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Blocking Distracting Websites – When and for How Long?

One of the most liberating things about leaving a corporate IT job at a large multinational and moving to the startup world was the fact that no longer was one accessing a restricted version of the internet for large portions of the day. This was back in 2009, and smart phones with internet access were a rarity amongst employees. I wonder whats happening in this day and age of ubiquity of cheap mobile internet access and smart phones. Clearly, there is no point in blocking twitter on your corporate network when an employee can access it on their smartphone. Back in the day, I used to dislike the blocking policy at corporates because it was akin to treating employees as children. You trust me to always write a delete query with a where clause but not enough for me to judge how long I should spend time browsing social media.

However, browsing the interwebs can be a time sink and productivity killer and that is a problem that so many people have that there are a slew of tools to help overcome this. One of my favourites in the first half of the last decade was the Chrome extension StayFocusd. Here you could specify things like I want to browse facebook[1] for not more than 15 minutes every day. And if you spent more than 15 minutes it would block the site. However, StayFocusd does not know whether you were actually focusing on a task when you started browsing a blocked site or you were just browsing. This is a key difference because browsing something distracting when focusing on a task breaks your train of thought and makes you take longer to finish the task. So it is important that distracting websites be blocked when you are focusing.

browsing something distracting when focusing on a task, breaks your train of thought and makes you take longer to finish the task

Shashi, Creator of Trici

However, for the rest of the day, when I am not really focusing on something, I should be able to browse whatever I want. I know that a I have to attend a call in 15 minutes and there is no work I can do in those 15 minutes so I would rather browse what I want to. Some extensions block the sites in the block list for the duration of the day. This seems handy in the beginning but over a period of time, you will come across a situation where you want to access something that is blocked and you either remove the rule or remove the extension.

And sure enough, there are extensions that block websites for a given duration. The primary action in these is “Block Sites for the next X minutes”. This is different from Trici where the primary action is “Start a Focus Session”. When you start a Focus Session, you may want different actions to happen such as blocking websites, setting your system’s “Do Not Disturb” on etc. I noticed this in the days before I started work on Trici. I would start a Pomodoro session and then I would go and block sites and start playing some background music. Hence I wanted something where I had to perform just one action – Start a Focus Session and that should take care of blocking websites as well as other things that I may want to happen.

These are the reasons why website blocking is a feature available in Trici. The implementation is basic and there definitely are areas where we can improve, such as showing a proper site blocked page. However, you don’t need to install a browser extension for it to work.

You can download the beta release of Trici from the website by using the invite code “AHATRICI”.

[1] Browsing facebook for long durations was perhaps a problem that time, but its no more because that problem was solved by facebook itself, by filling its feed with ads and pages instead of updates from friends.

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