The (Reluctant) Endorsement: Freedom

As I’m sure most of you have figured out by now, the Trump era is one unending shit show after another, and for a lot of people in creative fields, it’s making it hard to focus on your work when you know that the world is on fire. In my case the problem is compounded by the fact that I’ve written about politics professionally for decades now, and I find it hard to turn off that aspect of my writing brain, especially now. As a result I end up checking news and social media sites more often than is useful, when what I really need to be doing is working on a book. And even when I’m not checking news and social media, I can easily just lose myself in wandering through Wikipedia or visiting tech Web sites, really, anything, as long as it’s not actually writing on the book.

It got to a point in the last couple of months that I had to accept the problem was me, and that I wasn’t going to go away anytime soon, so I had to take other steps. So I looked into “distraction free” software, i.e., those programs that block your access to Web sites and apps for a period of time so you have no choice but actually do the work you’re supposed to do. After comparison shopping, I went ahead and picked Freedom. Freedom works on a subscription model and can block sites and apps on your desktop and phone; it has pre-selected block lists you can choose from (including for news, social media, shopping and adult sites among others), and you can also create your own lists. Once you do that, you can set a time for how long you want to have the blocking run, up to 24 hours. You can also schedule blocks, to have them show up at the same time every day and etc.

I paid for a year’s subscription, set it up on my desktop, and then enabled the block lists every time I sat down to work. And it worked well — I’d check out Twitter almost by muscle memory and get confronted by a green screen that said things like “You are free from this site” and “Do things that matter,” which seemed a little snarky and pushy, but on the other hand, I was in fact trying to do something that mattered (finish my book), so. I didn’t put it on my phone, but I did put my phone in the other room, which had the same effect. It did what it was supposed to do, which was keep me on track and writing on the book.

I fucking hate that I had to resort to “distraction-free” software to focus on my book at this point in my life, but I did, and it is what it is. And Freedom worked for me, well enough I can say that I endorse it to you if, like me, you find yourself at the point where you need a little extra help blocking out the world to get your stuff done. There are other site blocking programs and services that are cheaper (and some are even free), but Freedom was the one that for me had the best overall functionality, at a price that was perfectly reasonable. Plus it’s a tax deduction! For me, anyway.

So if you’re in the market for “distraction-free” software, give Freedom a try.

31 thoughts on “The (Reluctant) Endorsement: Freedom

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I’m glad it helped.

    I don’t *think* I need to resort to it, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind if I hit my breaking point.

  2. I’m reading this post on my phone as a huge project, due next week and behind schedule (not my fault but I’m cleaning up the shit), is looming over me.

    In other words, thanks for the irony and the suggestion.

  3. “Reluctantly endorse” made me laugh, because I’m in the same boat as you: never wanted to use such apps, but can’t stay away from the news, and am having real trouble hitting deadlines. (I write nonfiction, am a journalist, news is kind of what I do, which makes it harder.) You may have converted me.

  4. I definitely have my distraction issues, especially facebook. Since I consume most of my media on my computer my solution is pretty simple. I set up another user named “Writing” and switch to it when I want to write. Writing has no email, and no direct connections to social media. To switch back to my normal account I have to type in a password. This has proven to be sufficient. I could theoretically sign into facebook from there, but have been able to resist so far. It’s a cheap alternative, and is probably available in every modern O.S.

  5. I fucking hate that I had to resort to “distraction-free” software to focus on my book at this point in my life, but I did, and it is what it is. And Freedom worked for me, well enough I can say that I endorse it to you…

    It would make me so happy if they used this endorsement on their web site.

  6. Thanks, I got someone who would (eventually) love something like this. Can it also tell you when it is time to go to bed?

  7. I have seen so many writers say something like “Augh, can’t write, too much evil!” in the past year. Glad you’ve found something that helps with that.

  8. For very much the same reasons, I’ve been using Moment on my iPhone and the StayFocusd extension on Chrome, with varying degrees of success. I’ll have to give Freedom a look. I’ve had to institute a no-devices rule for my evening reading/thinking/writing time. I have my books, notepad, journal, and my fountain pens, and that’s it. If there’s something my reading or thinking prompts me to look up, I note it on my notepad and go back to the analog.

  9. I know a few people who could use that on their bleeping phones. “Help! my co-workers are having their brains sucked out by subtle alien devices!”

  10. Heh. My partner has de-installed all games on his computer, and intermittently blocks Facebook there as well by the simple expedient of dropping its IP address into his Hosts file. Does this solve the problem? No, because if I’m not on MY computer he comes out and plays games and looks at Facebook on it instead! It does mean less time wasted overall, but it’s not an ideal solution. :-)

  11. this is actually perfectly timed. youngest has a summer book report to write (actually two), and left alone on the computer to type he gravitates to certain games. every time i walk past he has to hit the boss button to make it look like he’s working. i don’t have the time nor inclination to watch him type for hours, and at this point if i suggest hand writing, one of us will end up institutionalized. an electronic babysitter is exactly what i need. thank you.

  12. “for a lot of people in creative fields, it’s making it hard to focus on your work when you know that the world is on fire”

    FWIW, it’s not just people in creative fields. Stress and anxiety is higher all over, and “Psychology Today” claims this is going to have long-term effects ( https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stressful-lives/201707/trump-s-era-anxiety-is-harming-the-nation-s-health ).

    Personally, I’m feeling a lot more depressed; not for me (I’m a Green Card holder from England; theoretically the least likely to be targeted) but for the whole shit show.

    Sometimes I wish I was the arsehole I was in my youth, when I didn’t care about anyone but myself. Unfortunately I grew into a functional adult, and seeing what is happening hurts.

    (And yay Brexit England… there is no win).

  13. In Days of Yore, I used to use Parental Control features to restrict access to my particular time-waste-y sites while coding; to access those specific sites I had to enter a password. If code was compiling and it was time for a break, I entered the password, but if I just reflexively went there (as you report with Twitter) after looking something up or checking email, then the password-entering was enough of a “wait, do I really want to do this?” for me to reverse course before my attention was sucked in. The downsides were that I had to set the sites manually (so if I found a new time-sink, I had to add it to the not-allowed list) and I couldn’t schedule “open hours” or different sets of permissions; it also might not be quite enough for some people, as it’s easy to enter a password and I’m not sure how soon one would develop the reflex to enter the password without actually re-thinking the activity. But just having an extra “do you really want to do this?” step introduced to interfere with muscle memory worked reasonably well for me.

  14. Gee, I feel blessed, I have no more stress and anxiety than I ever had. But then I get home too late to watch the news. 🙂

  15. Now all we need is software that works on “the source”, rather than blocking reporting on “the source”. Well, I guess we do. It is called VOTING!

  16. I tend to need to steer clear of political stuff these days, mostly for my own mental health (I got a wonderful reminder of this yesterday, where spending a few hours following Twitter was enough to basically kick my jerk!brain into full-on depression mode). At the moment, though, this largely consists of remembering I need to steer clear of things beginning with a “T” – Twitter, Tumblr, etc – although this may have to extend out to “the entire internet” depending on how things go today. However, being on a low income, what I may wind up doing instead is just killing the browser window and going manual for a day or three. I have a new book of crosswords, that can be my distraction du jour.

  17. That’s pretty adult of you and probably mildly miserable. I’m in awe of your determination and will power. Thank you for the gift. 💖

  18. I get why it’s so very frustrating having to resort to this kind of solution. It’s super annoying to realise that there’s a small part of your brain driving the rest of it into distraction dead-ends as a subconscious avoidance strategy. It feels as though a part of you is not aligned with the rest, and is actively working against you. It feels like a betrayal.

  19. I suppose it is good to have something help you block out the issues of the day if you seem incapable of doing it on your own. Personally, I have no problem blocking out the national and world issues of the day simply because my immediate concern is the local and state issues of the day, since those are the ones that directly affect me the most.

    What good is it to get worked up over something that distracts you from what you want to get done, especially if all you do is get worked up and don’t do anything beyond getting tied up into a pretzel?

    Personally, I would that a cheaper solution than investing in software is to simply have a dedicated computer for writing sans the Internet. I do and it works fine for me.

  20. Every morning, I check cnn and wonder if the idiot in chief managed to set the world on fire while the rest of us were sleeping.

    Salute a North Korean general? Declare war on Cananda? Buddy up to Kim Jung Un? Start a trade war with china? Literally hug a flag? Piss off all of western europe? Withdraw from un human rights commission? Defend Nazis? Try to ban Islam? Separate children from parents and put them in little concentration camps?

    Its like a spoiled rotten 4 year old with a bad temper is running the nation.

    https://www.alternet.org/election-2016/donald-trump-was-bailed-out-bankruptcy-russia-crime-bosses

    And his supporters dont care, nor does blatant hypocricy or common decency seem to have any effect on them. The Ken Star witch hunt went on for 4 years with nothing to show for it, with republicans egging them on. Mueller’s investigation after just a year has 5 guilty pleas and 17 indictments, and republicans decry how biased Mueller is.

    They dont care because Trump is implementing the bigotry they want. Build the wall, separate immigrant families, ban muslims, tell black nfl players to stop protesting racist police, grab women by the p***y, start a trade war with china,

    I dont want to live on this plabet anymore.

  21. I thought I was the only one who felt needing distraction software was a personal failing. I’m an aspiring novelist, and I thought maybe my need for Freedom was a clue that I just don’t have what it takes. It’s an enormous comfort to know that even you, John, sometimes can’t stop yourself from going down the rabbit hole.

  22. Actually, what with my new puppy, who has time for the news? I watch it less and less, still get the physical paper that I can leaf through, never have liked the online headlines only stuff. Getting old, I guess.

  23. I have to agree with Tomas, that there is a market for this is so very American! And it is the kind of thing that sociologists will look at in future years and go, WTF? I do not have the problem of the s***show of the news interfering with my work, but how I manage my news-related stress is that 1) I don’t watch any form of televised news, and 2) I (generally) don’t follow the news (and rarely get on the computer) on the weekends — my weekly detox.

  24. I love the fact that the custom blacklist is titled “Last Week of Writing”, and presumably covers everything except the word processing software and the oxygen valve.

    I’ve occasionally used Leechblock, with good results. Of more value at present: I use a Chrome extension called FBP, which does NOT officially stand for Facebook Purity because Facebook would never ever ever allow the word “FacebooK’ to appear in the name of a browser extension that allows the user to selectively block sections of the Facebook interface, and will even allow keyword blocking, while allowing the things you might actually want to see that don’t drive you batshit. I LOVE FBP.

  25. Waiting for the hater crowd to read the title, ignore the post and rant about how Scalzi doesn’t enthusiastically support FREEEEDOM!

  26. I’m a little wary of it because it works by routing your internet traffic through a proxy on their servers, but still subscribed.

    Not sure it’s actually working, though. 5 minutes into a session, Safari crashed and on restart twitter and other blocked sites opened no problem.

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