PC knows best: Tools to nag, remind, and track productivity

Having trouble staying on task? We've got a list of browser add-ons and Web services that will whip you into shape--or at least nag you enough to make you feel productive.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Trying to get work done is tough if you have an Internet connection. The constant urge to take a peek at a video on YouTube or check your personal e-mail is a siren song that for many simply cannot be ignored. Luckily, there are several sites and browser add-ons that can help keep us in line, be it with basic productivity or making sure we do not stumble in moments of weakness.

Gmail "e-mail goggles" and "take a break" labs add-ons

Don't drink and e-mail.

Want to send that e-mail at 4 a.m.? Unless you're up early, and getting a jump start on the work day, Google's Gmail thinks you're drunk and will wisely make you do the math problems to prove you're not. Of course, if you really want to outsmart the machine you can simply turn this Gmail labs add-on off from the settings menu, which requires no math whatsoever.

Likewise, the "take a break" labs add-on can make you stop whatever work you're doing to go enjoy the finer things in life. It keeps tabs on how long you've been working in Gmail and will give you a pop-up that requires doing something else for 15 minutes before coming back to your in-box. This is recommended if you don't want to install one of those ergonomic nag programs on your machine.

E-mail discipline

E-mail discipline bars you from using certain sites until you get work done. Mozilla

Want to hop on Facebook or check your personal e-mail for a little while while drudging away at work? You'll need to earn it with E-mail discipline. This Firefox add-on keeps you from visiting nearly 20 different sites including MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter without doing a little bit of work between sessions. As long as you ignore these places for two hours at a time it lets you browse for a short while, before putting up a nag screen that tells you to get back to it. Users are able to override the nag screens at any time by clicking the "cheat" button.


Like E-mail discipline, Firefox add-on Procrastato works off a blacklist of sites you probably shouldn't be visiting. Once you're on one of these sites (which you add in manually) it starts a timer in the background. If you're there past your allotted amount it gives you a pop-up message telling you to get back to work.


If pop-up nags aren't your thing, and you don't feel like being scolded for bad online behavior, worth checking out is MeeTimer. Once installed it simply keeps tabs on how long you're spending on each site and breaks it up into percentages--including how much of that was done during "work" time. Consider it the browser equivalent of parental guilt trip. It's not mad at you, just disappointed that you spend 29 percent of your working day on Facebook.

See how your daily browsing is broken down with MeeTimer. You might be shocked. Mozilla


If you want the nagging features of Google or Yahoo calendar with some level of anonymity there's always HassleMe. The site will send you a friendly reminder e-mail to do something, be it to take out the trash, reply to a certain e-mail, or finish a project. You get to pick how often it sends these messages, and it promises to change up the times ever so slightly so you cannot anticipate when it will arrive.


If clogging up your e-mail in-box with reminders sounds less than desirable, check out ReminderFox. This Firefox add-on puts a to-do list on the side of your browser. You can set deadlines for each task, along with reminders that will pop up, and can be acknowledged, ignored, or delayed, just like in Microsoft Outlook.


Along the lines of MeeTimer and Email Discipline, LeechBlock lets you organize sites you probably shouldn't be going to in sets. You can prioritize each set, and block yourself out of using them down to certain times of day, or how much time you've already spent using them. Consider this something similar to the parental settings on a TV, keeping you from accessing content you shouldn't be looking at when you're supposed to be working.

Any we missed? Leave them in the comments.