Thanks to everyone who backed Connect for a Reason. Due to poor performance, I've decided to cancel the Kickstarter.
I've got more details over on my blog at AndrewRussell.net. What follows is the original Kickstarter text.
Why is the Internet so compelling? You plan to work on your project. But you end up looking at cat pictures and reading the news.
Facebook. Twitter. Reddit. News. Email.
The Internet is addictive. It’s like an enormous slot-machine, and every time you visit one of these sites you are pulling that lever. Often you get nothing, but sometimes you’ll be rewarded with a hilarious picture or a fascinating article. This random reward schedule conditions your brain to visit these sites again and again and again.
Eventually you’ll run out of cat pictures. But there will be more if you come back tomorrow. Or in an hour. So you do. Repeatedly. Habitually.
(Did you feel a pang of “hey I should check that”, when I mentioned those sites? Incidentally: social media is a great place to help promote Kickstarter projects, hint-hint.)
But I was totally planning to work on my project! How did I end up with thirty tabs open, reading an article about B. F. Skinner, ten links deep into Wikipedia?
Hyperbolic Discounting. Basically: Your brain makes long-term plans that will pay off at some point in the future. But in the short-term we seek out instant gratification - anything that will pay off now, and for very little effort.
This is how you can plan to eat healthily, but end up snacking on junk food.
It’s why there are impulse-purchase shelves at supermarkets.
In 1999, Reed, Loewenstein and Kalyanaraman performed a study where they offered people a selection of movies. When the participants were told they’d be watching the selected movie in a few days, they tended to choose movies like Schindler’s List or The Piano. But when told they would be watching the movie immediately, they’d pick “easier” movies like The Mask or Die Hard.
The Internet causes the same dilemma. That funny picture or interesting article might be enjoyable at the moment, but it’s not advancing your project towards an outcome that will be deeply satisfying in the future.
Enter Connect for a Reason
Connect for a Reason is a simple tool that takes Hyperbolic Discounting and turns it around to work to your advantage.
Whenever you want to connect to the Internet, it asks you to provide a reason, and then makes you wait through a delay.
It turns out that even a short delay is enough to shift the decision into long-term, at least as far as your brain is concerned.
Connect for a Reason isn’t your typical Internet-blocking application. You can connect at any time - but it forces you to think about why you are connecting, and it helps you make better Internet-usage decisions.
A typical example:
You’re working, self-directed, on your creative project. You get stuck.
You might be tempted to take a break and surf the web. This would be ok if it were just a short break - but on the Internet a short break can easily extend into hours of “just one more link”. And later on you wonder where all that time has gone, as you re-check your email.
In fact, this happens so often that it’s starting to become a habit. Every time you get a little bit frustrated with your work, you head off to the Internet to procrastinate.
So you install Connect for a Reason. Next time you’re in a tough spot, you enter “surfing the web” as your connection reason.
While you wait for the delay to finish, you reconsider: “Do I really need this break? Should I go back and apply more effort to the problem before giving up? Or do I need to relax properly: with a short walk and a snack?”
You cancel the connection countdown and return to work. Today, Connect for a Reason has saved you from hours of mindless web surfing, and has moved you closer to finishing your project.
Keep this up for a month or two and you will see the real magic of Connect for a Reason. Your habits will start to change. Now, when things get difficult, you’ll just keep working - because you know that easy procrastination is not immediately available.
Connect for a Reason keeps a log of when you connect and, more importantly, why you connect. This allows you to go back and review your Internet usage and look for ways to be more productive.
Connect for a Reason also supports configurable delays. So if you want to “surf the web” you might have to wait 60 seconds. But if you need to “research new project”, you might only wait 30 seconds. An “emergency Skype meeting” could be assigned a delay of 5 seconds - if you trust yourself not to cheat.
This can be combined with the time-of-day. So you might choose to have longer delays in the morning and then shorter delays in the afternoon.
The configuration screen will look something like this mock-up:
Finally, Connect for a Reason supports IP-based whitelisting. So you can be disconnected from the Internet, without losing access to vital cloud services (like online backups), websites, and machines on your local network.
With the initial goal of $5000, you’ll get everything I’ve described so far. But there are some additional features that I’d like to add, that are available through stretch goals.
$5500 – Responsive Reasons
Have Connect for a Reason open other applications, URLs and searches based on the reason you enter (fully configurable, of course).
This way, as soon as you’re online, you’ll be prompted to begin the task you promised yourself. It is said that the hardest part of any project is starting. Let Connect for a Reason take care of that for you.
$6000 – Disconnect for a Reason
The basic version of Connect for a Reason comes with a simple “Disconnect” button for when you finish your work. This stretch goal adds the scheduling magic required to automate the disconnection process. As illustrated, you’ll be able to hit “snooze” to stay connected for longer – but only for a reason!
Naturally, the disconnection time will be fully configurable. You’ll also be able to specify how long you want to connect for in the connection reason itself. Want a limited break? Use “Surfing the web for 30 minutes” as your reason.
This feature is perfect if you use productivity techniques such as Timeboxing or the Pomodoro Technique.
More stretch goals to come…
Why Kickstart Connect for a Reason?
At the moment, Connect for a Reason looks like this:
This is the working prototype that I have been using for years. Configuration is done by directly editing the source code. Log output is in a very programmer-friendly CSV format. It works for me.
This Kickstarter is about making Connect for a Reason work for you.
This involves designing and building a better UI, adding user-configuration, and making the log output look beautiful (probably using some fancy HTML5, although I’ll also keep the CSV for those who want to mess with the raw data).
Plus there’s the nitty-gritty business of releasing an application: making an installer, testing in various configurations, setting up a website, and so on.
That’s where you come in. Back this project to help make it a reality. Check out the rewards in the sidebar and get your copy of Connect for a Reason.
If you need help with your Internet habit right away, some of the higher-level rewards can get you access to alpha and prototype versions of Connect for a Reason while you wait for the finished product. And, if your Internet habit is especially egregious, there are options for personalised, locked-down versions that I will work with you to create.
(Not a Windows user? Stick around, as one of the later stretch goals will be a port to OS X, and another for a port to Linux. Due to the nature of Connect for a Reason, porting requires a substantial rewrite - so it can only be done in a stretch goal.)
Origins of Connect for a Reason
I have tried many different techniques for working offline. What I used to do, before Connect for a Reason, was crawl under my desk and manually disconnect my network cable.
This worked for me for a long time. But eventually I wanted something that would not disconnect machines on my local network, and, later (after a nasty hard drive crash), my online backup system. I also wanted something that didn’t need to be manually reset, and that could work on a wireless connection.
Around this time I had started logging how I was spending my time (“you can’t improve what you don’t measure”). And the ability to automatically log my connections was particularly was compelling.
I couldn’t find any software with an equivalent feature set, so I built my own: Connect for a Reason.
I was first inspired to start working offline after reading Paul Graham's article “Disconnecting Distraction”. The idea of using a time-delay was inspired by this XKCD comic by Randall Munroe and the associated blog post. And I first found out about Hyperbolic Discounting from this You Are Not So Smart article on Procrastination.
Throughout this Kickstarter, I will be posting articles on productivity to my blog at AndrewRussell.net. I’ll be talking about my personal productivity system, how Connect for a Reason fits in to that system, and some of my tips for working offline and getting the most out of Connect for a Reason.
For the very latest news on Connect for a Reason, follow me on Twitter @_AndrewRussell.