Category: Reviews


Previously, I reviewed RescueTime which is a website that tracks your activities (free) and can also limit your internet access (if you pay for the pro account).   Dr. Steel also suggested a different software for blocking time: Internet Access Controller, and I’ve been using it ever since.

Overview of Internet Access Controller

It’s a filter program that you download and install on your computer.  When you enable the software, it will block the internet according to the rules that you set up in it’s filters.  If you try to access a blocked site, it will simply tell you that that site is not available.  It costs 15 USD for a single permanent license, with different pricing options for families and businesses with multiple computers.

A few of the features

  • Different filtering styles:  You can define your filters based on a list of allowed or blocked sites, as well as setting which programs, services or IP addresses can access the internet.  So if you only want to block facebook, then that’s possible; or if you only want to allow gmail, then that’s also possible.
  • Applies to all user accounts:  The software is automatically available for all user accounts of your computer, and you can personalize the filters for each user.  So you can set up a “fun” user and a “work” user on the same computer, with different internet filters applied. 
  • Groups subdomains together:  The filters can be set-up to block all subdomains of a given site.   So you can block ALL the videos, TV show pages, and news items just by blocking CTV’s main address.  
  • Password protection:  You need to enter a password in order to enable/disable the software, or to make changes to the filter.  So it’s harder to turn off the filters, and access something that you don’t want to access.  
  • Scheduling:  The filters can be applied according to a schedule, so that you have certain hours that access is controlled, and other hours where it isn’t freely available.  So you can allow yourself time for distractions, while still blocking certain sites when you’re trying to get work done.  

What I like about it….

It’s always on, automatically.
In my battles against procrastination, one of the hardest things to do each day is to get started.  If I had to turn on my internet filter each day before I could start work, I think I would just keep delaying that action.  But when it turns itself on (according to my schedule), it triggers me to open up a work file and get something done.  This doesn’t take up any of my energy, which leaves me to focus my energy on my work.

Very easy to use.
Learning to use the software is fast and simple, the screens have short explanations when needed without needed to use the help files.  I was able to set up the filters that I wanted in less than 20 minutes.

The one-time price.
Once you’ve purchased this software, it’s yours.  There are no subscription fees or other such nonsense.  I like this style of payment because it shows a real respect for the users, it isn’t just a moneygrab.

What I dislike about it…

Sometimes it’s finicky for blocking subdomains.
Occasionally a site can sneak through the filters.  I don’t know why, maybe the site has a different type of structure?  Anyways, you just need to try different ways of listing the site’s address in the filters until you find one (or two) ways that work.  This isn’t a big flaw, just something that can take a bit of trial and error.  Also, it didn’t happen very often, and I was always successful in blocking the sites that I wanted to block.

You can’t include different filter in a single schedule.
This is my biggest dissapointment.  I would love to block my email access, but to allow myself email “breaks” when email is accessible but all my distracting sites are not.  However, this isn’t possible with the schedule function.  You can create a work-around solution where email is allowed on one user profile, but not allowed on another – so you have to sign into a different user account to then access your email.  I didn’t think it was worth the effort for me, but it is a possible way to solve the problem.

A note on social networks

I’ve read that social networks are addictive because they are unpredictable in terms of when they will give you a “reward.”  The fact that you never know when there will be new content means that you’re like to check the network often.

For me, this is entirely true: I have a couple of social networks that I check constantly!  And I was surprised how much it had become a reflex.  Once internet access controller was enabled, I knew that the link would only lead me to a “this webpage is not available” screen, and yet I would still click the links to my networks.  It took a number of days before my body seemed to realize that clicking the link wasn’t fun any more.   This experience was both interesting and embarrassing all at the same time.

Bottom Line

This is an excellent piece of software.

highly recommend it for anyone looking to prevent themselves from wasting hours on useless sites.

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Time Power

A while ago, I read Charles Hobb’s book Time Power.

Warning: This book is out of print.

It was suggested to me by a friend/supervisor because I was having trouble meeting deadlines.  It was a book that he loved, and he had a lot of success by adopting the book’s system into his daily life.

The book includes a lot of content.  The author has some really interesting ideas about living a life that is congruent with your self-image and your long-term goals.  He does a very good job talking about high-level ideals and then helping you break it down into more day-to-day tasks.  Reading the book really helped me think about how I can get my life under control.

At the same time, the book includes all the “how-to” instructions for a solid Time Management system.  The system is very pencil & paper (rather than digitally-based) could either be seen as out of date, or as a purposeful choice.

One awesome nugget of wisdom that Hobb’s advocates is to separate priority from urgency.  This concept really changed how I think about different tasks that I need to do.  So you can classify your tasks according to how important they are as well as how quickly they need to be done.  A couple examples:

  • Paying bills would be high priority (very important) and also very urgent (as the deadline approaches).
  • Watching a new episode of a favorite reality TV show would be low priority (not important to your life goals) but very urgent (it’s on when it’s on!)
  • Investing money would be a high priority, but also low urgency (because there is no external deadline).

I found that the writing style in this book was also good.  Hobbs writes very clearly, and his tone is non-judgemental and he never condescends.

Overall it’s a very good book.

But in the end, this book didn’t change my life.  More recently, I’ve realized that my problem is with procrastination not with Time Management.  Although these two things are related, they are not the same thing (at least in my experience)… I’m awesome at coming up with plans.  I can divide a task into smaller tasks, and I can set deadlines for them.  I can even set-up Time Management systems like the one described in the book.  However, I’m sh*te at following through with these plans, and meeting the deadlines that I’ve created for myself.

So I really found this book interesting, and I highly recommend it to other people.  But it doesn’t deal with procrastination.

RescueTime

I found RescueTime a while ago, and signed up for the free account.  More recently I upgraded to the Pro solo account, which costs 6 USD a month.

What it does for free
Tracks your computer usage, including websites and programs.  The productivity levels of all your computer use is then scored on a scale from -2 to 2.  It then displays a bunch of different charts on a page called your “dashboard” to summarize your activities in a variety of different ways.

What I payed money for
The best feature of the Pro account, in my opinion, is the RescueTime blocker.  I can set my account to “Focus Time” and the website will block all of my “Very Distracting” sites (scored as -2 on their productivity scale).
Other paid for features include being able to track specific documents, and being able to log time that was spent away from the computer.

Complexity as a Double-Edged Sword
RescueTime is endlessly customizable.  These are a few of the ways you can personalize your account:

  • Set the productivity levels for each activity, or use the default values.
  • Group activities into categories, including categories that you create.
  • Designate blocks of time (or activities) that were spent on certain projects.
  • Change which charts show up on your dashboard.
  • Look at different timescales: current year/month/week/day
  • Set goals.
  • Change the hours of when this program is on (to match your workday perhaps?)
  • etc etc etc

This is all great, making the program more relevant to the user – but they also require your time to sort through different activities and adjust the various settings.  Also, the dashboard can be a bit overwhelming, it slices and dices your data in so many different ways!  It takes a bit of time to explore the charts and figure out what they are really telling you, and what you really want to know.  Overall, the complexity is a good thing, but the program isn’t very intuitive, I really think that the user interface could be much improved.

Does it improve productivity?
Sure. but…  …only if you use it in a way that works for you.

For me, the rescuetime blocker is worth it  – but first I have to honestly list my distractions as -2 productivity, and then I have to actually turn on the blocker.  (Currently I’m bribing myself to turn it on every day.)

The rest of the site is interesting too.  I think it’s helpful to see exactly where I waste my time, and how much time was wasted – but I then have to interpret that data and use it for my goal setting or other planning activities.

 

Final Word
RescueTime starts off as free, so I recommend that everyone try it out.
As for the Pro account, I recommend that you think before buying, as it’s probably not for everyone.
For me, I’m glad I bought into it.

Part of the inspiration for this blog was my results from the procrastinus.com survey; which called me a “master procrastinator”.

I have since gone out, and bought The Procrastination Equation book, by Piers Steel.   And this is my very-quick review.

Overview
The first half of the book talks about procrastination from many different approaches.  It’s talked about in relation to economics, history, our environment, technology, workplaces / institutions, etc etc etc.  The second half of the book introduces the equation itself and introduces strategies to combat procrastination.  The strategies are all backed up with scientific references, and are targeted to different parts of the procrastination equation.

The Good
The content of this book is fantastic.  Specifically the second half, where all the anti-procrastination strategies are discussed.  The author does an excellent job explaining the strategies and giving examples.  The best part is how it can be personalized; it’s easy to select the strategies that best apply to me as an individual.  This personalization comes from the structure of the book – by relating the strategies to each part of the procrastination equation, you can see how they would fit together to create a multifaceted anti-procrastination plan.

The Bad
Personally, I found that the writing style was a little bit simplified.  In particular, I rolled my eyes a little bit when the author was talking about the three example people that he’d created.  The content was still there, and very clear, I just would have preferred to have more of the science-y info.  (I guess I’ll have to look up some of the book’s references if I want to go deeper in to the content!)

The Ugly
This book hit very close to home.
As I was reading it, I could see the consequences of procrastination in my own life.  I could see how my procrastination behaviour relates to my personality and to my work.  This is all a good thing, because it means the book is a good one for me to read, but at the same time – it can be hard to face your flaws.

 

Bottom Line: If you are suffering from procrastination, then this book is a worthwhile read.

Remember the Milk

Lists are my friend.

I create lists for everything, because they’re fun.  I usually have a number of lists on the go: ideas for Christmas presents, gym workouts, creative ideas, movies I want to see, movies I think I should see, housekeeping chores, etc etc etc (the list goes on).

One thing that I did in the New Year, as part of my last attempt to get my procrastination under control, was to sign-up for a free digital list-making app: www.rememberthemilk.com.  There are a bunch of different to-do list websites out there, and I looked at a few of them, eventually selecting remember the milk (RTM) because it’s free and because it’s simple.

I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a digital to-do list.  You can start with the most basic features, creating a to-do list.  It’s really easy to use.  But the beauty is that it has many complex features that are entirely optional, and you can explore them as you please, some of the features include:

  • making multiple lists (as many as you want)
  • creating deadlines for your tasks
  • making tasks repeat on any interval you’d like
  • tagging your tasks for easier searching or sorting (there is a tag cloud built into the site too)
  • prioritizing your tasks
  • creating “smart lists” that show a collection of tasks based on the search criteria you set up
  • sharing your lists with other users

The best thing about this site is that the developers seem to be focused on keeping it simple.  For example, you can only prioritize your tasks at three levels (or no priority at all).  This is great, because I don’t want a complicated system – I just want to know when things are high priority (red) or low priority (light blue).   Because their software is simple, it forces me to keep things simple.

As far as my success in using this.  It helped me a bit.  It’s been great for keeping me on track with financial payments.  I used to procrastinate paying bills simply because it is unpleasant, which meant that I would often pay my credit card bill after the due date.  I KNOW that this is stupid, and that it kills my credit rating.  But I would still do it.  But this small reminder on my RTM account is keeping me more honest, and I’ve been paying my bills on time as a result.

But I’ve also had trouble with it.  If I have a lot of overdue tasks (they turn bold and underlined) then I’m more likely to avoid checking my account.  It gets a bit overwhelming.  I just need to be better at using it.  RTM is just a tool, I’m the one who decides what to do with that tool.

Final words: Remember the Milk is a great little piece of software.  And it’s free!