Whether we’re not paying attention or we just don’t want to deal with the world, we all have those moments when we realise … we’ve been on the computer all day. When this happens, you can beat yourself up for your lack of willpower (or sheer laziness), or you can turn to an application for help.
Whether you’re on a Windows or a Mac, there are plenty of tools you can use to encourage yourself to take a screen break—ideally, an extended one—so you can get off your butt.
Microsoft doesn’t have great screen-time controls built into its operating system—at least, not for regular people—but you have a few options. First, you can just be a total jerk to yourself and restrict yourself from logging in during certain time periods of the day. In other words, build in some forced away time.
Pull up an administrative Command Prompt (by searching for “Command Prompt,” right-clicking, and selecting “Run as administrator”). To set time limits for yourself, you’ll enter the following:
net user [your user name] /time:[day],[time]
As for those variables, [your user name] should be obvious; if not, pull up Computer Management from the start menu and find yourself under the “Local Users and Groups” option.
“Day” should also be obvious: “Su, M, T, W, Th, F,” or “Sa.” And time is in 12- or 24-hour format, your pick: “2pm” or “14:00,” for example. You can only set up your restrictions in hours, not minutes, so don’t try to get specific.
In my case, to block myself from using my desktop PC before bed on workdays, I’d do this:
net user davem /time:Su-Th,6am-8pm
This code would only allow me to use my computer on Sundays through Thursdays from morning until 8pm or so. Fridays and Saturdays are a free-for-all, since I didn’t specify any limits for those days. That said, this trick only stops you from logging in during the banned times. If you’re already logged in, Windows isn’t going to kick you out.
If the aforementioned trick doesn’t quite work for you, you can always take the slightly easier approach of setting up parental controls on your system. Make yourself a dummy “child” account and use the “parent” powers to set screen time limits for yourself. This might feel a bit silly—if not overkill—but it’s certainly one way to restrict what you do on a per-app basis. If you need a little help not playing games, it might be worth investigating.
Apps and extensions
There are a few decent apps and extensions you can use to self-police your computer time, too. Cold Turkey or StayFocusd can help you block websites that you spend way too much time viewing. Extend that to apps by trying out Freedom, though it’ll eventually force you to subscribe to the app—pricey, but maybe a small investment is what you need to actually stick to your productivity goals.
Though an app like focus booster won’t stop you from using any other apps on your computer, having a countdown timer for getting work done—or, conversely, allowing yourself a break—might be all you need to help you not turn a little online fun into hours of procrastination.
You have quite a few options if you’re looking to lessen the amount of time you spend retyping what you were doing on your MacBook’s terrible keyboard. I kid. Whatever you do on your Mac is your deal, but you don’t have to do it for so many hours each day if you don’t want to.
First, and easiest, is the built-in Screen Time features you’ll find in macOS Catalina. Pull up your System Preferences and click on Screen Time. You’ll see a window appear that looks a little like this (with many more hours logged than me, no doubt):
Once you’re done lamenting that you spent nine hours in your web browser today, click on Downtime. Turn it on, and you’ll be able to set a time period where only certain apps will be available to you—so, no gaming after 7pm, for example. Make your rules good, though, as you only get to sent one chunk of time like this.
If you don’t want to micromanage yourself quite that much, you can also use the App Limits section to define how much time you’re allowed in each category of apps each day. So, if you only want to allow yourself two hours of games each day, but don’t want to go crazy specifying a “gaming window” in which you’re allowed to play, just use App Limits. It’s way easier.
Similarly, if there apps that you need to use, but would rather they not get caught in your net of productivity rules, make sure you check them within the Always Allowed section.
And that’s it! Screen Time makes it easy to get control of your screen addiction by limiting how much you can use your favourite apps. You shouldn’t really need much more than this to get back on the path of productivity.
Apps and Extensions
I often see recommendations for RescueTime, which is a great app that helps you get a solid understanding of how much time you spend in apps—and blocks annoying distractions from affecting you. I’m not sure I’d cough up $US6 ($9)/mo in the name of productivity, but it’s an option if you need an even more robust tool than Screen Time to nag you about how much time you’re wasting on your Mac.
FocusMe is another solid app for blocking distracting apps and websites, thus freeing up your time to go do more productive things than sit in front of your computer. And perhaps paying for an app is the answer; are you more likely to ignore the free Screen Time, or listen to the warnings of FocusMe because you’re paying for the damn thing anyway. At least, that’s my thought pattern. If I blew $US149 ($222) on a lifetime purchase of a productivity app, I’d certainly pay more attention.
A number of people also seem to like Timing. I haven’t used it, but it does give you a free trial so you can feel it out before you sign up for a subscription. Its reports for everything you do on your Mac are comprehensive, but I feel like it’s more useful if you’re trying to track the amount of time you spend on specific projects—like, if you’re billing hourly for something for a client. I’m not sure how useful it is as a productivity tool in the “get off your computer” sense, but it’s an option.
I’m a fan of SelfControl, personally. This free Mac app lets you create a blacklist of distracting websites. Set a timer, and it won’t let you visit them until the timer has elapsed. Perhaps frustrating yourself is all the encouragement you need to go make something of your day. (Better yet, SelfControl keeps working even if you restart your mac or delete the app. Cruel, but effective.)