Three productivity-enhancing Firefox add-ons

Clear out everything but the primary content on a Web page, track the amount of time you spend working versus goofing off, and remind yourself to take a stretch break.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

About a year ago Google Chrome became the first browser I open each day to check the daily news, e-mail, and social networks. It's just faster, plain and simple. But Firefox remains the browser I use for work because of the many productivity-boosting add-ons that have been released for the program.

Recently I've been using three Firefox extensions to help me get more work done in less time: one removes all the extraneous material from Web pages to show only the main content, another monitors the amount of time I spend on work-related and non-work-related sites, and the third pops up a reminder at the interval of my choice to stay limber by stretching.

Readability brings the Web's content to the fore
Plenty of Firefox add-ons block the ads that accompany the content on Web pages, but even with the ads excised it isn't always easy to find the content you're looking for. Readability from Arc90 and Baris Derin reloads the current page to remove its non-essential content.

Three large buttons in the top-left corner of the Readability window allow you to revert to the page's original format, print the reformatted page, and send the page via e-mail. The add-on lets you adjust the page's margins and font size, and you can choose one of five page styles. You can also convert the page's links to footnotes. To view these options, right-click the Readability icon on the right side of the Firefox status bar at the bottom of the screen.

Readability add-on for Firefox removes all but essential page content
The Readability add-on for Firefox presents only the primary content of the page, along with buttons for reverting to the original format, printing the simplified page, or sending it vie e-mail. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Some Readability users report problems when using the program along with the NoScript script-blocking add-on, but the extension worked without a problem when I tested it--on a PC without NoScript. You can activate Readability by pressing Ctrl+Alt+R on Windows or Command+Option+R on a Mac. Reload the original page by pressing Ctrl+R or Command+R, respectively.

Show your boss how hard you've been working with RescueTime
You may never have wondered what percentage of your browsing time is spent doing actual work, but your boss might have an opinion about it. Even if you're just curious about your workaholic status, RescueTime provides a unique view of your Web habits.

To view your RescueTime statistics, click the extension's icon in the Firefox status bar or choose Tools > View RescueTime on the browser's main menu. The program shows the length of time you've spent using Firefox today, in the last week, and in the last month. You'll also see the percentage of time you've spent "distracting browsing" and how that percentage compares with other RescueTime users.

RescueTime Firefox add-on measures your browsing productivity
The RescueTime add-on for Firefox displays the amount of time you've spent on work-related and non-work-related sites for the current day, the past week, and the past month. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Either I'm wasting a lot more time than I think I am, or RescueTime's manner of determining what is and is not a "productivity" site is out of whack. The program indicates that I spend two-thirds of my browsing time distracted, which means 79 percent of RescueTime users work harder than I do. Some of my former bosses might not be surprised by this finding, but I honestly believe I'm working harder than this.

You can get a more-detailed view of your browsing habits by clicking View Detailed Stats, which opens the RescueTime dashboard. There you view your Firefox usage by day, week, month, or year, as well as by category and activity. Other graphs rate your efficiency and your time spent on sites as very productive, productive, neutral, distracting, or very distracting.

You can also view the productivity ratings for all the sites you've visited and adjust the ratings to reassign sites RescueTime identifies as "distracting" to be "productive," or vice-versa. To go off the clock, simply press one of the three pause buttons: 15 minutes, 1 hour, and all day. The RescueTime Pro version promises "real-time alerts," more-detailed reports, and offline tracking of meetings and other activities.

The site claims not to tie your browsing history with you personally, and since the program doesn't require registration, I tend to believe this. However, any site that monitors your Web habits must be used with some discretion.

Get up, stand up, and use your muscles when StretchClock indicates
Spending hours on end with your eyes glued to the monitor and hands locked on the keyboard is a good way to end up in an orthopedist's waiting room. You can have the best of intentions to take regular breaks during the workday but still find your muscles cramping up after consecutive hours of relative immobility.

StretchClock for Firefox settings menu
Change the type of reminder the StretchClock add-on for Firefox generates to take a break and the time between breaks via the program's settings button on its toolbar in the status bar. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The StretchClock extension from Shane Gildnes pops up a break reminder at the interval you choose and even suggests some low-impact exercises suitable for the office. In addition to being able to adjust the time between stretch reminders, you can pause the countdown, reset it, or choose to exercise now.

The program's default alert is to open the StretchClock site with a Flash video ready to guide you through a stretch. This can be an abrupt interruption to your workday. Click the settings button on the StretchClock toolbar in the Firefox status bar to change the duration between breaks and to have the program play a reminder or wait for a click rather than open a new browser window.

While I didn't try out any of the StretchClock stretches--I've had my own stretching routine for many years--I'm a staunch proponent of regular, extended work breaks. Even if the program serves only to remind you to get out of your chair for a few minutes, it has served a valuable purpose and justifies the space it takes up on your ever-more-crowded Firefox status bar.