One of the biggest threats to my (and I suspect everyone’s) productivity is the very existence of the Internet. This is not particularly surprising, as the large amount of freely available information practically guarantees that something new and interesting will catch my attention. Of course, I cannot just swear off the Internet forever and completely, as I do need it to get my actual work done. The tight entanglement of productive vs. non-productive information on the Internet poses a serious challenge for the maintenance of self-regulation, as one of the most effective methods of self-regulation – access control – becomes impossible. Access control is so effective because it does not rely on, nor exhaust precious (and often underdeveloped) self-regulation resources. While there is existing software that theoretically allows strict access control (either time-based or blocking entire sites), these solutions are imperfect as they are either too strict, inflexible or are not adapted for multiple-computer use. I wager that many of us use at least 4 distinct machines on any given day to access the net: Office, Lab, Laptop, Home – to say nothing of cell phones. So these methods do not really solve the problem. However, a different kind of software solution does exist, and you already have it, if you use one of the more recent versions of Matlab. As it so happens, Matlab includes its very own browser. Simply type web from the command line and you are good to go. As you will notice, it is extremely bare-bones. No bells and whistles at all. No java, no toolbars, no bookmarks, no suggested websites, no plug-ins, no tabbed browsing, nothing. This is a very good thing, as it is therefore well suited to use the web for work (e.g. access papers), but not much else. It is also quite fast. I highly recommend it.
To summarize this post: Use the power of the web, do not let the web use you.
And yes, I admit it. I love Matlab.