into one app. But regardless of which app you use, let's discuss why these are important
Now if you're a writer then you may already be familiar with various "Write or Suffer" applications on the internet. Basically the principle is this:
When you stop typing, the app will play an annoying sound.
So obviously the goal here is to keep you typing, and never allow your attention to stray from the page.
In his book "Do the Work" author Steven Pressfield said:
"...there's no such thing as writing, only rewriting. This is true. Better to have written a lousy ballet than to have composed no ballet at all. Get your idea down on paper. You can always tweak it later... One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP. Don't worry about quality. Act, don't reflect. Momentum is everything. Get to THE END as if the devil himself were breathing down your neck..."
So often, when you're writing a paper, half the battle is just getting those fingers to move. And when faced with the threat of such an annoying cacophony of sound, then you have an obvious motivation to keep typing.
I like to glance at my Birthday Clock every couple days because they act as a constant reminder of how old you are. Or more appropriately, they remind you of how much time you have left on the planet.
You're most productive years are pretty much between the ages 20 and 50. This is when your brain is most neurophysiologically healthy. So it's important to take this into consideration in your life plan. And to try to plan accordingly during this time period. Because these are your most precious and creative years.
Recall that Mental Fatigue simply refers to the tendency for your brain to perform at sub-optimal levels, as it gets increasingly tired throughout your workday. Hence, it's helpful to remain ever-aware of exactly how long we've actually been working.
When I start work in the morning I "punch in." I simply click Window Blocker's blue "Punch Clock" button. And, the app will maintain a counter of how many hours, minutes, and seconds have passed
This is important because, as your workday goes by, your brain's ability to harness these four traits decreases:
You can imagine these four properties on a graph. And when you first sit down for work in the morning, your ability to perform these functions is about as high as possible. But after the first couple hours of the day, these skills will start to taper off.
I know that I have about 16 hours of "waking life" per day. But, I know that my brain will only be able to operate at optimal performance for the first few hours of the day. Because Mental Fatigue will start to take its toll.
Now there are ways to combat Mental Fatigue of course:
But ultimately we all have to go to sleep eventually. So throughout your workday, it's healthy to remain ever-cognizant of exactly how many hours of productivity your brain has left.
Now, this is different for everyone. Personally, I know that by the time hour 10 comes around, I have to be very careful about which new tasks I'm going to introduce to my brain. Because I know from experience that it's hard for my brain to keep tackling new and complex tasks later in the day. My brain is just too tired.
Your first several hours are often your best hours so it's important to stack your more difficult tasks up front. This notion is really driven home in the book "Your Brain at Work" by Dr. David Rock.
"We have a limited bucket of resources for activities like decision making and impulse control...and when we use these up, we don't have as much for the next activity." Make one difficult decision, and the next is more difficult. [Your brain] requires a lot of power to run, and this power drains as you use it...When you get to two o'clock in the morning and can't seem to think, it's not you--it's your brain. Your best-quality thinking lasts for a limited time. The answer is not always just to "try harder."
So, the Punch Clock works in a similar fashion to the fuel gauge on your car. When you're driving your car cross-country, you always have to remain aware of how much gasoline is left in the tank. So, throughout your trip, you're always glancing down at the Fuel Gauge and doing brief calculations in your head--trying to determine how long you can keep driving for.
It's the same with a Punch Clock. Throughout your work day, you glance at it and you can approximate how much mental energy you have left.
Recall again, our two biggest enemies in Personal Time Management.
The "Punch Clock" is designed to address issue one--Mental Fatigue. It's your own personal fuel gauge and it lets you know when you're running low on brain power.
So how do we fight against Dynamic Inconsistency?
Recall that Dynamic Inconsistency is the tendency for human beings to make inconsistent decisions. We decide to exercise at Time A. But, then, we decide to play on the internet at Time B.
We sit down at our computer to type our paper. And, we tell ourselves that we're not going to take a break until (at least) the first three pages are done. But, after working for five minutes, we decide that right now would be a great time to checkout Facebook, and Skype, and other bits of useless information on the internet.
So to prevent ourselves from wasting all this time, we need to use a "Commitment Mechanism." (A mechanism that will force the Future You to "stay on task," and finish your work.)
Now we have already mentioned the Pomodoro Technique. Recall that the Pomodoro Technique is a simple procedure for managing your work sessions. You set a 25 minute timer and then focus on your work (and nothing else) for that block of time.
This technique will help you divide your day into concentrated time intervals. That's good. But it's not enough. You also need a way to prevent distracting applications or websites from running on your PC.
The real trick to productivity in the age of social media, is to use a "Pomodoro Timer" and a "Website Blocker" together. At the same time. So whether you use Window Blocker, or you use one of the many website-blocking browser plugins, use something! You need to somehow put your computer into a state in which distracting apps simply cannot be opened.
This is the little trick that will hopefully multiply your own personal productivity--as it's done for me.
And mentioned, if you can just do about eight Pomodoros per day, then I'm pretty sure you're doing way better than most office workers. Most people in a modern office are not very productive at all.
They fritter around all day jumping from distraction to distraction. And, they don't realize how much time they're wasting. But, even if they did--even if they wanted to stop wasting time, they don't have a tool to block out these distracting apps anyway.
It's a never-ending battle between our higher brain and our lower brain. Between what we know we should do, and what we actually do. The term "lower brain" is an oft used abstraction--representative of the more "reptilian" corridors of the brain. Ancient centers which were crafted millions of years ago, and contain are most base and fleeting desires. It is only via discipline and ingenuity that we're able to use our "higher brain" and overrule the lower brain's constant whining.
But, fortunately when we use a Commitment Mechanism, then you don't need much willpower to focus. Because, if you've set up your computer right, then your distracting apps will not be allowed to run anyway
That's the genius of a Commitment Mechanism. A Commitment Mechanism allows you to "take the man out of the loop" as engineers say. Meaning that our device operates so reliably because it does not rely on a human. i.e. It is not susceptible to the unpredictable emotional behavior of human beings.
The mechanism will ignore the pithy desires of your Future Self for the next 25 minutes--because our mechanism will terminate any distracting apps that your Future Self attempts to open anyway.
We're forcing our Future Self to stick to his work!
And, your ability to simply "stick to something," in the face of temptation, is a major contributor to your personal success.
The amount of time we waste is a tragedy. (I probably used to waste more time than anyone.) So, I hope I've convinced you to apply some of this information throughout your own work day. Or at least, I hope I've peaked your interest to learn more about "Personal Time Management."
But, whatever you do with this information, please don't resign yourself to merely wasting your life away on "the games and amusements of mankind" (as Henry David Thoreau says).
Do something productive with your time.