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The first thing I do when I get to work each day is check my personal e-mail, followed swiftly by my Facebook account and Twitter page. Of course, I arrive at work early enough in the morning that there’s rarely anything new to check, but it’s a habit. And even while writing this article, I have my favorite personal Web sites running side by side with the sites I need for research.

In the last few years, our personal lives have moved online. Yet many professions have increased their reliance on the Internet to get work done, creating a constant competition for our attention. It’s okay to be an Internet junkie at home, but when your favorite sites distract you from getting your work done, it’s time to learn to tune them out.

Ironically, unless you’re planning to go analog, the solution to this problem may actually involve more Web sites. A new collection of sites have emerged to help Internet users police themselves. Here are some of the ones we find most useful:

1.    Time Trials
Several Web sites hope to guilt you into being more productive by tracking how much time you spend on personal sites each day. Perhaps the most successful is RescueTime, which claims to save users an average of nearly 4 hours a day. It does this by analyzing the programs you use actively (sites don’t register if they are just in the background) and lets users follow their own usage trends, so they can figure out which sites take up the most time and make adjustments. There is a pay version (starting at $4 a month), but the free version does most of the same stuff except it doesn’t show your tracking data for more than three months, which is probably better for your morale anyway.

2.    Police Yourself
This may seem harsh, but if you’ve checked Facebook more than once today, you may want to consider this option.  LeechBlock is my preferred choice.  You simply add it into your browser (it’s designed for Firefox) and then specify which sites you’d like to block and for how long. The site even allows you to password protect your access to these blocked sites so you have an extra barrier to wasting your time. And like RescueTime, Leechblock will keep track of the time you spend on these blocked sites.

3.    The Ultimate To Do List
If you don’t want to track your time and can’t bring yourself to block your favorite Web sites, at least consider upgrading your to-do-list style. I recommend mind mapping, a web-based tool that lets you diagram your thoughts and tasks for the day in elaborate mind bubbles. It’s like Google Calendar on steroids. Download a free open-source version of the program here, or check out an advance version on, which allows you to share your ideas with others and collaborate on projects. You can schedule your professional and personal tasks for the day. It may not stop you from checking Facebook, but it can help you schedule when you’d like to.

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