Too much time online? Here’s an extension that’s helping me get control

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This is not a paid endorsement; I’m just passing along something that’s working for me.

I spend way too much time on social media, especially Facebook. Some of my friends suggested tips like “Just uninstall it!” or “Try spending more time outside!” My problem is that I truly need to be on social media to promote my blog and podcast, to interact with readers, and to get a sense of what people are interested in. I also use social media as a way of keeping up with the news, with culture and entertainment, and with spiritual reading. And, most of all, I like social media, because it lets me to spend time with friends and family, and to admire their pretty babies and show off mine, and to see and hear any number of things that make my life richer and nicer. AND BABY HIPPO VIDEOS!

So if I just quit, or cut it down to fifteen minutes a day, my life would change drastically for the worse. And it’s not always obvious when my work ends and my goof-off time begins; and anyway, goof-off time isn’t always a bad thing. I needed something that would help me get control without cutting me off altogether.

After scoping out dozens of apps and extensions, I tried out StayFocusd, which is a free extension for Chrome. It has done everything I was hoping it would do. I set it to let me be on Facebook for a certain number of minutes every day. (You can set it to block any site, or parts of any site; but Facebook is my main problem.)

A tiny angry eyeball is now on the top of my browser. When the Facebook tab is open, the eyeball is red;

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and if I click on the eyeball, it shows me a counter counting down how much time I have left.

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When I have a different tab open, the eyeball turns a less-threatening blue, and the counter stops.

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If the Facebook tab is open for a long time without any activity (as often happens, because I get pulled away from the computer by some kid emergency), it asks me if I’m still there, and pauses the counter until I answer it.

It gives you rather sassy messages designed to make you feel guilty if you try to access blocked sites after your time has run out:

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If you have time left and set it to increase your allotted time, it tries to dissuade you:

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and if you click “OK,” it tries again:

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It also praises you for decreasing your allotted time:

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It has a lot of features that I am not using, such as restricting which days and which hours of the day I can access sites; blocking sites altogether; requiring a difficult challenge before I can change any settings; and sensing up to five differently-timed warning messages when your time is close to running out. There is also “The Nuclear Option,” which “will block sites for the number of hours you indicate, independent of your Active Days or Active Hours. There is no way to cancel this once you activate it.”

Useful if you have a big deadline and can’t afford to goof off at all. You can also block just certain subsets of sites, like just logins or just images.

You can choose more than one site to time, but the timer keeps track of time spent on all timed sites (so you can’t give yourself, say, an hour on Twitter and an hour on Facebook; but you can set the timer for two hours and use it as you will). It says the guy is working on making an option for different timers for different sites.

StayFocusd doesn’t work on other browsers or on iPhones or iPads, but there is a paid app called Freedom that does. I haven’t tried it, so can’t review it; but if you use StayFocusd, you get a code for 40% off Freedom.

Now you know everything I know! It’s ideal combination of good technical design and a good understanding of human psychology. It’s easy to use, and has anticipated every way that people can cheat (as well as ways that people accidentally restrict themselves more than they meant to).

Every time I notice the little eyeball, I remember that I’m being timed, and I have to decide whether or not to keep using Facebook. It puts external controls on my behavior, but it also helps me remember to control myself, by doing things like deliberately leaving my devices behind when I move from room to room, not checking Facebook first thing when I get up or when I get home, and so on. Eventually, I’d like to establish such good habits of self-control that I won’t need an external controller, because it will have become so obvious that life is better without tons and tons of Facebook.

The first week, I gave myself more than enough time, and I aimed to change my behavior so that I had unused minutes at the end of the day. (Some days I succeeded, and some days I didn’t.) The second week, having gotten used to a few good habits, I decreased my allotted time, and I may do that again next week.

This could be a real boon for Lent.

Do you have a problem spending too much time online? Have you gotten control of your habit? What has helped you? I’m especially interested in hearing from folks whose work and leisure online activities overlap, as mine do.

 

6 thoughts on “Too much time online? Here’s an extension that’s helping me get control”

  1. So, about the baby hippo. Did you notice the name of the curator of mammals at the Cinncinati Zoo? Could you use your extremely powerful blogger powers to find out, just because it is interesting that that video came up this week, if she is related to the Supreme Court nominees?

  2. Wow! It has just the type of sense of humour I need. I also work from home, all by myself. I went from being a political staffer where I was in constant contact with someone (whether boss, colleagues, constituents or lobbyists) to lone tech writer. I use Facebook mainly for social reasons but I absolutely need the Internet for my tech writing work. I use Freedom but I find that sometimes I need to come up for air and Freedom doesn’t allow that. I like the idea of having a timer that gives me information on which I can act. Also I find that my goof-off time bleeds on my family to-do chores. For instance, i check Twitter while the water boils for the potatoes and next thing I know the water has boiled off, dinner is 30 minutes behind and the kids are eating off their shoes and each other.

  3. Thank you so much for the thorough review; I’m definitely going to try this. I’m seriously letting a lot of important stuff wither due to Facebook, but I also use it for all the same reasons you do (and yes, some goof-off time is good). I recently switched over to using Chrome, and will install this baby ASAP.

  4. I’ve been using this app on my home computer for the last year. I use the nuclear option and at 7:30pm my Chrome becomes completely unusable. If necessary, I can use Safari, but for the most part it’s a reminder to log off. I love it.

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