Freeing Up Time

I realised recently that I was spending too much of my valuable time stuffing about on the Internet, reading news that made me cross or just endlessly playing games or checking my phone constantly or getting drawn into chats or sidetracked with Pokemon Go.

All these things were adding little or no value to my life except for ruining productivity at home and also importantly, at work.

So they had to go.

Drastic action was required.  Technology intervention, break the addiction.

I wanted something that would:

  1. Block all access to Internet at certain times
  2. Block access to certain sites at on a schedule
  3. Be able to prevent access to the devices at a certain time (bedtime)
  4. Limit my use of devices to only an hour or so (no matter if the internet access is enabled or not) to force me to only use them when I really need them.
  5. Prevent changes to settings so I cant cheat

Unfortunately there isn’t really one technology that works seamlessly across all Mac OS, iOS and Android devices so I used a combo approach.  I considered Net Nanny but it forces you to use their web browser which hooks into their content filter (really aimed at cleaning up the internet experience for kids) but maybe that’s no bad thing…

In the end I used:

  1. Freedom (internet blocker for Mac and iOS)
  2. Cold Turkey (Mac based website blocker with optional locked schedule)
  3. Parental Controls on Mac – locks in max use time for week days and weekends, plus a nightly lock out where the computer cant be used.  Also set up safe search, blocked sites and removed access to being able to delete apps.
  4. Restrictions on iPad and iPod – safe search, blocked sites and lock out of App Store, adding and deleting apps, changing any settings and also removed access to apps like youtube and google chrome, where it’s easier to cheat.
  5. Screen Time on Android – enables a daily time use for nominated apps, a work day app block, permanently blocked apps (settings in my case – to prevent changes) and also an evening lock out.

Seems overkill – but it didnt take long to set up and after a few tweaks (had mobile banking on the phone blocked during the day by accident and messaging was counted as a timed app, so I was running out of time on the phone before the end of the day) it was all set and running and working frustratingly well!

To do it, I did:

  1. I set up a new admin account on my Mac, removed admin permissions from my account and set up parental controls on it via the new Admin account. I gave Jay the (long and random, so I cant remember it) new admin password so I cant remove apps or the parental controls to cheat.
  2. I set up a new email for Android Screen Time app on my phone and once all set up – gave the (random) passcode to Jay so I cant log in and change anything.
  3. I got Jay to put in restrictions passcodes on iPad and iPod – I dont know them – so once set and the blocks in place I am locked out and cant change the website block lists or any settings.
  4. The Freedom account is Jays and I dont know the passcode.
  5. The Cold Turkey app on my Mac can only be removed by admin (which I dont have the password to) and the aggressive website block list is locked in till April 1st.

So all my devices are locked down and under some kind of parental control and Jay has all the passcodes.

Every week day – internet is blocked on all devices except my phone (which only has 1 hour use of Instagram and Facebook etc per day) from 4pm to 7pm, with weekends from 5am to 2pm.  So basically, during these times I have to find other things to do. There’s no point in turning on the computer before 7 as I only have 1.5 hours of use per day, likewise with the phone – I only have one hour use per day on most apps –  so I need to focus my free time on other things and only use computer or devices when they are available, internet access is enabled or I have enough access time remaining.

Its very restrictive and highly focusing.

I have newfound hours and hours of additional free time – its amazing.  Right now, at 8.30pm, I have 25 minutes of computer time left before 9pm lock out – so I timed it quite well, but other nights, it’s locked out earlier because I used it in the morning.  Trade offs.

All my other devices lock out at it’s also time up and get my book out and read. No more nights up late ‘just going to watch this movie’ or youtube video.

I set myself a challenge of doing this for 1 month then review.  Now its all set up and working I asked Jay not to give me access to any of the passwords or unlock my devices until April 1st.  No exceptions. No cheating.  I genuinely want it to be a transformational experience.

I’m pretty sure it’s going to get annoying really quickly but I’ll adjust and start doing other things.   I don’t really have anything else to do on the the devices if they are all either blocked, no internet or on a strict timer than I need to conserve when the internet is back on.

Switch off at 9, read, go to bed and get proper rest.
Weekends – gardening, chores, family time.
Evenings – family time, conversation, maybe some uninterrupted TV, hobbies, writing.

I’ll evaluate Net Nanny in a month (when I get access back) to see if that can replace Freedom, Cold Turkey and some of the local device parental controls. It would be much better if one App could do that from one password controlled place rather than 4 things using 5 tools.  However Net Nanny is very child focused and I don’t really want have that level of safe search and restriction imposed, but it’s got a very powerful schedule and time based component and I think it might be worth the $50 to try it for a month and see how it performs.

The very simple ScreenTime app on Android Phone is working well – I like having the flexibility on my phone, but I am aware that during the day most unproductive apps and games are locked out (distractions) and all the others apart from a few like messenger, email, banking and maps (adult apps that I need for work!) are on the 1 hour timer which means I only use them when I need to.

I like the way it schedules app access and limits time on it and so far it works well.    It has a feature that you can ‘buy’ additional access time using tasks (like ‘clean the bathroom = 20 minutes’) – I have not used that at this point, but it could be interesting – imagine having 0 minutes access at the start of the weekend and having to chore your way to be able to use anything other than the basic functions.  I figure that I ‘ll have so much free time that I will be able to do these chores anyway, but if I don’t – wifey has nuclear option if she chooses- erk!

Anyways if all that goes well in April – I will make a few tweaks, particularly to blocked sites, lock in a much longer fixed period or make it permanent and leave it to Jay’s decision if she wants to change a schedule or relax a rule.

Welcome back, free time, I’ve missed you.

6 Comments on “Freeing Up Time

  1. Good onya Rich. That’s pretty hard core. No doubt, once the withdrawal jitters subside you’ll probably be able to take some of these tools away, as you will have formed new habits. I’m finding that just having some free time to let my mind wander is relaxing.


    • You were part of my decision to do this – I don’t think minimalist is my thing, but talking to you made me aware of how unproductive I’d become. Was aware of attempting to change, but just falling back into old habits. So intervention beyond my ability to cheat required!

      3 weeks left then I’ll consider checking out some other tools to see if they can consolidate web filtering, scheduled app blocking, time usage, scheduled restricted websites, total blocks and time based device lock out.

      I think Net Nanny might replace Freedom and Cold Turkey (and compliment ScreenTime) and qustodio might do everything. I might unlock one device and try in parallel. But at the moment, it all works the way I want (its just a pain to change things in 5 places..) and I find myself with free time for other things just like I’d imagined.


  2. I came to this after reading your latest blog post. Those are some serious time restrictions you’ve got there…. I particularly love the ‘buying’ internet time mechanism for Screen Time. Smart, and a bit funny, heh. Glad to see you’re blogging again too, and enjoying your time out and about. Will be following along!


    • hey stranger 🙂 yeah, I needed to get my shit together to give my life a bit of a shot in the arm – got creative with the apps after doing a bit of research and boom here we are, 2 months later and so much more productive. I dont find myself missing out on much – maybe just some play along with the guitar moments that I really dont have computer time to burn (at least during the week).

      Photos – I’ve kinda lost the mojo for more serious stuff, but just enjoying fresh air and the beautiful coast, which is fine for me right now 🙂


      • Enjoyment sounds pretty serious, as you’ve just outlined. Nothing better than an injection of some beauty in the world 🙂


  3. A combo is indeed the best option.
    For Win7, a cheat-proof, straightforward program is SKEEBLOO at Check it out. I conceived it because many programs out there are “flakey”–they allow you, your children, etc.., to cheat- for some odd reason…


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