Working while watching movies, going to amusement parks, or hanging out with my friends is difficult for me. So why do I believe I can complete tasks online?
Yes, the internet is a location where work is done, but distractions are never far away. You may argue that this is a matter of discipline, and it is, but the odds are stacked against you. At this point, the internet is a dopamine slot machine. Our generation’s brightest minds are working around the clock to “improve engagement,” a tech buzzword that implies “doing everything possible to persuade you to spend every waking hour scrolling and like stuff.” Fighting this with willpower alone is like taking a water cannon to a nuclear war.
As a result, there’s no shame in employing tools to assist you to develop discipline. This is when distraction-blocking software comes into play. When you use these attention apps, you can’t open anything distracting—it won’t work. Instead, you’ll notice a notification that you installed software to block apps and will be encouraged to return to work. It’s strangely liberating.
What exactly is a focus app?
Don’t mix up website blocker apps with parental control software—they’re not the same thing. No, these tools are for you, and they should assist you in developing better habits. We conducted a thorough study in this category and considered dozens of possibilities before evaluating them against our criteria. The finest distraction-blocking apps, in our opinion, should do the following:
- Block a set of websites or apps (determined by you)
- Allow you to establish a timer and/or a schedule.
- It would be inconvenient (at the very least) to disable
- Offer encouragement.
Furthermore, because we’re thinking about work, we only selected apps that function on computers — no mobile-only solutions were considered.
Here are the focussing softwares that we believe works best.
Best distraction-blocking app for all of your devices at once
Freedom (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome)
Most distraction blockers only operate on the device you’re now using. Freedom can prevent distractions on all of your devices at the same time, including web pages and apps. No more closing Instagram on your PC only to open it again on your phone. When you start a session, all distractions are prevented.
Create as many blocklists as you like, then begin or schedule a session. There’s a lockdown mode that prevents you from editing your blocklists while a session is running—consider this if you’re prone to working around your own good intentions. There are additional focus sounds available, which are essentially ambient background noise from coffee shops or nature.
The disadvantage is that there is no long-term free version, simply a trial that allows you to run six distraction-free sessions. That should be enough time to determine whether it will work for you.
Premium pricing begins at $6.99 per month.
Best focus app for planning and following through on deep focus sessions
Serene (macOS, Windows “coming soon”)
Serene is more than simply a distraction blocker: it’s a productivity strategy based on times of intense focus. Users create a list of distracting websites and apps, then block them when it’s time to buckle down and get some work done. But there’s more to this story.
The software is designed to help you arrange your day. Make a list of everything you want to work on and how long it will take. When you’re ready to go to work, click the Go Serene button to start a timer. Every time you try to open a site that you shouldn’t, all of your distractions will be blocked, optional concentration music will play, and you’ll be informed that it’s time to focus and displayed your countdown timer. These parts complement each other really well—you’re not only avoiding distractions but also reminding yourself of your goals.
Serene’s Zapier connectors can create focus sessions from programs like Trello, Asana, Todoist, and any other task management app you can think of, further streamlining your focus sessions.
Serene costs $4 per month. The free trial period is restricted to 10 free deep work hours.
Best focus app for scheduled system-wide blocking
Cold Turkey Blocker (Windows, macOS)
In a nutshell, Cold Turkey Blocker is adaptable. Install this site-blocking program to create lists of websites and desktop apps to block, then configure a blocking schedule. You may, for example, restrict access to social media and video sites during the workday. When the workday is over, you might also ban work apps like Slack. It’s entirely up to you. You can also manually switch blocking on and off if you like. There’s even an option called Frozen Turkey that forbids you from using your computer at all: turn it on, and you’ll see a blank screen until your scheduled outage ends.
Because this is a system-wide tool rather than a browser extension, switching browsers will not work. But it goes beyond that—there are other options that prevent future versions of yourself from working around your current objectives.
You can disable the Time & Language settings, preventing you from working around a scheduled block by altering the time on your computer. You can prevent yourself from accessing the Chromium Task Manager, which might be used to disable the blocking extension in principle. You can even make uninstalling Cold Turkey Blocker impossible until your planned blocking is complete. I could go on, but the main point is that you have the ability to prevent yourself from working around your obstacle. If you’re prone to self-sabotage, try this.
Pricing for Cold Turkey is $39 for the Pro package, which includes unlimited blocking, scheduling, and the ability to block desktop apps as well as websites.
Best free browser-based website blocker
LeechBlock NG (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Opera)
LeechBlock NG (NG stands for “next generation”) works on most major browsers, is free, and provides a plethora of distraction-blocking options. You can create lists of sites to block and then restrict them in various ways.
You can set times for apps to be prohibited outright, which is quite simple. You can also set restrictions to limit your time spent on distracting apps. For example, you may set aside 20 minutes each day for YouTube or four minutes every hour for Twitter. If you want to be even more particular, combine time limits with a schedule—say, five minutes of Instagram every hour between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Alternatively, if you don’t want to fool with schedules, you can set a one-time “lockdown” schedule.
It has a lot of capability, especially for a free program, and you can even restrict the settings during block sessions if you choose. The main disadvantage is that this is a browser extension rather than an app, so you can work around it by switching browsers. If you can resist the urge, LeechBlock should work well.
LeechBlock costs nothing.
Best focus app for time tracking with built-in website blocking
RescueTime (Windows, macOS, Android)
RescueTime is one of the best time tracking tools, not just a distraction buster. It does, however, have a distraction-blocking function called FocusTime, which helps you to block distractions by utilizing your time tracking history.
This combines with the data you’re already supplying RescueTime, allowing you to label apps and webpages as productive, distracting, or extremely distracting. You can choose to prohibit distracting apps or anything else that hasn’t been properly labeled as productive in FocusTime. It’s a terrific approach to block distractions without having to create a separate block list, especially if you’re already looking for a time tracking tool.
You can automatically prevent distractions with RescueTime’s Zapier connectors, which allow you to do things like schedule a daily FocusTime session.
RescueTime costs $12 per month. It should be noted that the RescueTime free version does not contain distraction blocking.
Best focus app for motivating you to put down your phone
Forest (Android, iOS, Chrome)
Your phone is a time machine, but not in the way you think. It’s far too easy to take it up and then discover that a couple of hours have passed. Forest is a cute software that can help you with that.
The concept is straightforward: you open the app and declare you want to plant a tree. Then you put down your phone. Your tree will die if you pick up your phone and switch to another app. Your tree will survive for the next 25 minutes. Over time, you’ll create a complete forest of trees as a memento of all the time you spent getting things done rather than scrolling around Twitter. Furthermore, if you use a paid version of the app, your focus time might help fund real trees through a collaboration with Trees for the Future.
Forest also has a Chrome plugin, so you can grow trees on your PC. Our one operates similarly to the other programs on this list, but with the ability to load distracting websites if desired. The disadvantage of bypassing the block is that you’ll have to deal with a wonderfully mangled copy. You’re informed that “this will kill your cute, tiny tree.” It gets worse: if you try to look at a distracting site, you’ll be warned that “your tree is dead.” Sure, it’s manipulative, but it’s manipulating you to use your time effectively. Better than most apps’ explanations for manipulating you.
Forest is available for free on Chrome and Android, and for $1.99 on iPhone. The Android Pro edition costs $1.99 once and includes device syncing and more tree kinds.
Best focus app for a nuclear option for Mac users
SelfControl has a simple interface: a blocklist, a dial for adjusting the length of your block period, and a start button. That’s all. However, it stands out for one important reason: it is impossible to undo.
This app is serious business. Closing the app has no effect—all of your distractions remain blocked. Neither deleting the software nor restarting your computer has any effect. Once you’ve set the timer, the only way to turn off blocking is to completely reinstall macOS (which would delete all of your apps, settings, and documents).
None of the other apps on our list come close to this level of permanency when it comes to limiting distractions. This app is for you if you’re the type of person who starts blocking.
Pricing for SelfControl is free.