Focus Tips for the Freelance Hacktivist

By Bethany Johnson, Contributor, on February 2, 2018

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Not long ago, the freelance hacktivist was considered a rogue ninja with a bone to pick. Today, not only are ethical hacking skills in high demand, but many companies are required to find vulnerabilities in their systems before the bad guys do it for them. And that’s no surprise when data breaches are at an all-time high and organizations from Google to the FBI are scrambling to lock down their networks before it’s too late. In fact, a company called HackerOne, which connects white-hat hackers with customers, claims that “it has some 800 corporate customers who paid out more than $15 million in bonuses to white-hat hackers since its founding in 2012.” If you’re looking for a lucrative freelancing niche to get into, you’ve found it.

If you break, hack, test, penetrate, breach, crack or exploit for a (legal) living, then you know the rush of finding weaknesses and bugs for the good guys. And while the cyberdrama unfolds, the daily grind can be distracting. It’s hard to find suitable tools, gear and quiet places for hacktivists like yourself to focus at the level needed to keep people safe. However, it can be done. Here are a few creative ways to get started.

Grandma’s Gizmos

Swap out your phone’s stopwatch feature with an old-school kitchen timer. There’s nothing more ironic than checking the countdown on your device only to be distracted by the notifications on half of your mobile app icons. Do the same with your note-taking app. Pen-and-paper may seem archaic, but you’ll want an outlet for random thoughts that try to derail your progress as you work. Writing them down can free your mind without the sight of all those apps that may trigger more reminders. With a notepad and timer, you may even be able to put your phone out of sight and out of reach for a block of time.

Go Ergo

Outfit your workspace to ensure back pain won’t interrupt your pen testing mid-packet capture. If lower back pain usually curses you, a sit-stand convertible desk can give you a seamless work session. If, on the other hand, your neck or upper back often starts complaining first, try an adjustable swivel monitor mount so your eyes and chin are always up.

Eye Strain, You Strain

Dry eyes and symptoms of the more serious Computer Vision Syndrome can stop your workflow in its tracks. Prevent these interruptions by doing quick eye exercises every 20 minutes. Another strategy is to use blue-blocking eyewear that lets your natural circadian cycle take its course. That way, you’re productive when you should be — and resting when you need it most.

White Noise

4:44 is one of the best albums of all time, sure, and while it may motivate you, you’ve got to admit the best tunes can be distracting. According to researchers at Rowan University, the genre of music you enjoy doesn’t usually have a significant effect on your ability to concentrate. The presence of lyrics, however, was repeatedly linked to lower comprehension in subjects trying to focus. In other words, if you love to jam, opt for classical tunes without vocals. Better yet, use a high-fidelity white noise focus sound machine with non-looping nature sounds and noise-canceling headphones to get some good vibes.


While the above physical gear will help you concentrate in no time, you’re only as focused as the quietness of your social channels. If no one’s saying much, you can get a lot done. But, as you know, when the Reddit conversation is lively, it’s hard not to get drawn in.

“But what about trends?” you may ask.

The hard truth is that truly trending hashtags will still be there when you lift your head from a successful session. Here’s where a social media-blocking app like Freedom can help. Don’t burden yourself with the need for self-control every time you need a quick break. Instead, install Freedom and block any and all sites that total time-sucks.

The Evolved Fidget Spinner

You’ve eliminated noisy distractions. You’ve shut down your social channels. You’ve ensured you’re nourished and hydrated. Finally, you’re ready to focus. As you start testing, your knee bounces nervously. You’ve considered nabbing one of the kids’ fidget spinners, but you need your hands free for the command line.

Enter the bouncy band. Invented for the classroom, bouncy bands are also the perfect adult solution for a rhythmic tapping of the feet that satisfies a highly-focused person’s need to fidget. It combines the rebounding benefits of an exercise ball without the distraction of a rolling orb at your feet.

Quiet Places for Hacktivists

It’s hard enough to find quiet places for a hacktivist to focus. Once you do settle in, interruptions from others can cost up to six hours a day — the occupational experts at University of California, Irvine, said it themselves. Thankfully, you can send nonverbal signals to others in your coworking space, office or home. A headset does wonders to make others assume you’re on a call. A sign on the door can help. If all else fails, slap a “Do Not Disturb” sticker on your laptop so that, when open, chatty colleagues get the message.

More technical physical tools can be found at Hacker.Equipment, where independent white-hat pen testers review and feature gear that hackers can use for good (and bounty). The perfect environment and setup for the ethical hacker to work can feel all but unattainable sometimes, but these ideas can help. When combined, the result is a deeper focus that’ll let you find and seal more vulnerabilities than ever before.

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