It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that social media activity is book-marketing activity. But chatting with Facebook friends is not marketing your book. Commenting on conversations in Facebook groups might be generous, but it is slowly sucking the creative and emotional energy you need to finish your WIP.
How many times have you sat down to write and thought, “I’ll just check Facebook real quick because I might see a helpful post from an agent or famous author that will inspire me.”
Two hours later, your brain is clogged with witty memes and angst over international politics. You’ve written 43 words, and when you break for afternoon coffee, you berate yourself for writing one word every three minutes.
One of the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to avoid self-pity and wasted time is to turn off the internet. Did you know you could do that? You can employ some good ol’ fashioned self-control, but if you’d like an app for that, I’ve tracked down five that will help you quit wasting time now.
1. RescueTime (Affiliate Link)
RescueTime is software that runs in the background on your computer and tracks every minute of your time. If the first step toward recovery is admitting the truth, RescueTime will give you the facts about where your time went. You’ll receive a report detailing how many minutes you spent typing in a Word doc, responding to emails, or watching life-hack videos on YouTube.
You can tell RescueTime which activities are productive for you. Responding to emails might be productive if you’re scheduling podcast interviews. But if your inbox is filled with coupon codes for every rewards card you’ve ever signed up for and newsletters from 46 of your author friends, then sorting through email will devour your writing time.
The software blocks internet distractions and allows you to set limits on time-sucking websites. It’s available as a desktop app, mobile app, or browser extension. Their free Chrome extension offers time tracking but not distraction blocks.
At the end of the week, you’ll see a complete analysis of how you spent your time.
The truth about where you spend your time may be shocking, but it will also be the best way to begin rescuing your writing time.
2. Freedom – $2.42 per month when you pay annually.
This app can block the internet so you can focus on your work without sneaking glances at email, Wikipedia, the news, the stock market, your Twitter feed, or anything that isn’t your word processor.
With Freedom, you can block the entire internet, certain websites, and desktop or mobile apps. Use it to block social media sites in the mornings when your brainpower is primed for creativity. Or schedule a Freedom session in the evening to give your brain ample time to recover from blue light exposure and settle down to rest (scheduling is a premium feature).
Freedom offers three free Chrome extensions for breaking bad browsing habits, tracking your time, and limiting time spent on sites you designate.
Users say Freedom has helped them reclaim an average of 2.5 hours per day. Sync your settings across each of your devices and give yourself the freedom to focus on work you love.
Trello is an online task management tool. In the olden days, we wrote to-do items on index cards and pinned them to a corkboard. Think of Trello as a digital corkboard with columns to sort the tasks you’ve written on cards.
In Trello, you can easily create a task “card” with details related to that task. You can note details such as due date, phone numbers, graphics, priority level as if you were recording details on the back of that old fashioned index card.
As you complete tasks, you can move your digital cards from the “To-Do” column to “Doing” and finally to “Done.”
If you’re collaborating with a co-writer, launch manager, or virtual assistant, you can invite those people to your Trello board and move those to-do items to the “Done” column twice as fast. View a Trello demo video here.
4. Stay Focused
StayFocusd is a free Chrome extension that helps you stay focused on your writing. Instead of tracking your time to report how much time you spent, it limits your time on time-wasting websites. You can budget a certain amount of time for sites where you waste time (ESPN Anyone?). But once you’ve spent the time you’ve budgeted, you won’t be able to return to that site for the rest of the day.
You can choose to block or allow entire sites, specific pages (maybe you’re obsessively checking the Amazon bestseller list in your genre), even specific in-page content such as videos, games, images, or forms.
5. Forest– “A gamified timer” ~ App Store
Managing your time online is often more about breaking habits. Forest App is a fun and positive approach to staying focused. Instead of placing limits and implementing the “nuclear option,” Forest lets you grow a tree.
It’s a game and a timer in one. You “plant a seed” in the app, and for the next 30 minutes that seed will grow into a tree unless you visit one of the websites on the “blacklist” you create. If you can’t keep away from your Twitter feed, or just have to check for comments on your Facebook post, you’ll bear the responsibility for killing a virtual tree.
Even if you want to spend the next 30 minutes focused on a family member, Forest will give you that little boost of motivation to stay engaged in the real world, and off of your phone, 30 minutes at a time.
More than 4 million users pay to use the app on their smartphone, and more than 300,000 use the Forest Chrome extension.
It’s time to reclaim your time.
Novelists, your readers want to devour your story.
Nonfiction authors, your readers are waiting for you to educate and encourage them.
Why not choose one of these apps or extensions to reclaim your time and serve your readers.
These tools offer free versions or free trials, but much of the power is housed in their paid services. Before you balk, ask yourself, “How much would I pay for 50 more hours to write?” (Freedom users say they’ve reclaimed 2.5 hours per day. At 20 workdays per month, that’s 50 hours!)
Would you like to have 50 “extra” hours per month for less than the price of a fancy coffee? Consider what your wasted time is costing you, and see if one of these tools might be an inexpensive way to find more time to write.
Great list–thanks! I use Harvest, which tracks time spent on different projects. It has a free options but I actually pay for the pro version because I’ve found it so helpful with respect to invoicing, reports, etc.
I forgot about Harvest! Thanks for the tip.
I use Leechblock. This plugin works with Firefox (I believe it also works with Chrome), and it allows you to specify lists of websites to block. After creating the lists you can say what times and/or days to block the specific lists. I would definitely recommend it!
Thanks for the recommendation, Michael!
Wow. Great advice. Thank you. The trick is figuring out which time on Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest is marketing and which is wasted time. Building relationships on any of those is *supposed* to be good for marketing our books, so therein lies the dilemma. And how much time on them is good for marketing and how much time is too much? Not easy answers.
It does seem like a catch-22, doesn’t it? Spending some quality time with your analytics will help you discover which networks are working for you…and which ones are just wasting for time.
I’ve used Concentrate for Macs. They offer a free trial to check it out. It has a few bells and whistles in addition to locking you off the internet or whatever other apps you set it up to do. Of course, if self-control is the real problem, it doesn’t handcuff you from hitting the quit button so the internet comes back on. Best cure for that is power outage at your server…my most productive day 🙂
I’ve been known to go to coffee shops that don’t have wi-fi to work on projects. They are hard to find but there are a few of them out there.
Okay, I’m so laughing. As I was scrolling down at Pinterest, this email noticed popped up and I inadvertently clicked it while I looked at the next page. Next thing I know, I have a window that has opened in front of every thing that says, “STOP WASTING TIME!”
Um, Yes, Lord?
You aren’t the first person to tell me this today. I guess we’re all guilty of indulging in social media while we should be working. 🙂
Great post, Caitlin! Also, great links. I talk a lot about productivity and motivation over on my site (http://www.livehacked.com/blogging-business/pillar-content-the-secret-to-building-a-blog-people-love/ ), and specifically how it relates to bloggers and writers. I’ve used Think before, and I love it!
Also, I love the site!
Thanks for the helpful posts and links!
Thanks for letting us know, Nick!
Great post, Caitlin. I’ve looked into Freedom before, but haven’t done much more than look. A week or two of using one of these applications would be enough to re-train people to make better use of their time.
Thanks for stopping by Tyler. Let me know which application you end up with!
Thanks, that was a good list and most of them were new to me. As an alternate thought, I recently heard a motivational speaker say that as important as staying on the task, such as these tools will help us do, we will be equally well served by making sure we have the right goal in the first place. OK, thanks again, Edward Smith.
That’s a great point. Prioritize wisely!
Working online is a bit of a struggle for us to have the motivation to focus on work and avoid distractions. Productivity isn’t going to be the first thing in our mind whenever we try to open up sites like Facebook, 9gag, Reddit and Twitter. I think this is a great list, Caitlin. 🙂
Although, if I can add another suggestion; I might know an awesome time tracking software that captures screenshots off of the user’s computer screen every 6 seconds. Screen monitoring is just one way “Time Doctor” helps a person to be more productive. Sometimes, we need a little bit of help and motivation to finish the goals that we have set for the day.
I believe tracking time is the best way to avoid wasting time, which will indeed help business growth. I have seen many spending more time on social networking and surfing similar kinda websites.
Can I simply just say what a relief to discover somebody that genuinely understands what they’re discussing over the internet. You actually know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people have to check this out and understand this side of the story. I was surprised you’re not more popular given that you certainly have the gift.
I have only come to realize that his second quotation is so true.