I found, given recent political developments, that I get tempted to access news sites, social media sites, and other non-work related websites at work more and more often lately. I wondered what I could do to force myself to be more disciplined.
One day as I was rigging my hosts file to point to a particular webserver to do some testing, it occurred to me. I should make it harder for me to access these sites by modifying the hosts file for this purpose!
What is a hosts file? If you’re a computer newbie this might be a revelation to you. The hosts file is a legacy system that has plenty of useful applications in today’s networked world. I won’t go into them here, but for the purposes of this post, we want to edit the contents of the file. On most computers, you will need elevated access (Administrator on Windows, root on MacOS) to save changes to this file.
The location of this file on Windows is in the \Windows\system32\drivers\etc folder. It’s named “hosts” without a file extension. This follows the UNIX convention, although years ago it was “hosts.txt”.
Normally this file is almost empty but usually has the “loopback” address there as a lonely entry:
You can leave that there. On a new line, you can start making entries to start blocking access to websites. Here’s a few of mine:
Make sure to save the file and close all open browser tabs and the browser itself. Now when you access twitter in an impulsive moment, you’ll get a nice 404 message.
Note that this technique is also useful for blocking out ads without triggering the “You’re using an adblocker” warning from the website itself. I recommend adding this in, too:
Bye-bye Google ads!
I’ve done this to my work computers several months ago and I’ve found myself to be tremendously more productive. Now, if I want my internet fix I pull my phone out while getting coffee. Hope it helps you too.