Turning off the distracting parts of the InternetPosted: August 19, 2009
[note: the features discussed below will be launching within a week or so. Get started ASAP and, when the features go live, RescueTime will be much smarter about the stuff that’s distracting you!]
We’re currently working on a feature that we’re really excited about and we’d love to get your feedback.
What it does is this:
1. In the menu of the installable part of RescueTime is an item that says, “Get Focused…”
2. It pops up a window that looks something like this:
For the duration that you enter, we’re going to turn off the bad/distracting parts of the internet. You’ll be sent to a block page like this. Your “get out of jail” cards include:
- telling RescueTime that we’ve mistakenly categorized this site as distracting (we’re pretty good at defaults and you can edit your list, but a false positive is theoretically possible)
- Doing a simple math problem. Our goal here is to create just enough work to make you think about what you’re doing.
- Force-quitting RescueTime. The geeky among you realize that you can kill the process (though that’s a touch harder than the math problem.
So here’s the question for you— we’d love to hear back in the comments: How sharp should the teeth be? Ideally you’re focusing for short bursts (30-45 minutes) – should we let you out or force the commitment?
More details below if you’d like to hear more about our thinking on this feature.
Why Build this Feature
The web is getting scientific. Specifically, it’s getting scientific about separating you from your time. Entertainment and news sites are doing multi-variate testing trying to maximize the metrics that matter in their business. That is: pageviews, time-on-page, and bounce-rate (a measure of whether you look at more than 1 page). They’re getting good at these tests, and it’s costing us. Even the best of us. We’ve all experienced that moment where we look at the clock and realize, “Holy crap– I just spent 2 hours surfing when I really wanted to be getting things done!”.
A while back, we were inspired by a really cool app for the Mac called Freedom. Basically, it allowed you to turn off the entire internet for a fixed period of time. The only way to turn it back on again was fairly costly- a reboot. Surely this was a great tool for short bursts of self-imposed focus!
But it didn’t take too many tries to realize that the internet is just too central to how we work. Google Docs holds critical information that we need ready access to. It’s nigh-impossible to code without access to the huge pile of debugging info and tutorials that Google search gives us access to. Designing is crippled without the internet as well– stock image sites and color palette inspiration sites are a big part of our design process and we can’t get quick feedback on a design direction if we can’t post it to Skitch and IM the team a link. We needed something that only turned off that distracting bits of the internet.
So we moved on and tried LeechBlock, a nifty Firefox plugin that allows voluntary blocking. But we quickly ran into painful limitations here as well. The distracting swaths of the web are vast– Leechblock allowed you to create a list of distracting domains, but www.facebook.com doesn’t catch 3rd level domains like app.facebook.com. And a friend can IM you a link to a funny website that you’ve never been to (and might never go back to) which can be a huge distraction. Managing that list is imperfect and time consuming. And, of course, Firefox isn’t as big a part of our browsing lives as it once was. Many of us use Safari or Chrome. And, from a product design point of view, it’s hard to ignore that a big mess of people still use IE. A solution that enforces across all browsers seems critical for something like this.
So, as of now we’re internally testing the “Get Focused” option and loving it. We don’t have to build lists of distracting sites, it works in any browser, and it has enough “teeth” to keep us honest without actually locking us in a closet. What do you think?