SelfControl is a Mac application created by Steve Lambert, and is hands down one of the most effective (free) productivity tools I’ve ever used.
Not only does it allow you to block access to distracting websites for up to 24 hours, but the restrictions you set in place are irreversible until the timer completely runs out.
Adding Websites to Your Blacklist
In order to tell SelfControl which sites you want blocked, you can add any number of sites to your domain blacklist.
To do that, just bring up the application and hit the ‘Edit Blacklist’ button:
Click the plus symbol to start adding websites that hinder your productivity (especially during work hours).
The handy import feature allows you to populate your blacklist quickly and easily.
You get 3 main options:
Common Distracting Sites - Imports a list of the most commonly added sites, including Facebook, Youtube and Reddit.
News and Publications - Imports a list of popular news websites, including CNN, NY Times, and Huffington Post.
Mail - Imports your incoming and/or outgoing mail servers for Mail, MailMate and Thunderbird.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no option to upload a CSV file of distracting websites and have them automatically added to your blacklist.
Adding Websites to Your Whitelist
Instead of blocking specific sites, SelfControl allows you to block the entire internet apart from a select few websites.
Those websites are defined in your ‘whitelist’. To change your blacklist into a whitelist, just click the setting in the bottom corner.
And you’ll get a little warning message explaining the difference between a blacklist and a whitelist... just in case you don't know.
You can just check "Do not show this message again"
At the moment these options rely on a single list, which isn’t ideal. But I have my fingers-crossed they’ll be treated independently in a future update.
Set the Block Duration
Once you’ve populated your blacklist/whitelist and you’re ready to get productive, you can set the block duration. You can choose from 15 minutes up to 24 hours.
It’s important to choose carefully because once you click start, there’s no way to undo the block until the timer hits zero.
It doesn’t matter if you close the app, remove it completely or restart your computer, the block will continue for the duration set.
Lewis' Pro Tip
If you want to ‘hack’ the timer and increase the maximum duration, you can follow these instructions.
When you're ready to start the block, just hit the start button.
(FYI: The button will be faded out if you have nothing listed in your block list)
Before SelfControl can do it's thing, you’ll be prompted to enter the administrator password.
You’ll know the block is working when you’re presented with a floating timer window. It will also be shown as overlay on the SelfControl dock icon.
And if you are tempted to try any websites on your blacklist (or not on your whitelist) you’ll see something like this:
While you can't access blocked sites, you can still make additions to your block list during this time.
(This will come in handy more than you realise)
Lewis' Pro Tip
You can keep the timer window on top of all windows inside the apps preferences.
SelfControl is an open-source project, meaning the code is freely available to anyone who wants to improve upon it.
There are a number of benefits to open-source (or crowd-sourced) software that make it an attractive attribute for both developers and users.
Improved security (bugs are found and fixed more quickly)
Better alignment (users can be involved in development which makes it more aligned to real world use)
Freedom (Development isn't controlled by one person)
Alternatives for Windows
If you're not a Mac fan, don't worry. You haven't completely been left in the dark.
SelfControl being an open-source software means that other people have been able to take the code and adapt it to other operating systems, including Windows and Linux.
Here are the best alternatives I've found:
Self Restraint is available on both Mac and Windows. The application is almost identical to SelfControl in terms of both it's functionality and user interface.
Cold Turkey is available for Windows, Mac and Android. It works much like SelfControl with a small minor differences, included schedules blocks and motivational messages.
SelfControl is a powerful, and extremely lightweight application that has proven to skyrocket productivity.
If you’re the sort of person who always seems to end up on social media or news sites instead of doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you absolutely must give SelfControl a spin.
You can download it right here, for free.