SALI #2 – Ulysses Pact against the sirens of distraction

The name Ulysses pact comes from an Greek Myth by Homer, the Odyssey. In this myth at some point the protagonist Ulysses (which is Latin it’s Odysseus in Greek) wants to hear the siren song. However it is commonly known that no man is able to resist the call of the sirens. Thus he makes a pact with his crew. Whilst they all stuff their ears with beeswax so as not to be able to hear the song, he is bound to the mast and the crew promise not to untie him until well out of range of the sirens. 

The core idea of the pact is that he makes a decision now, and the ropes he willingly submits to keep him from making a decision in the future that he will regret afterwards. I’m curious how often you’ve sat yourself down to do something productive at your desk, only to discover that the siren call of YouTube, Twitter or some other time-waster lured you in and cost you an hour or two. The same could be said about eating unhealthily or snoozing your alarm too often.

You regretted it ofcourse, and probably decided that you should just be more disciplined. If you read SALI #1 you would know that I believe in conserving willpower as much as possible. This is where the Ulysses pact comes in, why not decide now that you don’t want to respond to the siren call of social media tomorrow and protect yourself with the figurative rope of distraction preventing software. Or change your behaviour through another change in your environment.

The first two tools that I’ll discuss are mostly there to limit internet use. They cost money, some other strategies might cost money as well. I know some people will check out the moment they hear that something costs money, expecting everything to be free. But look at it in hourly wages, if a tool saves you from wasting 3 hours a week and it costs 20 Euro you have to value your time at less than 1,67 Euro an hour for it not to be worthwhile. Now I think that even the worst NEET swimming in endless seas of time would value his time at a higher value than that. So with that disclaimer out of the way let’s look at some programs and techniques

1 Cold Turkey

Cold Turkey is a PC program that I’ve been using for somewhere around 1,5 years now. It has had a lot of updates over this time and is now complete with absolutely any functionality you may want in distraction blocking software.

The basic premise is that you can set up lists of applications and websites you don’t want to be able to use or visit within predefined work periods. In the free version that means sitting down and manually locking things down for the next chosen amount of time. The paid version allows you to create a weekly schedule. Or even shut down your computer for a certain amount of time.

In my personal setup I lock down distractions from 00:00 in the morning to 17:00 and from 21:00 to 24:00. And lock out all porn and other crap I never want to see again for the entire day. In my case this is the same on every day of the week however you could set up every day of the weekend differently if you wanted to.

The program offers more functionality like allowances or regularly scheduled breaks. It also allows for exceptions to the blocked url’s. So you might want to block yourself from pointlessly googleing and thus block google.com. However if you still want to be able to go to your e-mail you could set up an exception for inbox.google.com.

Here are links to very complete .txt files off distractions and degenerate stuff. The distraction list also contains search engines, so if you don’t want those just do a quick ctrl+f search to find and remove them before importing the ready-made lists into Cold Turkey.

With each Cold Turkey license comes a Cold Turkey writer pro license. This program is a .txt file editor that completely locks you in until you’ve typed enough words or for a long enough time. I’ve found myself using it increasingly as the dressed down theme and full screen lock makes me a much more productive writer. However it could use .rtf compatibility as .txt doesn’t allow for bold, italics or different letter sizes. At the same time not being able to make any changes to layout removes that avenue of procrastination.

2 Stay Focused

Stay focused is a dressed down version of Cold Turkey for android smart phones. It allows you to lock yourself out of certain apps for parts of the day but doesn’t allow for the blocking of specific websites. However when using the paid version all other functionality like allowances, schedules and locking yourself out of making changes are still available.

3 Moving your alarm clock

If you have trouble with getting out of bed in the morning my first tip would be to add light to your wake up system. This could be something luxurious like a Phillips wake up light above/next to your bed. Or it could be something cheap and simple like a regular light bulb plugged into one of those 24 hour timed switches. Waking up due to light is a much more comfortable way of waking up than some blaring alarm.

If you don’t want to do that or need some extra help the next step would be to just plug in your alarm on the other side of the room. If you have to get up and out of bed to turn of your alarm it is much easier to stay out.

4 Food Shopping

Say you want to eat less sweets. It might be easier to go entirely Cold Turkey on sweets and just exert willpower at the grocery store in order to not buy any, than it would be to just eat one sweet a day and have to constantly exert willpower with a full bag of sweets in your home. Another option might be a kitchen safe (which you could also use to lock up console controllers, smart phones or whatever else will fit).

Other Applications

Any readers with IQ’s north of 90 will be able to extrapolate these examples into other techniques. Just realize that there is no shame in realising that you don’t have 100% control over yourself at all times of the day. And wisely tying yourself up with ropes in order to withstand the sirenscall of distraction is a good way of increasing productivity whilest saving willpower for another use later in the day.

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