Even though that report is due by the end of the day, you just spend the last two hours watching Family Guy YouTube clips because you just can't help yourself. If you regularly find yourself clicking around Facebook, keyboard covered in drool, when you're supposed to be getting stuff done&mdashh;or better, going outside—it's time to break out the big guns. Restrained web surfing feels like an impossible feat for rabid infovores, but a Firefox extension called LeechBlock can help. Here's how you can save yourself from quicksand web destinations at certain times of the day with LeechBlock.
Install and Configure LeechBlock
Using Firefox, download LeechBlock, install it, and restart your browser. Now it's time to get honest. Which sites do you burn the most unproductive time on? Once you've got even just one offending site in mind, you're ready to go. To set up which sites to block and when, from Firefox's Tools menu, choose LeechBlock, then Options. A detailed dialogue box will appear, where you will set what sites to block and when.
First, enter the web site domains in the text area that you want to block, one per line. My first block list looked like this:
ask.metafilter.com flickr.com facebook.com twitter.com
Second, set the time periods LeechBlock should get between you and these sites. The morning is a good time to slog through the bulk of the day's work, so let's say you want to allow yourself recreational browsing only after 3 p.m. in the afternoon on weekdays. In the input box under "Enter the time periods within which to block these sites" use military time to enter time periods. For example, to block those sites between midnight and 3 p.m., enter 0000-1500. Alternately, you can set a number of minutes you're allowed to visit the sites per hour or day (i.e., I can only check my fantasy football team's progress for 15 minutes per day.)
Last, check off the days of the week LeechBlock should apply. Then, you can optionally set a "custom name" for your set of sites, like "Social Network Time Suckers," as shown below.
The advantage to giving a set of sites a custom name is that you can split up your recreational browsing blocks into different categories. Facebook and Twitter might go into your "Social Network Time Suckers" category, but the Wikipedia and Google News might go into the "News Browsing" category, whereas TMZ and Defamer might go into the "Celebrity Gossip Mongers" category. Each of these sets can have different block times and rules (all day, certain days, certain times of day, or so many minutes per day.)
Visiting a Blocked Site
Once you've saved your settings in LeechBlock, whenever you mindlessly hit that time-wasting bookmark, you'll see a message in your browser, as shown below.
That's your cue to get back to work and try again later in your allotted time.
LeechBlock can also keep track of how much time you spend at certain sites and limit it. (For example, if you only want to check your fantasy baseball league for no more than 15 minutes per day. See more examples of LeechBlock usage here.)
Adding Sites to the Block List
Once you've got LeechBlock running, you can add another site to its block list as you surf easily using the right-click context menu. Say you find yourself on Google's Video site, wasting away minutes of your life watching the skateboarding dog the same way you used to on YouTube. Simply right-click on the page (Cmd+click for Mac users), and from the context menu, choose LeechBlock>Add this site to [Block Set Name Here] . For example, if you've got an "Online Video" set of blocked sites, you could add it there, as shown.
Make It Difficult to Disable LeechBlock
Now, a particularly determined procrastinator might say, "If it's a block I can disable, I'll do it." If you find yourself blocked from a time-wasting site you insist on visiting (and to hell with your deadline), you could go into LeechBlock's options and undo the block. However, LeechBlock comes with a clever feature built to prevent just that. In LeechBlock's options dialogue, check off the "Prevent access to options for this block set at times when these sites are blocked." That means if it's during blocked YouTube time? You can't change LeechBlock's settings to let you in after all.
Along the same lines, you can set a password to get to LeechBlock's options area. (See the General tab of the Options dialog.) The purpose of the password is to throw up yet another roadblock on your way to procrastinating online. The LeechBlock developer says:
Note that the password feature is not intended for security purposes, but only to make it more difficult to bypass the blocking in haste—to delay you just long enough for your reason/conscience to wrest back control from your baser instincts! So a lengthy but memorable password will be most effective. Suggestion: try 'antidisestablishmentarianism.' It works for me!
Many thanks to LeechBlock's developer, James N. Anderson for taking our Invisibility Cloak idea and making it so much better with LeechBlock!
The following post was originally published in Chapter 5 of our new book, Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better.