How to Effectively Curb Procrastinating on the Internet

You know it. YouTube rabbit holes, Twitter threads, Netflix binges, we’ve all been there. Some, in an attempt to redeem themselves, completely go off the Internet for a while. But that’s like throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water, not to mention that many of us need the Internet in order to do our work.

Let me give it to you straight: sheer willpower does not work.1 What works instead is changing your environment.2 It’s objectively hard to resist playing video games when the console is in the middle of the living room. Conversely, “nobody needs willpower not to eat a chocolate bar when there isn’t one around.”3 Our chocolate bar is YouTube/Twitter/Netflix, and we need to make sure it isn’t around.

On Computers

SelfControl on macOS and SelfRestraint on Windows do just that. They both work very similarly. In this post I will focus on SelfControl, as that’s what I use, but there is virtually no difference between the two apps.

Screenshot from this page, as my SelfControl timer is running and I would have to wait a while to see this screen again.

As you can see in the screenshot above, SelfControl has two main panels, one with a timer and one with a list of websites. It’s quite simple: add the websites you want to block to the bottom panel, then set a time and click on “Start.”4 Once you click, be mindful that there is no way back. You may put your computer to sleep, restart it, heck, even update the OS,5 and the timer would keep on ticking. While you’re blocked, you can still keep on adding websites to your blacklist, just in case you forgot some.

If you’re wondering what it looks like when we try to access a blocked website during our blackout, here it is:

I personally set the countdown to weeks at a time, but you don’t have to be that drastic. 25-minute blocks work too. Enjoy your newly-found free time.

On Phones

For phones, Screen Time on iOS and Google Digital Wellbeing achieve similar results. I’ll look at Screen Time, as an iPhone owner it has been an invaluable tool for me.

On iPhones running iOS 12, in the Settings app, tap on “Screen Time.”

Then, on “App Limits.”

From there, you’ll be able to set daily limits for your apps. I personally allow myself 15 minutes a day for each timesink app, just in case I actually do need to reply to an urgent Twitter or Instagram message.

Screen Time works a lot more effectively when you set a passcode. If you set a passcode, once you reach the end of your daily allowance, you’ll have to enter it in order to continue using the app. If you don’t, you can just click through to continue. Of course, for it to work, you need to not know the passcode. This is why I asked my partner to do it. I promise it won’t create any weird dynamics between you and that person.

  1. Moller, Arlen C., Edward L. Deci, and Richard M. Ryan. “Choice and ego-depletion: The moderating role of autonomy.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32, no. 8 (2006): 1024-1036. [pdf]
  2. Thaler, Richard H., and L. J. Ganser. Misbehaving: The making of behavioral economics. New York, NY: WW Norton, 2015. [pdf]
  3. Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
  4. If you find the available time selection not to be to your satisfaction, you can change it like so
  5. speaking from personal experience