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Online overload

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More! More! More! 24/7 connectivity is one of the defining features of modern life but what if you need a break? Download some distraction management software, says Mark Roper.

The smart phones, laptops and plethora of other mobile devices that surround us have obvious attractions and benefits. But do you ever find yourself or people you know having to constantly respond to the interruptions they generate? The alarms, alerts and constant stream of new information that these devices put in front of us demands time and attention which can sometimes work against our productivity, and make us begin to question whether the device is our servant or our master. If this is you then you are not alone, and recently a new breed of programmes has been developed to help you manage online distractions. Let’s take a look.

Free yourself

Freedom (www.macfreedom.com) for Mac OS and Windows is one of the more extreme versions of anti-distraction software you’ll find. It works by blocking all internet connections for a specified time, essentially returning you to the days before the internet. The only way to get back online is to hit restart which the manufacturers believe is the deterrent necessary to keep you focused – will you really stop what you are doing and reboot simply to check facebook? The perfect option for some, including top authors Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith, Freedom may be a little too radical for others, so read on. One-off cost: US$10 (HK$77) with five free trials.

Be anti social

Anti-Social (www.anti-social.cc), which is currently available only for Mac, describes itself as a utility that ‘turns off the social parts of the internet’. Once installed, Anti-Social allows you to list the sites you want to block. This means that you can still use the net for research but can render yourself ‘Twitterless’ for a while. You’ll be amazed how much you get done if you turn off your friends! When you have kicked the programme into action, the sites you have chosen will be blocked for as long as you want. The only way to unblock them is to reboot your computer. No permanent changes are made to the computer you are using, so it is completely safe. One-off cost: US$15 with a free trial.

Show self restraint

SelfRestraint (www.parker.kuivi.la/projects/selfrestraint.html) is simplicity itself and best of all free! There is a straightforward two-step process where the main input from you is to list the sites you want blocked, and for how long. After all, you may need to access some sites to get the job done. Note that once SelfRestraint is running there’s no turning back until the time expires. It is an open-source project, in the Beta trials, so still in development for Mac. If you are keen to try out this sort of software for nothing then this could be a good option. The developer (a student) is enthusiastic about feedback and even more enthusiastic for donations should you like the product! No cost but donations are welcome.

Write on

Sometimes all you want to do is turn your computer back into a typewriter. If so, then there are a variety of alternatives for both Mac and Windows. WriteRoom (www.hogbaysoftware.com), Dark Room (www.they.misled.us/dark-room) and Writespace (www.writespace.codeplex.com) are word-processing packages that give you a default full-screen mode, thus hiding menus and shielding you from temptation. These minimalist text editors hide further functionality, although basic editing operations are of course retained (think copy, paste, etc.). Get back to the simple beauty of you, the page and what you want to say. One-off cost: varies, free to US$10.

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