How to Block Bad Websites—or Just Get Things Done

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The internet is, on the whole, great—it’s full of ways to connect, learn, grow, and be entertained. But as the old adage goes, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. You might well have a list of websites that you know you should really steer clear of.

Maybe you’re spending too much time doomscrolling on Twitter, or maybe you’re doing a bit more online shopping than your bank account can handle. Maybe you’re spending too much time on that one game everyone’s playing. There are plenty more examples. These might be sites that you know you should avoid entirely, or just at certain times of the day.

Whatever your particular need for supplementary discipline, there are tools that can help. None are 100 percent effective—since you’re the one setting them up, you can also disable them just as easily—but they might just help give your willpower an extra nudge.

BlockSite

David Nield via Chrome

BlockSite is a free browser extension for Chrome and Firefox, and an app for Android and iOS, that does exactly what it says it will: block websites for you. You can block sites individually or by category, get usage reports on how you’re using your devices, sync blocks across mobile and desktop, and more.

There’s even a focus mode that helps you work in structured, timed bursts before being allowed back on to the wilds of the web again. If you’re not looking to block something entirely but need some help staying away from it when you should be working, then BlockSite can help.

You can use BlockSite for free, but if you pay $9 a month (or less if you buy several months at once), you can block sites in bulk, apply an unlimited number of blocks, and customize the page you see when you try to access webpages that are off-limits.

LeechBlock NG

David Nield via Chrome

LeechBlock NG for Chrome and Firefox isn’t quite as comprehensive as BlockSite, but it does the job, and it’s free to use. If you just want something really simple to manage a list of sites you want to steer clear of, it’s one of the best browser tools we’ve come across for doing that.

There’s a good amount of customization available in the tool: You can split sites up into a maximum of six groups (e.g., for social media, shopping, or whatever), and you can limit blocks to certain times of the day. There’s also a complete lockdown mode that helps you stay focused on one job.

Dig into LeechBlock NG’s advanced options and you can actually disable access to the extension during certain times—so it’s virtually impossible to get around the restrictions you’ve put on yourself. OK, you could just open a browser without LeechBlock NG installed, but it might at least give you pause to reconsider.

Cold Turkey

David Nield via Windows

Cold Turkey is a desktop app for Windows and macOS (with accompanying browser add-ons) that don’t mess around when it comes to blocking websites. You can block certain sites, the entire internet, the entire internet except for certain websites, and even particular Google searches that you don’t want to run.

Once a block is applied, it really is applied—you can even disable access to the Task Manager (Windows) or Activity Monitor (macOS), as well as the Cold Turkey uninstaller, to make sure you stay focused and away from the sites you don’t want to see. It’s a comprehensive package, and it also keeps statistics so you can see how many times you’ve tried to access blocked websites. (There is a less strict mode that allows you to break blocks if you really want to).

You can use Cold Turkey for free or pay a one-off fee of $39 for a Pro license and some useful extras, including scheduled blocks, timers to help you work in focused bursts of attention, password protection for the app settings, and a Frozen Turkey mode that locks you out of Windows or macOS entirely—forcing you to go do something other than stare at your screen.

Freedom

Photograph: Freedom

Freedom might seem like overkill if you just want to block a few websites, but if you want as many bells and whistles as possible, it could be perfect for you. It’s an entire suite of distraction-blocking and focus-enhancing tools that cover Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and although it’ll eventually set you back $7 a month, you can try it for a week for free.

The program lets you block specific websites or the entire internet, with scheduling options if you only want to put certain parts of the web off-limits at certain times. It can block apps on your devices as well as websites, sync your blocking preferences across different platforms, and even keep records of how you’ve been using the web and the apps on your phone and computer.

There’s even a Locked Mode that makes it just about impossible to undo the restrictions you’ve put in place until the specified time elapses. Freedom isn’t completely draconian though—it can also play various ambient noise soundtracks to help you concentrate on your work.

Edit Your Hosts File

David Nield via Windows

There is a baked-in way of blocking websites on Windows and macOS that lets you manually stop certain websites from loading—no fee and no extra software required. It’s not foolproof, because you can just undo the changes if you want, but it involves a bit of extra work and may be enough to put you off visiting those sites you know you shouldn’t.

We’re talking about editing the hosts file, the file that your computer uses to find its way across the web. On Windows, launch Notepad, and then open the hosts file from the Windows/ System32/ drivers/etc folder on your hard drive. Under the last line, enter “127.0.0.1” followed by a space, then the URL of a website (without the HTTPS)—add new lines for each of the websites you want to block, save the file, and then restart your computer to see that your chosen sites are no longer accessible.

Open Terminal is similar on macOS. Type “sudo nano /etc/hosts” and hit Enter, then enter your macOS account password to open the hosts file. As on Windows, you can then add new websites to the end of the file, one site per line, using the format “127.0.0.1 www.websiteurl.com”. Ctrl+O will save the file, and Ctrl+X will exit it. You then need to type “sudo dscacheutil -flushcache” and hit Enter to apply the changes.


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