Tools for going on an Information Diet
Information dieting requires an arsenal of tools and tricks -- and while we can constantly peruse sites like LifeHacker to give us an hour by hour dose of productivity porn, sometimes we just need to get straight to brass tacks. This page attempts to collect everything you need in order to set up your system, presuming that you've read The Information Diet. It also catalogs other software tools that may be necessary. For many, just installing the software in the QuickStart section will be useful.
Keep in mind that installing these applications and setting things up like this will not put you on an information diet. Just like cleaning the junk-food out of your kitchen won't make you lose weight if you simply choose to eat out all the time, an information diet is less about installing tools and more about making conscious decisions about the information you consume. First build good habits, then rely on software.
The quickstart section is a selection of tools to install and start using right away if you just want to get started on your information diet, and don't want to shop for different kinds of tools. Simply grab the tools you need and get started.
AdBlock Plus is available for both the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers, as well as Safari. It's a simple browser extension that blocks advertisements on major websites. If you so desire, you can always turn the back on -- but at least you're opting in to view advertisements, rather than having them thrown at you all the time. If you're an Internet Explorer user by choice, I strongly suggest you switch to Chrome or Firefox. If you're not an Internet Explorer user by choice, and are instead compelled to use Internet Explorer, then it's highly unlikely you'll be able to install IE Plugins -- but here's an ad blocker for IE.
AwayFind helps you spend less time in your inbox while staying responsive to the people who are most important to you. It does this by letting you "follow" important people and topics, then notifying you (SMS, iPhone/Android push, etc) when you get matching emails. Another handy feature is Calendar Alerts: it can notify you if someone you're meeting with emails you just before. Free and paid versions are available.
The Red Notification on all Google pages, if you're a Google+ user, is a recipe for disaster. Every web search becomes an opportunity to get sucked in to Google's social network. While Google gives you the ability to control what notifications get sent to you via email, the ability to control what's in that red box is not BlockPlus is a Google Chrome extension to simply remove that Red Box.
Mentioned in the book, RescueTime helps track what you're working on, keeping a diligent count of what's happening on your computer. While it cannot track and account for your every moment, for those that are spending most of their time in front of a computer, RescueTime is the best tool. There's a free version available, and if you want to "go pro" it costs between $6-$9/mo. Be warned -- what you'll be doing is sending every "Window Title" (the words in the titles of the windows for every application you use) to the RescueTime servers -- while the data is secure, for those that are very concerned about their privacy, you may want to seek other options (see the Time Tracking Tools below for other options). RescueTime is cross platform -- available for both Windows and OS X.
Sanebox is like Google's Priority Inbox on steroids. Sanebox filters your emails and learns from your reading habits to make sure that only the emails you need to see right now make it to your inbox. It takes the emails that don't need your immediate attention and puts them into a folder called "SaneLater" -- and close to the end of every day, it'll email you a digest of those email messages so that you can give them your attention. It's compatible with GMail, Yahoo, AOL, Outlook and IMAP email providers.
Let's take Facebook out of our email inboxes. While SaneBox should filter much of that stuff out, Facebook still makes your inbox a distraction trap. Visit Facebook's Notification Settings and uncheck the box next to "Send me important updates and summary emails instead of individual notification email." Then, visit each section of notifications on Facebook, and uncheck every box.
Same with Twitter. Uncheck every box on this page. Make Twitter something you have to check, not something that's pushed at you.
Desktop Notification Settings
Turn off all desktop notifications on your computer. If you're an Outlook user, turn its desktop alerts off. If you're an OS X User, and have somehow ended up with Growl installed on your computer, turn off all notifications.
Whichever browser you use, set your homepage URL to "about:blank." This will make it so that whenever your browser starts, it starts with a blank page, not a lure to your most visited sites. I also add about:blank to my bookmarks bar in my browser so that I can quickly "turn off" the web from my screen while keeping the web open.
If you're a Gmail user, go ahead and hide your unread counts. It might take you a while to get used to not seeing these numbers beckon for you, but they're hurting your productivity more than helping it. Enable the Hide Unread Counts setting in Gmail's Settings. It's in the Labs section about halfway down the page.
OS X: Think helps you focus on one particular application at a time on the Mac -- it's like the Full Screen setting in OS X Lion, but more versatile.
OS X: Concentrate is a compelling application that allows you to launch and quit apps by activity. When you want to work at a particular thing, Concentrate will launch the applications needed for that activity, quit the applications that are not needed for it, and start a timer to measure how long you're working.
OS X, Windows: Freedom locks the Internet down on your Mac or Windows computer for up to 8 hours. You turn it on, and you cannot get the Internet back until the timer is finished unless you reboot your computer.
OS X: SelfControl lets you lock down parts of the internet while leaving the rest open for useful work. Cannot be stopped by killing the app, deleting it, or even rebooting. You actually have to wait for the timer to end.
OS X: Time Sink is a an application that tracks how you use applications on your Mac. Like RescueTime, it stores window titles and the time spent with them, but it does it locally. Might be an option for people who don't want their data on someone else's server.
Python, PHP: Get Shit Done - For the command-line types out there, Get Shit Done is a small command line program that blocks websites known to distract us from our work. Configurable by an easy to edit text file.
*Disclosure: Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet went to college with one of the employees of SaneBox.