Block Distracting Websites

Comic: Person on left: 'I just watched you open Google News and then close it without reading it <em>five times in a row</em>.' Person on right: 'The fact that I spend most of my time so stupidly only makes it <em>more</em> important not to waste any here.'
Courtesy of xkcd

If you spend a lot of time on the computer like I do, there’s a good chance that there are some websites that you spend too much time on. Recently I’ve taken measures to outright block various distracting websites on my home computer.

On OS X and Linux you can block websites by adding entries like the following to the /etc/hosts file. (On Windows, the hosts file lives at C:\Windows\system32\Drivers\etc.)

# Block distracting websites

On OS X, you would also need to running the following terminal command to refresh the hosts file:

dscacheutil -flushcache

After doing both of these, attempting to visit one of the websites listed in /etc/hosts will display an error page.

Of course if you need to temporarily visit one of the blocked sites you can just go back to the hosts file and add a # before the corresponding entry.

2021 Update

I still use the above /etcs/hosts technique (from 2013) to block distracting websites on my Mac laptop.

On the iPhone I use the built-in Screen Time feature to block myself from distracting websites:

  • Open the Settings app and navigate to [Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > Content Restrictions > Web Content].
  • Alter the restriction type from the default “Unrestricted Access” to “Limit Adult Websites”.
  • Then scroll down to the “Never Allow” section and add any distracting websites you’d like to block by default. For example I have there. 🙂
  • Then whenever you want to actually access a distracting website intentionally (as opposed to when you reflexively auto-type such a website), you can just temporarily go back to [Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions] and just flip the “Content & Privacy Restrictions” switch off temporarily.

On macOS 10.15 Catalina and later there is a similar built-in “Screen Time” feature that appears to be usable in the same way as the “Screen Time” feature on iPhone. However since I’ve elected to limit my Macs to upgrade to a max of macOS 10.14, I still preferentially use the older /etc/hosts trick described earlier in this article.