We all know why it’s important to create a distraction-free environment when diving into deep work (any work that requires prolonged, deep focus.) Writing is no exception. Deep work is essential to the growth of the creative artist. But growing pains can feel unpleasant. So we tend to reach for something – anything, be it chocolate, cigarettes, Instagram, or Tinder – to anesthetize the unpleasantness. We all have vices that habitually distract us from doing deep work.

With many industry giants pouring money into fighting for our attention, it has become imperative to create a virtual environment that minimizes distractions. Hopefully we already know the basics – to put our phones away, find a quiet space/time, get some coffee…

But it’s 2020 and most of us do our work through our PC/Mac and that can come with some easily-accessible distractions. Here are some simple, incredibly effective, free tools that have really helped me bolster my creative virtual space.


(Word Processing software; Cross-platform, 5 minute set up across devices)

I’ve always felt that my brain is good at generating ideas, but not at remembering them. Ideas will pop up randomly, when I’m cooking, or shopping, or out on my walk. I find it absolutely imperative to have a cross-platform word processing software available to me to jot down these ideas as and when they arise.

SimpleNote enables me to quickly note down some key words or bullet points on my phone. Then I can come home, put my phone away, and sit down to write on my laptop, ready to expand on the notes which are already loaded up for me. Many of us already use something like this but if you don’t, get SimpleNote!

What I love about this software is that it’s really lightweight (= FAST!) and visually minimalistic, yet has the exact functionalities that I need from a word processor. It has a clean interface, uncluttered by toolbars, including the ability to toggle the sidebar where pretty much the entire screen becomes your typing playground. Additionally, it also has a dark mode option, which is really easy on the eyes – especially useful if you are spending hours and hours writing everyday.


(Browser extension – Chrome and Firefox – 30 second set up)

For editing or collaborative work, Google Docs is the OG, but it’s only accessible through a web browser. Many of us have to do some or the other work on a web browser and that can be a problem because the “new tab” button is right there, luring us.

When you open a new tab, most browsers have a default feature which rolls out a buffet of websites you visit most often. It’s tempting to mindlessly click on one of those websites and get sucked into a vortex, which carries you into the distant realms of the internet, far far away from the task at hand.

Momentum is a browser extension which takes over your “new tab” page and helps you reorient to what’s important.

How does it know what’s important? You can type that in at the beginning of each day.

Everyday, there’s a new quote and a stunning photo, which remains there throughout the day, so there’s a theme to your day! When you open up a new tab, you are greeted with your name, which automatically makes you a little self-aware. “Good morning, Neha! What’s your main focus for today?” You can type the answer right into your browser. Each time you open a tab, you will see what you typed in, along with that image and quote.

As if that’s not enough, there’s also a really handy To-Do list feature, which can be filled out anytime, and checked off at your own pace. I notice it really helps me to put in the ToDos the night before. It allows my brain to sign off, knowing it will all be there in the morning.

One Deep Breath – Browser Extension

(Browser extension – Chrome and Firefox – 30 second set up)

Writing can be lonely. Social media gives us instant gratification hits. Information overload coupled with dopamine hits of “likes” and “comments” – this is the environment we live in now. I’m not here to bash the way things are, simply to accept they are the way they are and work within those parameters.

Personally, social media was a big piece I needed to rein in for the sake of my mental health and productivity. I’m sure you can relate on some level. It’s not easy to cut it out, because many people need to stay active on it for their business.

One Deep Breath allows you to select certain websites to put on a “blocklist.” When you try to use your browser to go to these websites, it will put up a screen which prompts you to breathe in and out, remind you that the site is on your blocklist, and make you wait a full 15 seconds before giving you two options: “Continue for 15 minutes” or “Let’s meditate instead.”

This pause, coupled with breathing, works like a charm to snap me out of autopilot, and 9 times out of 10, I’ll navigate away and back to my writing.

But what about that 1 time out of 10 when I’ll end up clicking “continue for 15 minutes?” You will receive a prompt in 15 minutes that your time is up. You can again choose to continue or close the tab. Having these prompts is crucial to ensure you don’t end up mindlessly scrolling those websites as precious time passes you by.

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook – Browser extension

(Browser extension – Chrome and Firefox – 30 second set up)

Sometimes you just need to use Facebook – be it for your business or to check on birthdays. But that puts you at risk of encountering photos of your ex who said they were not the type to post their relationship on social media, or to get married, and yet here they are, doing both at once. What will this do to your focus for the rest of the day?

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook is a browser extension that just entirely removes your news feed and puts a nice motivational quote in its place. This is what it looks like:

Now you can safely check on birthdays, visit your coaching group, or post on your profile without the news feed throwing off your focus.

Distraction-Free for YouTube – Browser extension

(Browser extension – Chrome and Firefox – 30 second set up)

YouTube is one of those dangerously neutral websites. Sometimes, I need to use it to look something up, or to play that 3-hour smooth jazz track as a backdrop to my writing. So if I go with a clear intention to find something I need, that’s great.

But technology is getting smarter at predicting the things that pull you. I often find myself getting sidetracked by the Home Page where you can see recommendations for all kinds of fun and exciting videos that are highly relevant based on your watch history. And when you start watching one video, you have the “related videos” sidebar which sends you down an endless audio-visual rabbithole.

It’s quite remarkable to see AI advance so fast and far with its recommendations, but it’s a curse for those who are attempting to create some focused productive time. You open up YouTube, and the next thing you know, it’s five hours later, and you are watching farmer Derek serenading the cattle with his trombone. It’s beautiful and wholesome, yes, but your work is not going to do itself. Hopefully, AI will take over that soon too!

But until then, DF (Distraction-Free) for YouTube is a browser extension that removes all videos from your home page as well as from the “recommended/watch next” section next to the player, so you can go watch the video you intend to watch, and then close the damn tab, move on with your life.


RescueTime – Cross Platform Software for Mac/Pc/iOS/Android

(Tracking software; Cross-platform, 5 minute set up across devices)

Although RescueTime isn’t going to directly facilitate a distraction-free environment, I would be remiss not to mention it in this article. This one goes out to my fellow quantified data nerds!

RescueTime runs in the background tracking the websites, apps, and softwares you use on your smartphone, tablet, and PC/Mac. Playing Witcher 3 all day? It knows. Binge-watching Netflix and VLC? It’s binge-watching you.

You can open up the app anytime to receive a harsh reality check about how you spend your screen time. One really cool feature is that it tells you how many times you’ve physically picked up your phone that day. 83 times before 10 am? Something needs to change.

It can provide you a weekly summary to your inbox detailing how many hours you’ve spent on productive v/s unproductive endeavours.

The only downside to RescueTime is that it categorises certain websites under specific sections that you can’t change. For instance, YouTube is listed under ‘entertainment’, whether I’m using it to learn Myxolidian scales on the piano or to rewatch cheesy Bollywood movies. That’s a pretty broad brushstroke, don’t you think?

But either way, understanding how much time you spend on each type of activity, and how much time you’re spending on your screen(s) in general can be a real eye opener. What gets measured, gets managed.

Each of these tools require a one-time set up to guard your virtual workspace. Now that you have your distraction-free space ready, it’s time to create! In my next article, I’ll be talking about Art With A Deadline.

Neha Sinha

I am a seasoned content writer and editor with a passion for helping people find their authentic voice and deliver a clear message. I believe the right series of words is a magical package that can bolster the quality of our thoughts, and therefore our lives.
I am also a certified fitness coach. My approach entails educating clients on nutrition and exercise biology, while facilitating the inner work that is key to changing behaviour and habits in the long run.
Learning is my drug of choice, and I do my best to leave people better than I find them!