Free yourself from internet distraction while you write your thesis

When I wrote my PhD thesis, there were many factors that helped me write fast.

But if I had to pick one thing- one defining factor in my success- then it would be this…

I wrote it with no internet connection.

I knew that the internet was my Achilles heel. It was my biggest distraction, and if I didn’t keep it under control then I would end up losing days and weeks doing nothing.


I could have tried to use willpower and self-discipline to avoid procrastination, but this takes effort to do.

Willpower is a limited resource and eventually it runs out. You know how it goes… after working for a while your brain starts finding reasons to go online…

You start by telling yourself, “I’ll just see if my supervisor has replied to that email”, but in the 3 seconds it takes to load,  you’ve already opened a tab for facebook, and before you know it you have spent 45 minutes watching YouTube videos of cats.

Removing the option

If you remove the need for willpower to keep you offline, you can direct that effort towards your work instead.

So I removed the option of going online and worked with no internet connection in my flat. There was simply no way I could get online from my home computer.

But… what if you need papers?!?

There was a time before the internet, when journals were only available in physical form, and searching for an article meant looking through pages and pages of abstracts in the library.

So it is clearly possible to do without having an internet connection!

I did it using the internet connection at the university (a 10 minute bike-ride away). I would plan ahead and download the papers I needed.

Next to my desk, I had a row of ring-binders stuffed full of articles, sorted by topic. So at any point I could reach out and grab the relevant articles.

What if you can’t cut the internet off?

It might not be possible to cut the internet off completely, especially if you live with other people or have to work in an office at the university.

If that’s the case, I can strongly recommend downloading a program called “Freedom”.


Freedom works by switching off your internet connection for a set amount of time.  If you set it to 60 minutes, then once activated you cannot access the internet. There is no password, there is no stop button, you are completely cut off until the 60 minutes are up.

You can get Freedom here. It costs $10, but if it helps you finish your thesis faster, it is well worth it!

I have no affiliation to the company, I just recommend it because I use it.

Try it out and leave your comments below!




13 thoughts on “Free yourself from internet distraction while you write your thesis”

  1. Great post. I used to stow away my internet cable as a student during exams to avoid the distraction. For my PhD, however, it wasn’t possible, because the licenses of the software I was using are stored on a server. I did use LeechBlock and Cold Turkey every now and then.

  2. Just like to say that Freedom is ace. What really kicked ass though was BT taking over a week to repair my phone line. I see myself being tempted by some criminal damage this time next year!

  3. I was using another option called “Self Control” for Mac, which I loved. However, once I installed Parallels on the machine to run a windows program I needed, self control stopped working. I’ve gone off to try Freedom, hoping that this overcomes that problem. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Cold Turkey allows you to choose the sites/programs you want to block and for how long. it is very useful.

  5. Hello James,
    I wrote you a couple of emails but didn’t hear back from you. Can you check if you got my emails? I’m sorry to use the blog to ask this, but I couldn’t find another way to get in contact with you.

  6. Really good advice! Thanks. The mini version I have seen used if you have to work in an office location where you cannot load your own software (happens a lot in companies) is to not even OPEN your email program and browser until the end of the day, if you can manage it. Keep a note of meetings for the week on your phone/even better a Postit if you have a very interactive smartphone, and set an out-of-office style message up in your email explaining that you’re only checking emails once a day, late because you are writing up. Other people will get used to it, honest!

    My personal tip (I have to run quite a lot of my EngD research through my personal webmail as I don’t have remote company email access)- turn off ANY feeds which email you from social media, etc, and set up rules that dump any bulletins you want to keep for research relevance such as paper alerts into mail folders away from your inbox. Then even if you do eventually have to check your mail the temptation is much less to go and look for these distractions as you won’t even see them initially.

    Also working outside the hours when your friends tend to contact you/ be active can help- harder nowadays!- but in my groups it tends to be early before work hours really start (so in breakfast and commuting time) and the gap between end of work and after dinner, when people are dealing with kids, going to the gym, going to the supermarket or doing overtime; my office empties and gets quiet and the email streams die off, often I can get a couple of really solid hours in then.

  7. I love this advice. A student in my Dissertation Writing Retreat in MI uses a very old computer that does not have Wifi. He says it forces him to stay focus on the writing.

  8. James – Thanks for the mention of Freedom (I wrote it). I thought you’d like to know that the reason I wrote it is so I could finish my Ph.D. (which I actually did!). Keep up the good work!

  9. You can also use StayFocusd, a chrome browser plug-in. It lets you block websites or give yourself time limits per day, or you can go nuclear where everything is blocked for a period of time.

    • that’s OK, as long as you don’t have another browser installed! I set once set up a block at set times using LeechBlock for Firefox, then ended up surfing using chrome. Stupid, but I found a way to justify it at the time!

      • Yep, I’m finding myself doing exactly the same thing! I can’t not have internet at home, but I will definitely be trying to find a windows-alternative to Freedom. And locking my phone in a drawer…

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