solution within the problem?
September 2, 2010 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Is there a site out there which would help me to pause, and hopefully walk away from my computer and do something else? My hand feels hardwired to click on Metafilter and a few other sites on my toolbar, which draw me into mindless hours of internetting. I am hoping to set an automatic muscle response which leads to a site which for whatever reason, jolts me into realizing I am staring at a computer semi-obsessively clicking things instead of walking around my city, or taping cardboard into strange sculptures, or taking part in the September Mefi running challenge, or even just quietly sitting bored.

I realize that a site along the lines of what I am imagining may not become as readily-clicked as others because I am not being gratified by instant information and stimulus, but perhaps it would lead to non-internet gratification, and therefore become a more clicked item. Any ideas are welcome, but I think I'm seeking something more aligned with a mental jolt, rather than a harsh visual or smug message.

As one example, the first thing I thought of was a Zen site of some kind, perhaps with particular quotes which would be jolting in some way, because I used to have a book that I often carried with me when I was younger with a traditional question/answer format which I found really interesting. That is just one tiny example. Even the most outlandish ideas are welcome (even if they have harsh visuals and smug messages.)
posted by thegreatfleecircus to Technology (20 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer, but for both our sakes I hope SOMEONE does.

Though for a while 100 pushups did it for me.
posted by hermitosis at 6:47 AM on September 2, 2010

Best answer: Maybe this "undistraction" site by Merlin Mann?
posted by inigo2 at 6:48 AM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I do exactly the same thing with a small handful of sites, and I don't think I could train myself to click on another site that jolts me into doing something else-- I need a reminder at the level of the problem sites themselves.

This may qualify as a harsh visual, but I use the LeechBlock add-on for Firefox-- you can set different "allow" times for different sites. I swear it's often a relief to click on, say, AskMe, and see the "blocked" symbol, and to think "oh, right-- I don't need to do that right now".

Unfortunately, though, I also use Chrome, and I'll admit here that I sometimes open it just to go to the blocked sites-- but only when I really don't have anything else that's pressing. Mostly.
posted by mireille at 6:54 AM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

Try these types of programs.
posted by JJ86 at 6:57 AM on September 2, 2010

I use Leechblock- you can set it to kick you to any page you set, so I've set it to go to my online to-do list when I click, oh, say, Metafilter, outside of my time-limits. Which reminds me, I should turn that back on..
posted by Erasmouse at 7:05 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: SelfControl shuts off internet for a specified period of time on a Mac (even restarting does not make it stop). Always available for Linux courtesy of Mefite Zengargoyle.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:08 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have an alarm clock next to my computer with 4 time settings. It goes off at various times all day to remind me to get up and do various things. It works really well for me.
posted by galadriel at 7:31 AM on September 2, 2010

Best answer: Get Back To Work.
posted by callmejay at 7:32 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The primary misconception in this questions is that your behavior is primarily a matter of "muscle memory" or however you want to characterize it when what is really at issue is a habituated pattern of mental behavior. As any veteran of habituated behaviors know, when presented with an obstacle, as long as the habit is intact, you will simply develop workarounds to the obstacle: in your case the workaround is so trivial (simply not visiting the distracting site) that it scarcely seems worth the effort of setting it up (by all means prove me wrong: be sure to post a follow-up when you've regained productivity).

Breaking a habit consists of identifying the habit, understanding its nature and extent and how it influences you, making a conscious decision to combat it, developing a set of strategies to answer the various triggers of the behavior and arguments to counter the various justifications you've developed for the behavior's continuation, and then (this is very important) quitting the behavior. I had a million gimmicks over the course of decades that were going to allow me to smoke cigarettes "just a little" and then one day I really realized that this would never happen, that the gimmicks were always about getting to the next one, no matter how much I knew it was the wrong choice. Tricks and gimmicks can help as long as they focus on NOT DOING the problematic behavior (as opposed to keeping doing it but in some kind of obtuse, ritualized context that supposedly sanitizes it from being part of the habituated problem), but there is no substitute for will power exercised in the context of a clear and well-considered decision.

posted by nanojath at 7:41 AM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My husband likes Workrave, which is actually a program that pops up at set times for two kinds of breaks: A 30-second break every 15 minutes or so to rest your eyes and adjust your posture; and a 5-minute break every hour or so that gives you instructions on stretching exercises to do. It won't "let" you use any other windows during your break unless you "snooze" it or turn it off.

You can configure it for different lengths of work and rest, and you could use that stop you after an hour (or whatever time) of mindless surfing. The reason I actually DON'T use it is that during the five-minute break I would without exception get up, wander off, and never come back. :) It will keep counting as a "break" all the time that you're NOT doing anything on the computer, and will start counting your "work" again when you start working again, so if you disappear for four hours and come back, it starts counting anew then.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:42 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Really good description of Workrave here. Also, you can set a daily computer time maximum, I'd forgotten that.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:44 AM on September 2, 2010

Is there an equivalent of Leechblock for IE? My work system uses IE and it would be so helpful to be able to block off certain sites and get things done.
posted by mippy at 8:21 AM on September 2, 2010

Response by poster: Nanojath: I think in many cases you would be exactly right, but in this case I respectfully disagree. The main issue is that I must be on the internet at various points throughout the day, so there is no opportunity for going cold-turkey. Also, I am not interested in never visiting Metafilter again, or never seeing what interesting topics spark my interest, and lead me to other things that spark my interest. I am therefore looking for methods which create exactly the situation which you suggest is ineffective: 'keeping doing it but in some kind of obtuse, ritualized context.' Basically, I have to 'smoke this cigarette just a little,' so I have to take that into consideration and work around it. I want some built-in concept (technological or habitualized-physical) to leap in halfway through the cigarette and remind me of the alternatives.

One last thing: my goal is not 'productivity,' it's keeping my eyes open to the physical world and not just glued to the screen. So my choices aren't Toiling vs. Entertainment, they are closer to Screen-Fun vs. Non-Screen-Fun, which I imagine might make a change more attainable.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:42 AM on September 2, 2010

mireille, the equivalent of Leechblock for Chrome is Chrome Nanny
posted by chrisamiller at 9:05 AM on September 2, 2010

When I was predominantly working on Unix systems and having RSI problems, I used Xwrits to forcefully remind me to take breaks from the computer. The Typing Injury FAQ linked to by the Xwrits main page has links to similar software for Macs and Windows boxes.
posted by thatdawnperson at 9:16 AM on September 2, 2010

Best answer: >One last thing: my goal is not 'productivity,' it's keeping my eyes open to the physical world and not just glued to the screen

In that case, I'd sign up to a very, very simple uncluttered to-do list site, like tadalist. On your list you could put:

> make something out of paper!
> go outside and take ten pictures!
> draw the cat!

Or whatever you like. Get Firefox, if you're not using it now, and Leechblock, and set it to redirect your 'timesink' sites to your list of non-computer activities. So when your muscle memory clicks 'metafilter' it will show you the list instead. Leechblock is extremely customizable, so you can set it to redirect the sites during specfic times of day or to allow you to use them 30 minutes out of every two hours, or whatever works best for you.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:19 AM on September 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Not technically minded here, but is there any way to set up a webcam, with a link in your browser along with your other ones so you'll actually click it, that will show you you just staring at the computer? That visual feedback would certainly jolt me.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:25 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't been able to find a hack for this problem, other than distracting myself before I get on the computer. But what might help is knowing that this behavior is not a shameful personal failing but just what happens when our hunter gatherer brains meet internet mind candy. It's a psychological phenomenon called seeking.
posted by malapropist at 11:30 AM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You've got me thinking about creating a webpage along the lines of Merlin Mann's that inigo2 linked above. It will be nothing but the text of the Evening Gatha recited to students nightly at a Zen monastery where I once did a retreat...
Let me respectfully remind you
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
Take heed!
Do not squander your life.
I will then edit my hosts file so every Metafilter domain, plus a few of my other key time and attention wasters, resolves to it.
posted by a young man in spats at 4:32 PM on September 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these fantastic answers. Erasmouse, I think your answer is absolutely perfect for my specific purposes. I've already started to set that up. I marked others best as well, since there are a lot of great ideas here that I'm sure others will find helpful. Thanks again, folks.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:03 AM on September 5, 2010

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