Here’s a classic story: you open your computer in preparation for an intense, focused session of work. You’re ready to put in the time needed to complete that deliverable, and you know there’s nothing more pressing. Yet, twenty minutes in, you find yourself on a completely unrelated site, your mindset far and away from the singular concentration that you had hoped for. Sure, checking your company’s Facebook group or Wall Street Oasis might seem relatively productive compared to the Youtube videos you could be watching. But, ultimately you have one task you need to emphasize, which is difficult to do with so many possible avenues for your brain on the Internet. One of the best ways to block off these mental detours is with Google Chrome productivity extensions for your browser.
While there is an almost infinite number of possible Chrome extensions you can use, we have compiled the best tried and true tools for you to avoid distractions. Many different members of our Wing team, who is entirely remote, utilize these for their own work sessions.
Why are Chrome Productivity Extensions useful?
The fact is, this distractibility isn’t a new problem, and it definitely isn’t a “you” problem. Even back in 2009, a study found that 77 percent of corporate employees use Facebook during work hours, and 87 percent of these employees couldn’t provide a good work-related excuse for doing so. And that’s just Facebook, which admittedly has lost popularity in the past 11 years since the study. Imagine how many workers each day are spending valuable time browsing Reddit or Twitter, especially when they’re working from home. Studies have found that even supposedly “productive” online applications, like Slack, can decrease productivity.
For this reason, it may always feel like an uphill battle whenever it comes to working on your computer. We understand that feeling, and it’s universal because of the relative newness of this whole problem. For all the ease it provides us, digital technology has been a double-edged sword with a capacity for complete distraction.
Following the principle of “fight fire with fire,” you can deal with this downside of technology by using more technology to eliminate it. Or, in a less roundabout way— use Google Chrome extensions to keep yourself from reaching those time-wasting websites. Below, we have compiled 16 of the best Chrome productivity extensions, for the express purpose of avoiding distractions.
- Block and Focus
- Productivity Owl
- Focus 45
Because some of these extensions perform very similar functions, we split the list into different “functional types.” These types include website blocking extensions, Facebook altering extensions, Youtube altering extensions, and Gmail altering extensions. We’ll give you the pros and cons of each so that you can make a personal judgment about which ones to use.
Website Blocking Extensions
One of the easiest ways to avoid becoming distracted is to simply do away with the possible distractions. In the case of online distractions, all the extraneous, enticing websites like Facebook, Youtube, or other social media could just be blocked. Without the ability to access these, you might just find yourself forced to work on the task at hand.
The following extensions are ones that either prevent you from landing on time-wasting pages like social media, or ones that only allow you to remain on that page for a limited time before you can get back to work.
The first of our Chrome productivity Extensions is Block and Focus. Block and Focus is an extension that does exactly what it says: blocking the time-sinking websites like Youtube, Facebook, and Reddit so that you may focus on your important tasks. The extension is simple to use: click on the button and you can start immediately blocking out the undesirable sites. You can add and drop pages to the blacklist, and you can even create timers for how long you want a website to be blocked and how long you can take a break.
Block and Focus is one of the strongest Chrome productivity extensions. Its previously mentioned functionalities of convenient, customizable, time-sensitive website blocking can be extremely useful. It is hard to overstate how easy to use it is. Also, it provides statistics, if you agree to it. Some of this possible data include your five most blocked sites and how much time you put into your work times and break times over a past period. The tool basically provides a website-blocking service, a time tracking analysis service, and a break routine service all rolled into one. You can even hide the pause button, making it harder for yourself to break your own tool-imposed workflow.
There aren’t many cons to this service. The biggest issue may be how manual it is— you always have to turn it on or off yourself. When you start working again you may even forget to turn it back on. There are certainly advantages to the app being manual, but if you’re the type of person who knows you would forget or even purposely not turn it on, you may want to look into more stringent and automatic types of website blocking extensions.
Speaking of stringent and automatic, StayFocusd is a polar opposite of Block and Focus in many ways. It has the same general concept: blocking the bad websites so that you can focus. However, unlike Block and Focus, which is very manual and can be turned on and off at a click, StayFocusd is much more strict. It gives you a maximum time allowed on “blacklisted websites,” and it allows you to set times of day when it is active. For instance, if I’m used to working hard on a deliverable right after lunch, you can set the tool to start working from 1-2 PM on Thursdays.
As a result, it is much more automated, meaning that it will start at a specified moment instead of making you manually activate its system. This is still a very customizable tool but is much more difficult to turn on and off at will. Instead, it emphasizes the user’s best judgment for if and when it should be on.
StayFocusd does exactly what it wants to, and is a well-designed extension with tons of possible considerations and configurations. Its automatic nature can be very useful for somebody who has less self-control. For these guys, StayFocusd can play a strong part in actively ensuring a lack of distractions through its well-set up time program. StayFocusd is also very no-nonsense, which can be appealing to a type of worker. Unlike Block and Focus, which has an inspirational quote on every blocked page, StayFocusd is upfront and tells you that you should be working instead of being distracted. You have to admire how dedicated StayFocusd is to its user’s productivity.
However, all of the qualities I just mentioned as pros can also be cons. StayFocusd is very no-nonsense, which may be great for a strict person, but it can also be a little jarring for some people. Of course, that will be up to your discretion. If you’re the type of person who wants a blocker without fluff, then StayFocusd is perfect.
Additionally, while I did say there were downsides to Block and Focus’s more manual control, I would also add to be careful of StayFocusd’s process of setting-up specific times. This can be great, but the difficulty in turning StayFocusd on and off can cause some people frustration when all they want is to quickly block off certain websites for a short period of time. Instead, they would have to go into the tool’s macro and adjust everything there, which is a hassle.
Overall, it comes down to you and who you are when deciding which Chrome productivity extensions are best. If you’re usually on a set schedule of work anyways, then StayFocusd’s difficulty in spontaneity shouldn’t be a big issue.
There is no scarier manager on this Earth than Productivity Owl. The Productivity Owl is definitely the most unique of the Chrome productivity extensions I’ll talk about today. First and foremost, the tool is what it sounds like: an owl that keeps you productive. This is done through similar means to previous tools: blocking the websites you tell it to when you tell it to.
The twist is that the tool itself is personified by this nocturnal bird. While this initially seems endearing (I personally thought it would be), you quickly realize that the owl is not your friend. It’s more of a disapproving teacher. The owl stops you before you enter a website you’ve blacklisted, and when you ask it to make an exception, the result can be seen in the image above. This sort of serious distraction managing can be very useful, but can also be kind of jarring.
Additionally, Productivity owl operates under something called Respect. Respect represents points awarded for staying on task and avoiding time-sink sites. However, interestingly enough, Respect is lost when you delete the extension, or even if you deactivate it for a short time. This means that the extension doesn’t expect you to ever deactivate the owl. Instead, the Owl only allows you on your blacklisted sites during “Free Time.” “Free Time” are segments of the day that you personally select where the Owl won’t bother you.
The Productivity Owl is definitely a strong hand. Your mileage may vary when using it, as some people may find it much too overbearing. However, it definitely does its job. It forces you to stay on task and refuses to let you make exceptions for sites. It even maintains a system that discourages you from deactivating its program for your own purposes. This system, the Owl’s respect points, is extremely unique and well designed. By making the software a figure that can be disappointed in you, the extension tricks us. It makes us feel guiltier about slacking off. These are all strong ways of making sure that its user doesn’t become distracted, and you have to admire how well-made the tool is.
Even compared to StayFocusd, which I called stringent earlier, Productivity Owl is the most strict of the Chrome productivity extensions. Some may want a more lighthearted or manually controlled tool, which they can turn on and off for light sessions of working. These people will not like this tool. Productivity Owl is strict, it is unforgiving, and that is where its value lies. Some may not want to have that constant cloud of pressure over their work.
Focus 45 is very similar to Block and Focus, except much more colorful and a little more cheeky. This extension basically sets rigorous time management for you while you work. The exact minutes are editable, but Focus45 initially starts you off in 45-minute work intervals, with 3 minutes of break in between. During the 45 minutes, time-wasting websites are blocked.
The picture I included above is the drop-down menu that comes after clicking on the extension. As you can see, you have the ability to select what websites to blacklist.
The positives of this specific extension is very similar to my positives list for Block and Focus. Namely, ease of access and customizable blocking that allows for break-based work sessions. However, Focus 45 is different in two select ways. First, the tool itself is much more colorful, as I mentioned. This might not be a big deal to many people, but some may think that Focus45 is easier on the eyes. Secondly, Focus45’s block message— the page that Focus45 redirects you to when you try to enter Facebook or Youtube— is a bit more lenient than Block and Focus. It allows you to enter the page if you type in a string of letters, almost like a Captcha security code. Some people may like this, as they may want an option to enter any site if they have a dire need.
Just like how Focus45 and Block and Focus have similar pros, the two share cons as well. The ease of access can cause people to turn it on and off on a whim, which may make it easier to ignore. In fact, Focus45 may end up being less effective for some people who have very little self-control. Focus 45 offers its users a way out. Like I mentioned earlier, the redirect page allows you to enter the website if you can enter a string of letters. Most people would just recognize that they should head back to work. Some people, however, may have less self-control, which means they will just bulldoze into the site anyways.
Speaking of cheeky, we now move onto the most facetious of all the Chrome productivity extensions on our list today: Blocksite. As seen by the page above (which is what hit me when I tried to go to Facebook), Blocksite makes its redirects humorous. But besides this quirk, Blocksite also has its fair share of customization. You can choose what sites to block permanently and what sites to block during “work time” (which you can toggle on and off). You can even ban your computer from going to sites featuring a certain word. These functionalities are strong, but not super unique.
Blocksite does have a paid version, which provides a few more unique functionalities. First off, it allows you to customize the pages for redirection of specific sites. Considering how interesting the redirect pages already are, this actually is a better perk than it sounds. Additionally, Blocksite Premium allows you to block sites by category, so you can block all social sites, news sites, sports sites, or gambling sites. You can toggle these on and off.
Blocksite is fun, and that honestly adds a lot of points for the right person. It lightheartedly turns the user around when it catches them off-task, which I personally appreciate. the rest of it, including its settings page, is very well-made, clean, and good-looking. Additionally, its customization is very strong, especially within the premium version. Of course, if you’re willing to shell out money for the premium version, then this might be a strong candidate.
The cons of Blocksite will depend on the person. Some people may not like the lighthearted way they approach redirects. Some people may want more automation out of it.
Also, you have to start your list from scratch. Figuring out what websites to add might be a big hassle, especially when you realize that you missed a website. Once you’re already on that Reddit page, it may be too late.
Out of all the Chrome productivity extensions I’ll talk about today, TimeWarp is hands-down the most customizable. Basically, TimeWarp allows you to choose what happens when you head to certain trouble sites that you know you waste time on. For instance, as I’ve shown above, if you know that you aren’t good with Instagram, you can enter in that site as a page to blacklist.
Furthermore, TimeWarp allows you to personalize what happens if you do try and go to that site. For example, you can redirect your future self to a different website. You can show a quote, which you can customize yourself and tailor to what you want to tell yourself at that moment. Or, you can simply place a timer that will keep you out of the site after a certain amount of time.
The personal touch of TimeWarp is definitely one of its strongest points. You can use your own discretion for what to do when it catches you going to certain sites, which means that you can personally make the end result more effective in ensuring productivity. Additionally, the tool itself is easy to toggle. It’s an extension in the top right corner, which you can click to turn on and off.
One negative with TimeWarp is the fact that you’re starting from scratch. While this makes it more personalized, it also can cause problems when starting out. When you’re entering in your blacklisted sites as time-sinks, some of them may slip your mind. Sure, Facebook and Youtube are obvious. But, when you catch yourself pouring over Wall Street Oasis for the sixth time in a day you might realize that you should’ve added that site as well.
Limit has one key difference from the other Chrome productivity extensions we discussed. This one allows you to set your own timer on how long you can stay on certain sites. You also have an option to put the timer on those sites, which counts upwards by intervals of ten seconds. The app tracks active use on the page. This is measured by whether or not the user is clicking, or whether or not something is playing audio. It’s an accurate indication of how much you use the website. Once time is up, the page closes, and the extension lets you know that you’ve used up the daily limit.
The extension’s settings page is streamlined and straightforward, and the extension does exactly what it tells you. Additionally, this type of loose time constraint, instead of complete blocking, can be very useful for controlling distractions. If one wants to take a break but doesn’t want to get sucked in for too long, this is a great tool.
The timer on the page can be a bit distracting and clunky. This is especially jarring when compared to the rest of the extension, which like I said is extremely clean. This isn’t that big of a deal, and you can turn off the timer on the page if you wish. The biggest disadvantage this specific tool has over extensions like Block and Focus or Stayfocusd is that it doesn’t completely block out websites unless you set every timer to zero for every website (which you’ll have to manually change back afterward if you want more time).
If you want to completely hone in and focus on your work, this extension allows for too much leeway. You can accidentally spend more time than you want on time-wasting sites if you only rely on Limit. In fact, I would say that this might actually be a strong tool to use in tandem with another “blocking” extension, like Block and Focus, and to deactivate and activate the two at will.
Pause is one of the more unique Chrome productivity extensions on this list. Made by the same creators of Limit, Pause is similar in that it is very streamlined and easy to customize. However, Pause’s difference is that, when its user is about to enter a blacklisted site, it will “pause” him or her for 5 seconds. This is to get its user to think about whether he or she should actually enter the site. Then it gives its user the option to enter the site or not.
Psychologically, this is a very smart extension. It doesn’t block or completely inhibit the user like the previous extensions. But, it slows down users enough for them to wonder if they should really be looking at this page.
Like I’ve said before, the user interface is extremely simple, and the page design is calming and non-confrontational, which is helpful. It has a lot of faith in users to recognize their own destructive time sinks and stop them, which is actually a stronger way of changing habits than forcibly removing sites from their access. If you’re somebody who is usually self-aware and has moments of weakness, then this tool and its non-judgemental way of setting you back on track is a boon.
Its faith in its user base can be hit-or-miss, depending on the type of user. While the theory of slowing down the user makes sense, some people aren’t necessarily responsive to it. Instead, they would bulldoze into the site anyways. When considering whether or not to use this tool, it’s important to have a self-evaluation first. Would you, as a user, be able to use the time Pause gives you to come to a productive conclusion? Or, would you see it as a minor inconvenience, and go into the site anyways?
Key Takeaways: Which of these Chrome Productivity Extensions Should You Choose?
Ultimately, what I’ve stressed throughout this article is that each extension serves a different kind of person. Obviously, I wouldn’t tell someone to get all 16 of these extensions. However, I hope that the pros and cons I’ve laid out for you can help you come to a decision about which of these tools you should add to your arsenal. It does come down to who you are, how you work, and you want to be treated by the extension.