Most desktop software and web sites are built to grab your attention in one way or another, and the constant temptations are tough to resist. While modern computing offers amazing and infinite opportunities, there are times when we need to do heads-down, focused work like programming, writing or number-crunching. If the 28 overlapping windows, 38 open tabs and stacks of button-studded toolbars are keeping you from zeroing in on your important work, it's time to arm yourself with some attention protective devices. After the jump, get our top 10 desktop distraction blockers. Hilarious image by Asher Sarlin.
10. Hide the Dock or Taskbar
While it's simple to set your Mac's Dock or Windows taskbar to automatically hide itself without any extra utilities, MenuShade for Mac and AlphaXP Lite for Windows offer additional features: MenuShade hides the Mac top menubar (have a look) and AlphaXP Lite turns on mouse-triggered transparency on the Windows taskbar, as pictured.
9. Neutralize Noise with ChatterBlocker (Windows/Mac)
"Corporate Accounts Payable, Nina speaking. JUST a moment!" When the noise of your co-workers' conversations or the construction outside your window is driving you batty, set up some white noise to combat it. Previously posted Chatter Blocker (now available for Mac as well) cooks up custom noise neutralisation recipes to your liking.
8. Minimize Unused Windows with Swept Away (Windows)
Let your computer automatically do the work of cleaning up your desktop for you with Lifehacker's own background window minimiser, Swept Away. After a user-set amount of time, Swept Away quietly minimizes background windows so you can focus on the only one that matters—the one you're working in.
7. Isolate the Active Window with DropCloth (Windows) or Isolator (Mac)
Along the lines of Swept Away, window-focusing utilities DropCloth for Windows or Isolator for Mac black out everything on your desktop except for the currently active window. Similarly, the Clutter Cloak for Windows drills down further and can black out everything in a given window except a specified subsection (like a video frame.)
6. Isolate Singular Webapps with WebRunner (All)
Resist the temptation of browser tabs and chrome in "distraction-free browser" WebRunner, a stripped down Mozilla browser meant for running web applications as if they are standalone desktop apps. Here's 32 WebRunner-ready webapp shortcuts.
5. Minimise Your Word Processor
Microsoft Word's toolbar bloat and dancing paper clip got you putting off writing the Great American Novel forever? Try a stripped-down, "just write" word processor alternative like Writeroom for Mac or Darkroom for Windows.
4. Avoid Bacn, Spam and Other Low-Priority Messages with Strong Email Filters
Anyone who gets more than a dozen email messages a day knows that setting up some simple rules that shuttle Aunt Edna's kitten photo forwards to a low-priority folder is essential. Reduce the insane number of times your email client interrupts you per day with our essential email filters.
3. Proactively Configure Your IM Visibility
The best way to avoid "hey wot u wearin'" instant messages from strangers while you're on deadline is some tinkering with your IM client's default settings—like letting only your buddies see you come online. Check out our IM survival tips for how to be available via IM and focus on the task at hand.
2. Block Web Sites via the Hosts file
When you simply can't let yourself check MetaFilter one more time, you can force your browser to redirect time-wasting sites automatically by editing a special system file called
hosts. Here's more on banning time-wasting web sites with
hosts and the Invisibility Cloak Greasemonkey user script.
1. Limit Time-Wasting Web Sites with LeechBlock (Firefox)
Fine-tune your web site blocks even further with the excellent Firefox extension LeechBlock (which extends and improves upon the Invisibility Cloak). Set up separate block lists and allow yourself to indulge in them at certain times of the day with LeechBlock, too.
How do you focus when the web and your desktop apps are conspiring against you? Let us know in the comments.