Everyone knows that technology makes it harder to concentrate--with a world of distractions just a click away, getting down to that necessary but less-than-exciting task can feel nearly impossible. But what if technology is not only the cause of our distraction epidemic but also its cure?
That's the premise behind a host of products, gadgets, and apps all aimed at helping the willpower-challenged avoid just one more glimpse of cute baby animal pics or friends' Facebook feeds. Tailored to every style and situation, these gizmos promise to block out distractions so you can get much more done.
Who it's for: The nostalgic writer
What it does: It looks like a mutant '80s typewriter, and it does basically what a typewriter used to--allows you to write stuff and nothing else. "It combines the simplicity of a typewriter with modern technology like an electronic paper screen and cloud backups to create the best possible writing experience. It is designed to do one thing only but do it exceptionally well. Since there is no email, Facebook, browser, or menus, you are able to stay in your creative groove and finally get your writing done!" promises the Hemingwrite site. But, be warned, all that concentration will cost you a hefty $399.
2, 3. FocusWriter, WriteRoom.
Who they're for: Nonnostalgic, distractible writers (or those with less discretionary income)
What they do: Can't justify the price tag of Hemingwrite (or face the thought of lugging around such a behemoth)? FocusWriter might be a good bet for you. It creates a clean, distraction-free interface on your computer without any menus or other visual clutter to get in the way of your creativity, all for the far more modest price of $5. WriteRoom does something similar for Macs and will run you $9.99.
4, 5. Anti-Social, SelfControl.
Who they're for: Social media (or kitten photo) addicts
What they do: Can't stop checking Facebook and Twitter? Anti-Social will block out any site you're addicted to for a period of time you specify. "Start Anti-Social, and Facebook and Twitter go away," promise its makers. SelfControl does much the same thing, and once you start the blocker, nothing--not even removing the app from your computer--will stop it. It's for Macs only, however.
6, 7. StayFocusd, Freedom.
Who they're for: Really hard cases of Web addiction
What they do: If just blocking out specific sites for specific times seems too weak a medicine for your rampaging Web addiction, StayFocusd for Chrome might be a better bet. Rather than block out the internet for set periods, it blocks out the entire internet all the time, except for specific windows of availability set by you. Freedom ($10) does much the same thing and is compatible with Mac, PCs, and Android.
8. Focus Lock.
Who it's for: Those who can't stop checking their Android phone
What it does: Focus Lock promises to help you stop being a slave to your Android phone by blocking notifications for 25 minutes from whichever apps most distract you, followed by a five-minute unlocked window (fans of the Pomodoro method will recognize this ratio). "The nice thing about Focus Lock is that you can block specific apps without having to turn off all of your notifications, put your phone in Airplane Mode, or just turn it off," Lifehacker explains in its write-up of the app.
9. Time Out.
Who it's for: Break-phobic workaholics
What it does: There's a mountain of research showing you'll get more done if you take periodic short breaks to refresh, but if you're the type who struggles to step away from your work, taking this advice on board can be a challenge. Time Out aims to help by reminding you to take a break at an interval set by you. It's only for Macs.
Who it's for: Task switchers
What it does: Does switching between very different sorts of tasks eat into your productivity? Then consider Concentrate, which lets you craft sets of tools for different types of work and switch cleanly between them. "When I activate 'Writing,' the app automatically closes my email client and internet browser; blocks me from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube; launches Microsoft Word; and sets my instant messaging status to "away." Then, when I want to concentrate on 'Social Media Management,' I can customize a completely different set of actions," explains Jocelyn K. Glei on 99U.
Of course, none of these apps and gizmos are a magic solution, as blogger Nir Eyal recently pointed out on Medium. Just purchasing them isn't enough. You have to actually use them, and that can be tricky.
"The biggest problem with these technologies is that they don't exhibit many of the important traits found in products that change behavior for good. For one, they're not fun to use. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, among other habit-forming technologies, changed users' daily routines by being inherently enjoyable. I worry many of the products attempting to keep us focused are things people feel they have to use instead of want to use," he writes.
Could any of them work for you?