Productivity hack: The internet kill switch

Guest post by Eirik Gumeny
My kill switch.
My kill switch.

As a writer, I’m at my laptop pretty much all the time. Sadly, that means the siren call of the internet is loud and constant. The urge to stop what I’m doing “just for a second” to check Facebook or news headlines or “research” something on Wikipedia for the next several hours is substantial. I figured the best way to combat this — other than developing a stronger will to not goof off — was to get rid of the internet when I didn’t need it.

I know there are programs out there in the ether designed to help with this, but I didn’t want to spend any money or start scouring the very internet I was trying to avoid. And, sure, my laptop has a button that turns off the wi-fi, but, seriously, it’s a button on the keyboard I’m sitting in front of all day. It never even stood a chance. Finally I settled on just unplugging the router in the other room. It worked — aside from my lack of motivation, I’m also pretty lazy — but the solution was inelegant at best and annoying and mildly treacherous at worst, given how my router’s positioned and the furniture situated between me and the outlet. That’s when I stumbled upon an internet kill switch.

The apartment my wife and I are currently in, like many before it, has a light switch connected to one of the far-flung outlets in the living room. Until recently, this outlet was connected to a lamp — the purpose I imagine the electrician designed it for. But we rearranged some things, the lamp included, and we were left with this outlet that could be rendered null at the literal flip of a switch. An outlet situated directly next to our modem and router. Suddenly it had found its new purpose.

Flip a switch by the front door — a switch conveniently inconvenient, hidden behind a coat rack — and the internet goes bye-bye. I toggle that down, walk into the far room where I write, and online distractions are a thing of the past.

While the kill switch is just as easy and immediate to reverse as the laptop wi-fi button, the fact that it isn’t sitting right in front of me is enough to get me to stop and think before turning the router back on. Plus, you know, the laziness factor. More pragmatically, it doesn’t involve unplugging anything and having to dig through the rat’s nest of other electronic components sharing the surge protector when it’s time to reconnect.

Admittedly, if you’ve got an unflappable work ethic and can simply shrug off the lilting call of status updates, breaking celebrity news, and adorable puppy videos, this isn’t going to do much for you. But for the rest of us mortals, the internet kill switch is a chance to finally be productive. At least for a few hours each day.

Comments on Productivity hack: The internet kill switch

  1. We have a similar situation for our tv/vampire appliances. There are three such outlets in our living room, which actually has no overhead light. The heck 90’s, what were your electricians smoking?

    However, I have to caution similar travelers down this path: For the love all you hold holy, please plug the router into a surge protector, and plug THIS into the killable outlet, otherwise you could find yourself without internet for far longer than you wished.

    • “Vampire appliances”… what a perfect description of those things!! Stealing.

      This is amazing and we both have the tendency to get lost online. Great idea! Now all I need is one for my phone, too….

      One question for the OP: do you not need to Google things for the pieces you write? Or do you just make a list of things to Google later? Or does anyone have a kill switch for only non productive sites??

      • You can download software which temporarily blocks everything non productive. But you can also turn it off if you lack willpower, like me.

      • I have a second user profile that doesnt have my facebook and tumblr and crap logged onto it. Perfect for being productive because the distracty things are too far away. Unless I need a break, in which case I can’t keep absently working whike on break. Bonus all tge way around.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a house where the living room has overhead lighting?? I don’t think that’s just the 90’s, that’s just…home construction.

      • Wait…you may be right. I’ve lived in apartments all my life, and live also in the south, where no house is complete without a ceiling fan in the living room. But now that you mention it, only my crappy apartments had ceiling lights in the living room. All the houses I lived in/rented had ceiling fans which had lights built in. Hmm.

      • I have never seen a house Without ceiling lights in every room, thats just weird. Do you get around by candle light??

        • No, you use floor lamps. Which is why the switch by the door controls outlets.

          But yeah, here in the South almost all houses have ceiling fans with lighting in the living room. The couple of appartments Ive been in are lamp dependent, though.

    • The surge protector is good advice that I actually forgot to include. Plus that way you can double down on any other electronics you need to avoid.

      And, yes, I keep a list of things to Google later. I have a habit of falling down the rabbit hole of the internet, Googling one thing, then another, then reading something linked to that…

  2. Our wireless router is plugged into its very own surge protector with an on/off switch. Turn it off, and voila, no internet. Of course, this only works if no one else in the house wants the internet.

    • The only problem with turning off the surge protector… you are then turning off surge protection to your router. Even if it is powered off, it can still be damaged if it is plugged in when there is a surge. I used to think your computer, TV, printer, etc. could only be damaged by a surge if it was turned on, but my IT-professional roommate informed me otherwise.

  3. I use an app called Self Control. It’s perfect for you if your work or studies require internet access, but the siren call of facebook, ladyblogs, and youtube (or whatever your weaknesses are) keep pulling you away. It will block whichever website(s) you set it to, for whatever duration you’ve set it for. So keep jstor and merriam webster, but lose Offbeat Home and other fun stuff. Once engaged, there is no escaping. You can switch browsers, you can try to access those sites circuitously, you can restart your machine, and you can even try to delete the program. Nothing will get your pinterest boards back, save the passage of time.

    There are other apps that do more or less the same thing, SC is just the one I happened to find. For real though, without it, I’m pretty sure I’d be less a Bachelor’s.

    • Oh. My. God. You have just made me a better student and a better crafter. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down to knit and gone ‘Ooo, facebook’. I’ll probably have to play around with the blacklist (does youtube help if I’m using it as background music more than it might be distracting?) but dang, this is amazing.

    • This is AMAZING. For me, pinterest is actually part of work, but I can block fmylife and other stuff that I *know* will be a timesuck and not productive. Now all I need is an app to help me do productive-only things on facebook… like building my business page but not perving through friends’ wedding photos that have just been posted or laughing at cat pictures on their walls…..

    • Thanks! When I suggested it to my wife I thought it might get shot down for being ridiculous, but she ended up being a big fan.

  4. We have this very same setup in our home office! Our modem and router are connected to a surge protector plugged into the “lamp” outlet controlled by a light switch at the entrance of the room. I find this serves two purposes. The first is the internet kill switch and the second is the paranoia/peace of mind switch. All of our computers are connected to the world through those switched components and house quite a bit of personal, financial, none-ya-business information. So when we aren’t here for any lenth of time I can just flip a switch and cut off potential outside access. It also makes it easy for me to call up any family member (regardless of tech savy) to reconnect our home computers if I need to remote into them and retrieve anything while travelling.

  5. I’ve considered a program for when I’m working because my husband also works from home and we use the internet for TV/radio so turning it off when I need to work wouldn’t be feasible.

    Although, for the many who want to cut down on energy bills, setting up that type of outlet to 2 power strips of devices that don’t have to be on or have standby lights (tv’s, dvd players, stereos and the like) and turning it off by the switch when not in use is a great way to save money on electricity and something I hope to employ once we move this Spring.

  6. I have an application on my macbook called SelfControl (the dock icon is a forbading little skull just like your kill switch). It was free, and it’s extremely simple: I provide it with a “blacklist” of websites I’m not allowed to visit. For me, it includes Facebook, my favorite news websites, a bunch of blogs I tend to follow, some other sites, and unfortunately, the entire Offbeat Empire. Then I can turn it on for any amount of time up to 24 hours.

    And then I do work. Once you’ve turned it on, there no way to turn it off until the timer finishes. I guess you could try uninstalling it if you were really desperate, but realistically, you’re off those distracting websites for however long you specify. When the timer is turned on I can always add things to the blacklist, but I can only remove things when it’s turned off.

    If I try to visit one of my blacklisted sites, it just says the server isn’t available. I also have a habit of googling random things and it’s hard to blacklist that, so when I’m feeling really distracted I’ll use the “whitelist” option, which means I designate sites that are the only ones I AM allowed to visit. I use it less often because you never know when you might actually need another site. The blacklist works fine for me because if I’m doing actual research, I can’t just turn my internet off, but I need to be off certain sites.

  7. Another option is to put your router on a timer, like those ones that you use to turn your lights on and off while you’re on vacation. Once you’ve set that, the router will click off at your pre-chosen time.

    I did that and loved the extra sleep, but then a neighbor set up unprotected wireless and my diligent laptop would switch to that.

  8. Neat idea!
    For me, killing my Facebook and Tumblr cut down on a lot of mindless scrolling time. Granted I still check friends’ blogs and tumblrs but I definitely notice less mindless scrolling.
    I really like Kasey’s idea about the blacklist program on her computer, but I have a PC. >.<

  9. Cool idea! I’ll have to check out some of the SelfControl sites because our router is at my dad’s (we live next door and share) and then when I’m at Robotics we have our own or the one right next door, so I can’t exactly shut either off without disrupting everyone, LOL.

  10. Due to a hectic week in work I completely missed this post.
    As soon as I get home I’m checking that no-idea-what-it-does switch in the kitchen… It’s been driving me crazy for years!!!! THIS COULD BE THE ANSWER!!!!

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