I Set Hard Limits on My Web Procrastinating with 'Take a Five'

A new website keeps time-wasters in check simply and easily.


Above all things, I am a procrastinator. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to write that first sentence. Between the endless stress of the workday and the similarly endless opportunities to slack off by checking your Twitter feed or waiting around for Facebook notifications, it’s easy to not do what you’re supposed to do. It’s a unique burden of the digital age. Procrastinating is as easy as a command-T and the bottomless YouTube video hole that your imagination brings you through afterwards. Sometimes, there’s no turning back, and a quick five-minute break suddenly turns into the end of the day. This is, how can I put this, a bad habit. Not getting work done at the precise time you’re supposed to do work is one of my best and worst attributes. Something had to be done, and that’s when I found Take a Five.

Take a Five is relatively new. In fact, it’s only been live for about two weeks. But in that time it’s helped me cut down my intentional downtime by catering to my inherent laziness. It also helps that it’s exceedingly simple, something that the site’s creator, Cole McCollum, says he hears about the most. “The best feedback I’ve gotten so far is that people are surprised it wasn’t a thing yet,” he tells me. “There have been other procrastination tools, but nobody has been able to do it this simply.”

So just what is Take a Five? It’s a site that allows you to take a quick internet break in a new browser tab that self-destructs after a set period of time. You can set your own custom time: a 30-minute web jaunt, say — or, a recent addition McCollum made, a preset one, five, or 10-minute countdown. You surf the web, the clock ticks to zero, and the new tab closes. You snap to, knowing that you wasted your time in a responsible, self-contained manner. There’s even quick links for go-to time-wasters like Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, and more.

The site's front page.

McCollum came up with the idea while studying mechanical engineering at Bucknell University. He would use his brief bits of downtime to wonder about that very downtime. “I was sitting in the library one day doing my homework and I was like, ‘I’m wasting so much time checking Reddit,’ or something like that,” he says. He simply asked friends about how a tool like Take a Five could work, taught himself to program, and started building it.

McCollum was surprised that so many people were interested in his idea, but besides being a blue-blooded procrastinator like the next man, he was interested in the ways slacking off factors into our chemistry. “I just read into it, into why do people feel addicted to Facebook or Twitter, and it actually releases some dopamine,” he explained. “So you have this impulse set in your brain, and you can’t help it almost. It’s like an addiction just like any other addiction, so I think just to kind of combat this addiction, so to speak, you could need a tool like this.”

People like me definitely need a tool like this. Without being too intrusive, the countdown and the tab collapsing is almost like a teacher standing over your shoulder, slowly reminding you to get back to work before they pull the rug out from under you. There’s always the anxiety there with the clock ticking down the seconds, but without that indicator there slashing away the brief moment of respite I gave myself away from grueling content creation I could just as easily say screw it and get lost in my Facebook notifications forever.

The site includes quick links to go-to time-wasters.

The whole reason Take a Five works is because it’s an effortless middleman between the way people like me normally waste time, but it also keeps me in check. There’s no Chrome extensions, no settings needing to be changed, no inconvenient customization. Other similar tools required you to set up through a complicated process, which, for obvious reasons, is way too much work for people who can’t be bothered to put in that much relative effort. There’s only me, my browser, and a sweet five-minute escape before the timer puts you back on track.

When I used the tool, I undoubtedly went straight to social media. Twitter, Facebook, and the lot can be crucial tools to be used to spread important news and information. But let’s be honest, they’re basically there to just dick around. If anything, Take a Five’s simplicity reminded me of that without me abusing it.

The Take a Five screen that shows when your time is up.

McCollum says he’s surprised about how popular the site has become so quickly. “It’s been a crazy week,” he told me. “I was just sitting in class Monday morning and 10,000 people were on the site and it made me think, ‘What is happening?’” To him, it’s still too early to say where he can really take the idea. “I can either nail this simple tool and keep it as easy as possible by continually adding small features or others to help monetize the cost,” he explained, “or the process would be to go all out and make this a full-fledged startup, and I’d create a line of productivity tools or make an app.” He’s got many options, but he concluded by saying, “I haven’t really exactly decided where to go with this.”

You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to finish this story. I’ve dragged my heels on Instagram a couple of times, and kept checking to see what popped up on Twitter. But Take a Five always reminded me that there was work to be done. It’s the simplest way to help you procrastinate on the web. The biggest problem to procrastinators like me is to remember to use it. But maybe I forgot to use it because I’m hard at work.

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