SelfControl For Mac App Review and Tutorial

Do you need help to avoid social media, block Facebook or other online distractions to get work done and want to try the SelfControl App for Mac to block distracting websites? 

Can this website blocking software really damage your Mac? Don’t get started until you read this review of SelfControl for Mac.

What does the SelfControl app do?

SelfControl is a free and open-source net blocker for macOS application with a very simple interface that allows you to temporarily block distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet for up to 24 hours so you can focus on getting things done.  

It’s the most popular website blocker for Mac and was downloaded over 400,000 from MacUpdate alone. Many people use this internet blocker to block access to YouTube, Facebook or Netflix while studying, writing and does want to deplete their willpower while working on these tasks. But they want to be able to use these websites after they finished their work.

Being so successful it’s also the most controversial website blocker out there. People either love it or hate it.

Some institutions like the Wharton University of Pennsylvania, don't recommend using Self Control because a number of their students have lost all their data  after having to reformat and reinstall their Mac. 

SelfControl Damages Mac

Despite this, it's probably the default choice when you are looking for a website blocker for Mac if you are on a tight budget don't want to spend any money on software or like to keep things very simple.

Be sure to read the full SelfControl review to prevent the only serious mistake you can make when using SelfControl.

Here's how SelfControl works:

First, you create a list of websites/URLs that you want to block.

This is called your blacklist.

In the SelfControl App you can choose between using a blacklist or a whitelist.

When you use a whitelist the software blocks all websites that you did not approve and put on the list.

Next, you set a timer anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours to block distracting websites.

After you finished your blacklist or whitelist and specified the URLs you want to be blocked, press the Start button and the SelfControl App will start to block the websites that might distract you.

A word of caution here. It’s important to know that once you click the start button, there’s no way to undo the block until the timer hits zero.

You will not be able to revert the process. The website block will remain in place even after you restart of your Mac.

Make sure to watch my tutorial before you install the SelfControl app because this website blocker does not allow you to unlock the blocked websites until the timer reaches zero, not even if you uninstall the app.

Where can I download the SelfControl app?

SelfControl is an open-source project and was created by the artist Steve Lambert and Charlie Stigler who was kind enough to code the website blocker based on Steve's sketches for the handsome fee of $125.

Steve told me that he wanted something that would block his email while he worked, so the SelfControl website blocker was originally used to be a simple command line script to serve just that purpose.

That is why he added the functionality to block websites. Because Steve is a really nice guy and it was the time where everything you do is meant to be with an open license and he thought maybe he'd put the SelfControl App out and it’ll help somebody.

Download SelfControl

You can download SelfControl here

It turned out to be the most popular project he’d ever made.

Go and read the full interview with Steve Lambert about SelfControl, if you want to know more about the history of SelfControl.

Open source means the code is freely available to anyone who wants to tweak it but at the same time, it means there is no customer support.

How do I block a website with SelfControl?

For example, to block Facebook, you would add facebook.com to your block list. Sometimes websites have different domains for different functions, and you may need to block all of them to get it working fully.

It doesn't indefinitely block specified websites - for up to a day max. What is the purpose of a website blocker that doesn't block malicious websites for once and all?

SelfControl Support - Where do you get help if the self-control app is not working?

Self-Control is open-source software. That means nobody is responsible for customer support. There is a forum for support issues.

At the time of writing this, there are

Of course there are some volunteers how to answer questions on GitHub, but for the most part, the user has to solve a problem on its own.

At the time of writing this there are over 200 issues unresolved. 

Selfcontrol Support Forum

SelfControl App: FAQ

Here are some common questions that people have how to use SelfControl. It's important to keep in mind that you if you decide to use this software you are entirely on your own. 

Can I edit the black/white list once SelfControl has started?

No. This is not possible. 

Can I delete the application to stop websites from being blocked?

No. This is pretty bad idea because this might cause problems with the website block disappearing at the scheduled time. 

How do you get rid of the SelfControl you might ask. The simple answer is: Just wait. However, if you are in a hurry, there is an option to unlock Self-Control and remove the block.  

How to disable SelfControl once it has started?

Usually, there is no way to disable the SelfControl. 

However, at FindFocus we believe this should be possible and build our software around the principle of delay discounting. 

Please don't use this option, if you want to use Self-Control in the future. Once you tried this, you may disable the software again and again because the trick is so simple. 

Warning: Don’t read this if you want to use Self-Control in the future:


What to do if the SelfControl's timer is at 00:00 and you cannot start a new block?

Sometimes SelfControl is unable to undo its settings. If you're using SelfControl 2.0, you need to wait ten seconds when the clock reaches 00:00, an hit the button labeled "Stuck? Stop block manually." that will replace the "Add to Blocklist" button."

Click this button and remove your block manually!

You may need to restart your Mac after using this button to get the software working right again.

What to do if you blocked a website with SelfControl but can still access the website?

First, try:

  1. Refresh the page
  2. Clear your cache
  3. Restart your browser

SelfControl blocks websites based on the machine the site is hosted at, not the actual website address. That's the reason whey this method sometimes will not work that well.

Instead you can try to add other subdomains of the website (e.g., new.facebook.com in addition to facebook.com).

What to do if some websites look weird or ugly after you started SelfControl?

According to the developer, this seems to be an issue with the Firefox browser. It's recommended to clear your browser cache, restart your browser, and your problem should go away.

Is SelfControl compatible with VPNs?

No, SelfControl will not block websites properly if you're using a VPN because this is not technically feasible, unfortunately with there code. 

If you want to use a VPN, you can use FindFocus why does not make any changes to your system files and uses the address bar of your browser instead of modifying the hostfile.

Warning: SelfControl Can Permanently Damage Your System Files

Once preferences are set in the application, the web blocking software embeds itself in system files to prevent access. Even if the program is removed, the system files are damaged and require a reformat & restore.

The app interferes with VMware software used to access remote computers, as well as other remote login applications. The only way to regain access to the network is to reformat & reinstall the OS. In this case, a Time Machine backup and restore will not work.

Once preferences are set in the application, it embeds itself in system files to prevent access. Even if the program is removed, the system files are damaged and require a reformat & restore.

Fortunately this can be really easily prevented by using this trick 

How To Disable SelfControl App

Just kidding.

Warning: Don't Change The Hostfile If You Are Not A Programmer

You don't need to mess with the host file.

You can simply change the date and time of your Mac and disable the website blocking software in less than one minute. 


Other Reviews Of SelfControl

Due to these reasons, you'll find that there are two user groups who review SelfControl quite differently. Some people complain about having their Mac damaged while for other people this website blocker is a live saver. 

Below you can find 2 reviews of this app that explain these two different opinions.  

SelfControl Damaged Mac
Self_Control Productivity Software

Most Requested Productivity Features In SelfControl

Selfcontrol was released in 2012, but there have been not many features added to the project since then. 

This is a problem of many open source and free software project. I highly recommend reading You Are Not a Gadget by Laron Lanier if you want to dig deeper on the philosophical and practical issue of free and paid software. 

In the meantime here is the simple answer provided in the FAQ that is hosted on GitHub. 

From SelfControl GitHub FAQ

Can you add ________ feature that is really important to me?


No. BUT hey, you could do it. This is a free and open source project and you are welcome to alter the software however you like. Or you could hire someone to. It might cost less than you expect. We'd also be interested in seeing your code and incorporating your possibly awesome ideas so consider forking the project here on GitHub.

That means if you are looking for a new feature, it's very likely that this will never be developed if you are not taking care of this yourself and learn to code or pay a fortune to hire a programmer. (From experience and developing FindFocus I know that finding a good programmer is either really really hard and/or really expensive). 

Scheduler for SelfControl 

When I first tried SelfControl myself, I found it really useful. However, it's super easy to forget to turn on the website blocker (or to find an alternative for Windows). That's why I developed FindFocus.

Having a close eye on the development of SelfControl I found that there are two features that are requested over and over again. 

The first is the ability to schedule blocks every day. 

Scheduler For SelfControl App for Mac

SelfControl For Blocking Apps

The other feature that is requested often is the ability to block applications. A lot of people find that they play games installed on their Mac locally, instead of wasting time online. 

Block Apps with SelfControl

SelfControl For Windows

Last but not least, there is no real alternative for SelfControl for Windows. There used to be a few open source copies like SelfRestrained but just like SelfControl they are not actively developed.  

Summary

All in all we would review SelfControl with 2.5/5 stars. This means it's either 1 star if you need more flexibility, a scheduler, want to block apps or like to have customer support or it's 5 stars if you require a very simple, free and easy to use website blocker for your Mac. There is almost no middle ground. 

Pro

  • Free
  • The SelfControl user interface is extremely simple and easy to use
  • Black & WhiteList functionality
  • Comes with a list of common distracting, news, and publications websites

Contra

  • No customer support
  • Can permanently destroy system files
  • Does not block subdomain
  • Does not block applications
  • Does not allow to schedule time to block distracting websites
  • No multiple profiles and just on a single list of URLs
  • Blocks specified websites only for up to 24 hours
  • Occasionally, sites you didn't list are getting blocked

Conclusion & SelfControl Alternative

The Selfcontrol app get a lot of things right but is missing some crucial features for people who work online. That's why we created a professional alternative to the SelfControl website blocker. 

FindFocus comes with all of the features that made this app to block websites so popular (without the downsides of messing up your files or being limited to one browser). 

This new app to block distracting websites was build to keep your system secure without the risk of damaging system files. The FindFocus website blocking application uses an approach that does not use the hostfile or making changes to your operating system. 

FindFocus Was Build To Reverse Bad Browsing Habits

When you try FindFocus you'll immediately get access to a membership area where you'll be introduced to a completely new way of using the internet.

For example with FindFocus it's possible to 

  1. Block distracting websites like Facebook, Youtube, Reddit and Quora throughout the day.
  2. White-list all the websites that you need to work and force yourself to unlock the Internet (for max. 10min per session) if you want to do a quick search on a site that’s not on your white-list.  
  3. Block email until 2pm, while still being allowed to send email without seeing your inbox in Gmail 

FindFocus is the only software on the market allows you to have multiple profiles running at the same time.

You can try FindFocus for free here

Help Others To Find Focus

Stop Wasting Time Online & Get Things Done

"I turn it on whenever I need to focus.  Really liking it."
Brett McKay from the artofmanliness.com


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Martin Boeddeker
 

Martin Boeddeker is the founder of FindFocus.net, the One-Page Productivity Planner and the mind behind the FindFocus Distraction Blocker for Mac. He studied industrial engineering and management in Germany and worked for some of the biggest companies in the world. With FindFocus he wants to help people to get rid of what he calls DigitalADD so they focus on the things that truly matter in life.

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