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9 apps to shut up the Internet and get back to work

Damon Brown | Aug. 12, 2013
It began with the best of intentions.

It began with the best of intentions.

When you sat down to work, you thought maybe you'd quickly check your email first. Then you remembered you needed to wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook. Then you figured you might as well log on to Twitter--just for 5 minutes. Now you suddenly realize that an hour has gone by and you're lost in a wormhole of Buzzfeed articles about the 50 Cutest Hedgehogs Wearing Hats.

While the Web can be an amazing resource for work, it's also a great source of entertainment--which can make it a serious hazard when you need to buckle down and be productive. Most people can turn off landlines, mute smartphones, and hush push notifications easily enough, but getting the World Wide Web to quiet down is a little harder.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has led to a whole movement focused on unplugging. The Undo List, for example, can provide you with a tip sheet for taking a 24-hour tech break. An annual National Day of Unplugging occurs every March. And the clever phone-stacking game encourages diners to set their cells aside for the duration of a meal and enjoy one another's company--and whoever picks up their phone first also picks up the tab for the whole table.

Of course, the very tech that creates trouble in the first place can also help you create your own cone of sweet, productive silence. Many modern software offerings are available to help you find a Zen-like focus, instead of pushing you further into distraction.

One of my favorites is iA Writer, a full-fledged word processor that strips all distractions away from the writing process. Forget Helvetica and Arial: The text here is in plain type, a clean screen keeps your focus on your text, and you use shorthand to mark formatting such as underlining or bold.

iA Writer removes Microsoft Word's feature creep from your work equation, but it includes some practical options that the classic word processor lacks. The trippy Focus Mode highlights the current line you're typing, turning it black while the other words on the page recede into the background. It also automatically saves your documents to iCloud or Dropbox. The Mac version normally costs $10 and the iPad/iPhone version $5, but at the moment iA has them on sale for $5 and $1, respectively. Take advantage.

Windows users can check out FocusWriter, a free app that lets work with a distraction-free full-screen interface as you pound out TXT and basic RTF and ODT files. Everything remains hidden when you're not using it, including such optional features as live statistics and the ability to set daily goals, either in minutes or in words. Meanwhile, WriteMonkey, another free Windows app, offers full-screen writing, keyboard shortcuts for everything, and even an optional typewriter sound. An optional donation will unlock additional WriteMonkey features.


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