How to block distracting websites: 7 ways RescueTime’s website blocker can help you reshape bad habits

If you’ve ever been dead set on getting work done or studying for an exam only to find yourself 3-hours deep in the YouTube rabbit hole or passionately defending the ending of Lost on Reddit, you’re not alone.

Websites, apps, and online products are like hoards of ravenous zombies that feed on your focus. But just like the newly undead, the answer isn’t simply to ignore them, but to learn how to fight them.

Website blockers are powerful tools in our defence against these focus stealers. But there’s a right way to use them if we want to get the most benefit.

Let’s start by looking into how you can block websites, the right way to use a website blocker, and then a few specific scenarios.

Before we dive in… Whether you work from home or in a noisy, crowded office, chances are you’re fighting distraction on a daily basis. Learn how to fight back with our free Guide To Finding Focus and Overcoming Distractions.

How to block sites and be more productive using FocusTime

There are many options out there for ways to simply block websites. However, when we built RescueTime’s website blocking feature, called FocusTime, our goal wasn’t to simply cut you off from these sites, but to give you a way to track your bad habits and rebuild your attention over time.

Which we feel is an important distinction. Blocking websites is a great way to offload your willpower to your computer so you don’t have any choice but to work on what you planned.

However, what if that work suddenly involves research on a news site or grabbing a link someone shared to your Facebook wall?

Or what if you don’t have the motivation to block a site on your own, even when you know it’s in your best interest?

There are too many different scenarios where you want some flexibility in the sites you block to make simply putting up a wall the right choice.

Let’s start by looking at how FocusTime works, and then run through 6 scenarios where you might want to use it to block websites and be more productive.

FocusTime is a RescueTime Premium feature. Check out our plans here. If you’re already a Premium user you can start using FocusTime right away.

Step 1: Build a list of sites you want to block in FocusTime

The great part about FocusTime is you don’t have to worry too much about compiling a big list of distracting sites you’d like to block.

RescueTime already does that for you based on the types of activities you’ve told it are distracting. Just by running RescueTime and telling it “social networking sites are generally distracting” FocusTime will know which sites should be blocked.

Sites that show up in your "very distracting" list will be blocked during a FocusTime session.
Sites that show up in your “very distracting” list will be blocked during a FocusTime session.

While the defaults aren’t perfect, they’ll save you from doing 80% of the work.

What sites are blocked automatically?

By default, anything you’ve categorized as “very distracting” will be automatically blocked during a FocusTime session. As you use RescueTime more, it starts to understand your habits and what pages you frequent and will add those to your “distracting” list. This means if you’ve just started, it might take a day or so to build up a useful list.

If you want to be stricter with your website blocking, you can change your settings to include any site not explicitly scored as “Productive” on your FocusTime settings page.

To see what sites are being blocked, check out the “block distractions” page (you must be logged in), which can be found under the ‘tools’ menu on the RescueTime site.

What if there are other distracting sites I want to add?

The auto-categorization should hopefully get you 95% of the way there, but if there are sites that are distracting to you that we don’t have a default category for, there’s a few simple solutions:

  1. Manually mark websites as “Very distracting” on your profile
  2. Go through and categorize items on your “Uncategorized” list
  3. Review the productivity levels you’ve assigned to each category

Step 2: Set up a timed FocusTime session

With your list built, you can start a FocusTime session at any point by opening the RescueTime application menu and selecting “Get Focused…”


block websites

This will allow you to choose how long you’re going into Focus mode and want to block distracting websites. We’ll let you know when your FocusTime session has ended and you’re free to roam the web guilt-free.

Step 3: Create automated website blocking sessions based on your actions

You can also set FocusTime sessions to automatically start depending on your own behaviors.

This is really where FocusTime shines, as you don’t have to rely on being motivated enough to actually start FocusTime at a point when you’re already struggling to get focused in the first place.

RescueTime has a robust alert system that allows you to take actions when you have spent a pre-defined amount of time on certain activities.

For example, you can set a rule that if you spend more than 2 hours in a day on Facebook or other social media sites, you’ll be sent a message (such as, “What the hell, Robby! Get off social media and get to work”) and tell FocusTime to start a session.


This is a great way to give yourself a good amount of freedom, but then automatically put up the productivity defences at times when you really need them.

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7 ways to use FocusTime to block websites and reshape your bad habits

Blocking websites isn’t simply a safety net for when you’re feeling especially distracted. Instead, there are many different scenarios where you might want to block all sites, only certain ones, or ones for a specific time period.

Let’s look at a few common ones you can use:

How to block websites while using the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity technique where you work in 25 minute intervals, then take a short break to recharge (similar to how you might workout at the gym).

You can use RescueTime to reinforce your focused intervals and block sites for 25 minutes of focus. After you’ve taken your short break, you can quickly start another session. See how many you can do in a day!

Setting FocusTime for a Pomodoro session
Setting FocusTime for a Pomodoro session

How to use website blockers to help you write a novel (or any other focus-intensive projects)

Writing a novel takes dedication, commitment, and focus. To figure out what the most successful writers do to stay on track, we analyzed a group of budding novelists participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and found those who got the most done stuck to a set schedule.

In FocusTime, you can set up daily periods devoted to writing and block all distractions during that time.


(Note: You will need to create a custom time filter for this alert to work. You can do that under “advanced filters” under the “tools” menu)

How to block social media sites and be more productive

It’s easy to slip into checking Facebook or chatting on Twitter. With FocusTime, you can offload the willpower needed to not check social media sites by setting a daily limit.

For example, set an alert to give yourself a 30-minute FocusTime session after 1 hour spent on Social Networks to snap you out of it.

Click the image to set up an alert like this

How to block distracting sites to start your day off more productively

Our morning routine sets us up for a successful, productive day. With FocusTime, you can block distracting websites for 15 minutes first thing in the morning to avoid starting the day off unproductively. You can do this manually, or create an alert that will do it for you.

(Tip: Use the “when” dropdown when creating the alert to restrict the time of day this happens. You could create one for just weekday mornings, after lunch, etc…).

Click the image to set up an alert like this

How to nudge yourself away from your computer during a particularly unproductive day

Sometimes I get to the point where I’ve fallen down such a distracting hole that the only thing that makes sense is to get up and move around. With FocusTime, you can block distracting websites for the rest of the day after 5 hours of unproductive time in one day.

Click the image to set up an alert like this

How to block websites at night so you can get a better sleep

Working on your computer late at night has been shown to decrease the quality and amount of sleep we get, as well as make us less productive the next day. You can block distracting websites between the hours of 10pm and midnight (or any other period) to help you get off the computer late at night.


Turn off notifications on your phone when sites are blocked

Even when you’ve blocked distracting sites from your computer, you’ve got an even bigger source of distractions sitting right in your pocket.

With FocusTime, you can set your Android smartphone to Do Not Disturb mode whenever you’re in a focused session, so you won’t be knocked off track by a text or notification.

Website blockers are great tools not only for keeping you on track today, but building better habits in your life. The more flexibility you have in how and when you use them, the better chance you have of sticking to your schedule, being more productive at work, and building a more meaningful career.

Do you have any tips on how you use FocusTime? Share them in the comments and we’ll add them to the list.

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Robby Macdonell

CEO at RescueTime