5 Ways to Put a Lid on Internet Rabbit Holes

(and win back the ability to focus online)

If you’re trying to focus on the Internet —

— It can be difficult to keep a train of thought going.

I noticed a while ago that I had a focus problem.

I’d sit down to write, but after a few minutes, I’d get an itch to check my email or Facebook. Of course, just to check one thing really quick and get right back to work!

But wait — what’s this? A high school acquaintance moved to Japan? When did that happen?? Better go find out what she’s doing there. Look at this article she posted! Hedgehog cafés are a thing? I better get to the bottom of that!

“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.”
— Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Two hours later, I’d stumble out of my social-media fever dream, realizing I’d only fleetingly returned to my Word document, if at all.

Maybe your rabbit holes don’t involve as many Japanese animal cafés. But we all know what it’s like to suddenly realize you have no idea how you got to be sipping tea with the Mad Hatter, right?

Logging onto social media sites — even for a simple task — can feel like tiptoeing through a mine field. Even if I just need to check a café’s hours really quick, my brunch is sure to be delayed.

The algorithms know what will grab my attention and hold it, and so they place an endless scroll of tantalizing carrots in front of me.

Maybe an author emails me a video about a new book launch strategy they’ve discovered. Great! I’m sold. I’m there for the six-minute video.

But as soon as I’m on YouTube, the billboards appear:

  • “Famous Singers WORST vs. BEST Live Vocals (Compilation)”
  • “How Bill Gates Reads Books”
  • “Lady Gaga’s Best Shady/Diva Moments Part 2”
  • Literally any clip of The Ellen Show

(Even visiting YouTube to grab these examples — while literally writing an article about my distraction problem — I could barely resist clicking. Don’t judge me for my love of pop music gossip.)

Fighting these sites with willpower is near impossible. And wouldn’t you rather save your willpower reserves for things you want to do instead of things you don’t? I’d rather use my willpower to get to the gym or finish a book, instead of battling Twitter.

Of course, you can always bomb the rabbit hole. Just destroy it entirely. I’ve done that with Instagram and Snapchat. I deleted them from my phone and, God willing, I’ll never remember my passwords.

But is opting out always practical?

I use Facebook and Twitter occasionally for work. So how can I strike a compromise with them?

How can I be in control of my social media experience, instead of these sites deciding for me?

Whatever your level of rabbit-hole-propensity, if you gain back even one minute of your time from this article, I’ll dance around to Lady Gaga over it.

I’ve done a lot of trial and error over the past year of renegotiating my relationship with social media, and I’ve come up with five free extensions I now can’t live (on the Internet) without.

So here are my 5 favorite rabbit hole covers — apps that remove the most addicting features of social media sites while keeping them usable.

1. Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator

This extension is the biggest gamechanger. If you only implement one from this list, make it this one.

This is what Facebook looks like with the Newsfeed Eradicator:

There’s nowhere to scroll. It’s like the entrance to the rabbit hole was painted over convincingly with sky. It’s just concentration as far as the eye can see.

You can still search for pages, see what friends are up to, look up businesses, and get notifications.

But it’s all your call.

2. Facebook Demetricator

Facebook gamifies social approval. One can quickly assess:

  • How many notifications do I have?
  • How many Likes did I get?
  • How many Likes did she get?
  • Wait, how long ago was my ex-boyfriend in the Cayman Islands with this girl who looks like a model?
  • How many Likes did she get?

The Demetricator removes all numbers, dates, and other metrics from Facebook.

The result isn’t as immediately obvious as the Newsfeed Eradicator, but over time, I’ve felt its impact. It really is less fun to browse Facebook when all of the numbers are gone.

Here’s what the creator has to say:

“No longer is the focus on how many friends you have or on how much they like your status, but on who they are and what they said.”

3. Distraction Free YouTube

This extension removes related content from the side of a video, so you can just focus on the video at hand.

A huge boulder has been rolled in front of this rabbit hole entrance. Sorry, Gaga.

4. Tweetdeck

A good Twitter Timeline Eradicator doesn’t exist. Any extensions I’ve found that block the Twitter newsfeed also block all the tweets on a person’s profile and your notifications list, rendering Twitter totally unusable.

Bookmarking twitter.com/mentions is a simple way to bypass the timeline, but once again, I don’t want to spend my time on Twitter remembering to avoid the distracting stuff.

The best workaround I’ve found is Tweetdeck.

I have a column for my mentions, and that’s it. It’s easy to slip in and out, distraction-free.

5. Waste No Time

This extension allows you to block specific sites during certain times of day. You can also choose to block the Internet entirely for a period of time.

But I’ve found that limiting my access to addicting sites for a portion of the day doesn’t solve how I fundamentally interact with them. They remain addicting, and taking a mandated break from them only reinforces their power.

It’s the compromise — changing how you approach and interact with the rabbit holes in the first place—that’s key.

Bye bye, bunnies.

Have you found rabbit-hole lids for other sites or apps? I’d love to hear about them and add them to this list.

Comment here or email me at kylagardner[at]gmail[dot]com

Tips from Readers:

1. Block all external Twitter links

Stephen writes that you can block all external links from Tweetdeck by muting “/” (forward slash) from your timeline.

He says, “So much of Twitter is trying to get you to check other social media sites, and by blocking all of them it pretty much pruned my feed down to just words and pictures.”

Thanks, Stephen!