The stream of headlines on social media is endless. The constant pings from apps like Slack can be relentless. Whether you want a break from the disruptions to focus on more important tasks or simply need to clear your head, there are a number of device makers and software developers that promise to help manage distraction.
Here are four tools to try when you need help getting offline and getting more done.
Created in 2014 by Adam Leeb and Patrick Paul, the Freewrite is a word processor that allows you to focus on writing rather than scrolling and clicking. With a full-size keyboard, e-ink display, and cloud-based backup for files, the $549 Freewrite's only purpose is to get you to keep typing. In fact, there are no arrow keys, so you can't even move a cursor up and down to edit as you go: You type, save your document to the cloud, and edit it later using a computer or tablet. (The Freewrite Traveler, a more compact laptop-style device that will cost $389, is in the works now and does have arrow keys--but not much else.) "It's like a surgical tool," says Leeb, who notes that creative writers, authors, novelists, screenwriters, and journalers are his core audience. "We're fully gripped by technology and weapons of mass distraction," he says. "It's worse than ever." By forcing you to write through without stopping, this new-fangled/old-school typewriter may help you hit your deadline.
Currently raising funds on Indiegogo, the Unpluq is a dongle for Android phones that empowers the user to silence any attention-sucking apps while allowing the productive ones to function normally. Creators Jorn Rigter and Tim Smits, who live and work in Delft, Netherlands, both struggled with phone distraction before coming up with the idea. "I wouldn't say we were addicted, but we weren't getting the work done that we wanted to do," says Rigter. After trying all of the app- and Wi-Fi-blocking software they could find, they decided the current solutions weren't ideal--"It's easy to circumvent them, or they block your entire phone, which isn't useful," he says. The creators hope to have the €35 (about $39) dongles to consumers in September. (There are currently no plans for an iPhone version of the dongle since iOS doesn't allow Unpluq's technology, but Rigter says he and Smits are developing a similar solution for distracted iPhone users.)
The Light Phone
Designed as a "supplementary phone," the Light Phone II is a slick but "dumb" cellular phone that does very, very few things--but does them well. Created by Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang in 2015, the most recent iteration of the Light Phone makes calls, sends texts, and serves as an alarm clock. It has no photos, no web browsing, no games, and no notifications. Why would you want that? Think about how much work--or, you know, how much life--you could focus on if your phone didn't ask so much of you. The $350 Light Phone is an ideal piece of "head-down" hardware, allowing you to think only about the tasks (or people) in front of you and not the chirping, buzzing demands of everything else out there.
The Smart Writing System
You're probably familiar with the Moleskine notebook, the beloved writing tablets of poets, students abroad, and that artsy guy who works in your marketing department. The Smart Writing System, which starts at $129, offers a different and very useful way to use one. Described by the company as a way to "bridge analog and digital," it consists of special paper and a pen that work in tandem with your smartphone to digitize your chicken scratch and turn it into editable text. It also transfers diagrams, drawings, and charts to your computer, tablet, or phone. You can record audio as you write, so you don't need to keep a digital recorder or smartphone on the table as you take notes in a meeting or interview. The beauty of this is that the technology has receded to the background, letting you focus on the thing you're documenting without the temptation to open a new tab and check the news or respond to a quick email. Studies have also shown that writing things by hand helps you remember them better.