How To Be Productive with Parental Controls

If you, like me, sometimes find distraction in anything and everything other than your work, paring down your digital workspace to maximize productivity can be a daunting task. Fortunately, Mac OS X comes with some built-in tools that you can use to combat your lack of willpower. These tools are cleverly disguised as Parental Controls.

Sure, OS X’s built-in Parental Controls may be used to monitor and limit your child’s usage of your Mac, but I’ve found that some crafty tinkering can turn this set of options into a powerful way of managing your distractions and keeping yourself on-task. The following set of steps is meant to be a guide on how to set up Parental Controls to increase your productivity, but feel free to amend the guide based on the distractions you need to eliminate most.

Create an Account

The first step to creating a distraction free digital work environment is to create a new account on your computer. Open System Preferences, click on Accounts, and click the ‘+’ to create a new account. Label your new account whatever you’d like and set a password if you feel the need — I’ve chosen to simply call mine “Work” with no password. Finally, make sure the “New Account” drop-down menu is set to “Managed with Parental Controls” and click the “Create Account” button.

Creating an Account

Creating an Account

On the accounts screen, make sure that “Enable Parental Controls” is checked, and that “Allow user to administer this computer” is unchecked (unless, of course, you trust yourself not to override your willpower protection!). Click on “Open Parental Controls” to configure the specific restrictions on your new Work account. These settings, of course, can always be changed in the Parental Controls preference pane.

Limit Applications

This step takes a little thought. You can use Parental Controls to only allow the use of specific applications on your new Work account, so you’ll have to consider the applications you’ll need for work. This, of course, depends on what you do. I’m a writer, so I’ve allowed myself the use of applications like Pages, Dictionary, and Safari, for research (Safari may pose quite a bit of temptation for distraction, but we’ll address that later). I’ve also allowed the use of applications like iCal, iTunes (for my work jams), Things (for my to-do lists), and Stickies (for notes).

Click on the Apps tab for your Work account, activate “Limit Applications” and check the boxes next to the applications you want to use in the “Allowed Apps” box.

Allowing Certain Apps

Allowing Certain Apps

What’s important to note here is that I’ve cut out all of my distraction-filled applications. My work account won’t allow me to use Twitterrific, Reeder (my RSS aggregator, which is the biggest distraction for me), Mail, and iChat. No movies, no games, and no casual communication when I’m in the zone. So consider the applications you need for work and the applications that will simply provide distractions, and set your allowed apps accordingly.

Limit Webpages

We live in the digital age, and a lot of the work that people do requires access to the Internet. You can limit all the applications you want on your own machine, but as your web browser is a portal to the limitless abyss of distractions, this is where remaining productive gets a little bit tricky. Fortunately, Parental Controls can help us with this, too.

Assuming that you’ve allowed access to Safari (or your web browser of choice, as it may be), move on to the “Web” tab of the Parental Controls preference pane. Check “Try to limit access to adult sites automatically.” This is a customizable option.

Limiting Web Access

Limiting Web Access

The approach we’ll be taking is opposite of what we did with apps: we’ll be choosing specific sites to restrict instead of sites to allow, since allowing the sites you’ll need for work might be quite a futile endeavor.

Click on “Customize” and that will bring up a dialog with “allow” and “never allow” fields. As you can see, I’ve chosen to “never allow” websites that might distract me, such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. This step might also take some consideration, as you’ll probably want to limit access to any sites on which you spend time unrelated to work.

Specifying Certain Websites

Specifying Certain Websites


Is this guide foolproof in making you a productivity machine? No. Hopefully these steps will help, but even the most procrastinatory un-workers can find ways to circumvent self-imposed restrictions.

Being productive and staying on-task with your work takes focus and discipline, and no amount of limitation can completely alleviate that. However, I’ve found that these tools have helped me eliminate distractions and stay focused, and hopefully they will help you, as well.

Best of all, they’re built right into our favorite OS!


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  • I’ve done as you recommended and cleaned up my new Dock to hold nothing but Pages and Sublime Text and some writing accessories. It’s nice, but now I wonder how you manage your files. Certainly you don’t save them to the local user account…

    I’m thinking Dropbox, or a note management service like Simplenote or Evernote.