Reducing online mental bandwidth requirements

31 Mar 2014, 9:13 p.m.
These are some tools I use to cut down on the amount of attention I spend on unhelpful distractions online. It's a little ironic that I'm writing this post now, because I'm currently having a terrible time pinning myself down to get anything done, but hey.


  • LeechBlock is a Firefox extension, a highly customisable solution to the problem of accidentally wasting time surfing the web. It can handle different blocking rules for up to six lists of sites, blocking by time of day and/or by time already spent on those sites.
  • That means you can bar access to fun-but-distracting sites during work hours, and put the Daily Fail and Huffington Post into a list named "Block forever ahahahahahaha fuck you," should you so wish.
  • I've found it very useful to block the addresses of the sites that handle those clickbaity "As seen around the web" link lists:,, etc.

Adblock Plus

  • Adblock Plus, another extension for multiple browsers, blocks ads. It's very good at this. On setting it up, you can pick a readymade list of filters, and easily add more by right-clicking.
  • YouTube video ads are included in this!
  • I also use it to block annoying non-ad photos and gifs that catch in the corner of my eye while reading webpages.
  • If you're already blocking and its ilk with LeechBlock, you can use ABP to get rid of their thumbnail images too.
  • Even better: ABP now has the companion extension Element Hiding Helper, which will block any page element you select. I've used this to block the links to 'Hot Network Questions' on Stack Overflow, for instance. They're much more interesting than the useless affiliate links on other sites, but if I'm on Stack Overflow it's usually for work, and life is nicer without the temptation to read all the interesting stuff on the RPG and Sci-Fi Stack Exchanges.
  • You could also use this to get rid of the Trending Tweets and Who to Follow boxes on the Twitter main page.
  • Update, 21.05.2014: The following element hiding filter rule will get rid of recommended posts on the Tumblr dashboard:[data-is-recommended="1"]


My final favourite extension is CommentBlocker for Firefox. It's now inspired a Chrome version, too. We all know that you should never read the comments, and CommentBlocker makes it easier to follow that rule.

Other stuff

Aside from browser extensions, I try to be strict about keeping the number of people I follow on Tumblr and Twitter as low as possible. You can turn off retweets (the new-style ones) on Twitter, and I've done so for nearly everyone I follow. I emptied my Google Reader subscriptions a couple of years before it got shut down, just to have one fewer inbox-zero to chase; Facebook had already bitten the dust.

There are arguments against all these measures, some of which I'm more open to than others, but taken all together they turn the internet from an overwhelming stream of flashing images and unignorable text into a much calmer place for me. If there are good tricks I'm missing, I'd love to know about them!