When author Zadie Smith thanked "Self Control" and "Freedom" in the acknowledgments to her latest book, NW, she was actually talking about computer applications that help remove distractions, such as email and social networking sites, while leaving open the rest of the internet.
Other writers such as Nick Hornby and Dave Eggers are also fans, as are parents and educators helping teenagers concentrate on their homework.
The apps are mostly free and block websites you list, and emails, for a set time. Once the timer starts, there's no way to get around the system.
Talking about one productivity app, author Neil Gaiman says: "It makes the computer something that has never heard of the internet."
I wonder if I should have just kept my typewriter if people are downloading software to remove the more distracting parts of their computers.
Distractions are nothing new, though, and in the days before computers, it was still hard to focus. Long-distance telephone calls from relatives, or people just dropping in to say hello - in a way, Skype and social media are just the modern equivalents - were more likely to reduce productivity.
Not everyone believes social media is bad for productivity and Andrew Malcolm, managing director of Moa Creative, who makes apps for businesses, says it's not really appropriate for employers to use productivity apps on their staff: "There's no point trying to prevent people going on social networks, because we all have access via smartphones. People have to be trusted to do their work. Instead of thinking social media is bad, we've used it to generate work flow. We have five separate internal Facebook pages in which we communicate with our 10-plus university student designers."
Here are some of the options available:
Self Control is a free Apple Mac OS X app developed in 2010 by Steve Lambert, at the time a high school student. It restricts the sites you add to a blacklist and lets you visit the rest of the internet. You set it up for a period of time and there is no way to undo the application during that time. selfcontrolapp.com
Self Restraint is a version based on Self Control, but for Windows and Linux. parker.kuivi.la/projects/selfrestraint
Cold Turkey is billed as "the strictest, merciless, soulless programmer out there ... like your parents on steroids".
If the app detects that its security features are being tampered with, it will block you for a week. It's also an option for non-Mac users. getcoldturkey.com
Anti-Social blocks the "social parts" of the internet for a set time. anti-social.cc
Freedom is one of the few productivity apps you need to pay for, but it's been touted by everyone from the New Yorker to the Economist. Author Dave Eggers says it "saves you from the internet". macfreedom.com
Once you enjoy the benefits of being offline, you'll find ways to do it everywhere. Apple 6's Do Not Disturb function stops messages getting through at specified times of the day, a great idea for everyone around the dinner table in the evening.
Vodafone DriveSafe can also be set up by texting Drive On to 760 then Drive Off at the end. Anyone who sends a text while you're driving gets the message, "I'm driving right now. I'll read your text as soon as it's safe to do so".
Now all we need is an app to block out real-world distractions with the push of a button - expensive items when you're window shopping, late-night snacks, or maybe even annoyingly chatty workmates.By Danielle Wright