In 2002, a book entitled Getting Things Done was published by author David Allen, to widespread critical acclaim and quickly began to amass an almost cult following. In it, the author set forth a method for improving the efficiency of work processes by employing time management techniques, task prioritisation, and concentration on the most important tasks. Ten years, and many improved work-flows later, Allen’s theory remains as prevalent as ever, but not necessarily in the state he first imagined.
Despite being the title of Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, or GTD, has since become the byword for any method of improving productivity, regardless of relevance to the author’s original. Allen’s paper-based method has become outdated in the ten years since its publication, and, largely in response to technological advance and the Internet, other more relevant GTD theories have emerged, such as David Sparks’ Paperless.
With the myriad of electronic devices that now dominate many work flows and work places, making distractions easier to come by—ahem, Twitter—new ways of boosting productivity have come about. However, not everybody has time to read, implement, and stick to a special system. So, how do we bridge this impasse? It’s simple: take away the Internet, or at least part of it. Intrigued? Find out more after the break.
Always Connected, Always Distracted
Despite the influx of tablets and so-called smartphones into both personal and working lives, desktop and laptop machines are still the dominant work device for the majority of people. In terms of the Mac, a strange evolution is underway. Owners of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad will have noticed the ever-increasing interoperability between their work and mobile devices—no longer are OS X and iOS entirely distinct platforms. With each new version of OS X comes further integration and commonly held features far beyond mere aesthetic parity. Perhaps one of the standout features of the recent Mountain Lion release is the incorporation of Notification Centre, taken directly from iOS.
The array of bleeps emanating from phones and tablets are a sure way of hindering a productive day, hence the popularity of silent and aeroplane mode; one switch and distractions are gone. The addition of Notification Centre on the Mac however, has added yet another hurdle to the distraction-free day, making disconnecting from the world increasingly difficult. Sure, notifications can be disabled but the temptation to procrastinate cannot—Facebook is always just one bookmark click away. The solution? Take away the Internet.
Freedom to Work
Take away the Internet? Ordinarily, such a phrase would warrant some stern posturing and elicit an emotional defence of our online liberty, but, rest assured, this particular proposition bears no evil intention.
By taking away the Internet I of course mean singular connections, not the entire World Wide Web. Further yet, routers need to be destroyed and nor do any broadband contracts need cancelled; such measures are a tad extreme. On the other hand, merely disabling WiFi is too susceptible to temptation and can easily be changed. The solution is the epitome of oxymoronic—temporary permanence—a temporary Internet connection block, with no workaround, for a set period of time before returning the connection. Luckily, I know just the thing: Freedom.
Freedom can block a connection for anywhere between 15 and 480 minutes depending on how long a particular task will take. Freedom exemplifies the temporary permanence I spoke of earlier by preventing users getting around it for the set period of time before re-enabling the connection; the block may be temporary, but it has a permanent effect when set. The timer runs via active computing minutes only to prevent sneaky users putting a Mac to sleep in the hope the timer will run its self down. There really is no way out.
Avoiding the Internet and concentrating on tasks with shear willpower would of course be the easier option but, for some, such an ability is not held. The proverbial Internet rabbit hole is all to easily fallen into, and drastic action can help prevent taking a trip. By blocking the entire Internet connection there is no way to spend hours archiving and filing email, scrolling through Twitter, or looking up 2012 doomsday predictions—no, just no—leaving you free to get on and get things done.
Access to local networks does not necessarily need to be infringed upon by Freedom as it gives the option to leave those avenues open, leaving the app open to those who need local access. All in all, Freedom is fairly simplistic and minimalist in terms of features with only one goal: enabling productivity. However, the Internet is not an enemy, nor need it be a distraction. In fact, the Internet has almost become an absolute necessity in the 21 century with many dependent on it for work.
Personally, having used Freedom for months, having complete and unadulterated access to the Internet when at work is something that happens very rarely, and every time the same old habits return. There are occasions when such access is needed for research and reading purposes, and, as such, the utmost discipline is required to stave off procrastination. However, there is yet another solution: take away some of the Internet.
Let’s Be Anti-Social
It doesn’t take a behavioural scientist to work out that social networking, email, and IM are amongst the biggest distractions faced today. Escaping those distractions and getting things done can be a difficult task, and, for those who need an Internet connection, Freedom can’t help. However, fear not, there is always Anti-Social.
Anti-Social works in an almost identical manner to Freedom with only a couple of fundamental differences. Rather than blocking the entire connection, Anti-Social asks for individual websites to be restricted allowing users to retain access to the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times—you name it, Anti-Social blocks it.
The app can prove to invaluable for those susceptible to procrastination but require the Internet for research purposes, as I found out when writing my dissertation! The process of selecting websites to be restricted can be cumbersome at times with each domain needing to be typed out individually; however, each new session automatically remembers the previous list used to be added to or altered negating the need to select them all again.
By default, Anti-Social also prevents email from pushing to Mail.app or any other dedicated client. However, there is an option to allow email to flow whilst still blocking specific sites if needed; an option I never entertain given the hours that can be spent sorting email. Perhaps the only downside to Anti-Social is the lack of a lists feature that allows for multiple lists to be created containing a different selection of websites to be alternated depending on browsing requirements.
Productivity is not a commodity that can be bottled and sold, nor does it possess a universal meaning. Special methods and philosophies can be a great help for some, but for others simple tools like Freedom and Anti-Social can help deliver instant results. It can be easy to scoff at the need for such apps, and if some have the resolve to remain concentrated for hours that’s great, but for those who don’t there is nothing to lose. At $15 for Anti-Social, $10 for Freedom, or $20 as a bundle the money spent is more than made up by the work the apps can help get done.
Simple apps to help users with productivity by blocking an internet connection. Freedom is available for $10 and Anti-Social for $15. Bought together as a bundle both apps cost $20.9