With advertisers, self-promoters, social media companies, and online bad guys trying to steal our attention, our attention is a precious resource. Here are some ways to take our attention back, starting with things our devices already have installed and then going on to apps you can use:
Fortunately, cell phone and table manufacturers have begun to hear our cries about not wanting to be distracted all the time, and created some ways to cut out the cues which call us back to our devices when we want to be doing something else. Android and iPhones now both have Do Not Disturb mode, which lets you turn off notifications for certain periods of time. You can also make simple changes to your device’s settings to make it easier to focus.
iPhones also have a “Screen Time” feature which lets you set rules for yourself to limit how much time you spend with certain apps. You can limit the use of certain apps during certain times, or the length of time you want to use a whole category of apps (like video or social media apps). My friend Sarah started using this recently, and notes, “It was (but it shouldn’t have been) surprising when all of my quick glances at social media apps added up to an hour and my apps closed off before lunchtime! It made me really realize exactly how much time I am spending scrolling or just quickly glancing and is really good for self-reflection.”
Freedom is an app for Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android that lets you schedule when you can use sites or apps. It also has standalone browser plugins. It gives you the ability to block all but a few sites or apps if you’d like, or even block the whole internet.
Offtime, for Android or iPhone, also supports scheduling phone activity as well as helping you track what you’re doing on your device.
RescueTime lets you track your time on different sites and apps, set goals for better time use, set work time and time off, and even block potential distractions. It’s available for Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android, and also as a browser plugin.
Leechblock is a free browser plugin that gives you great, detailed control over which websites you can access, for how long, at what times. I’ve used it myself to keep myself off social media during work hours. It can be a little technical, though, so unless you’re ready to dig in to the settings a bit more, you might try another app.
Forest is an app for iPhone and Android that is more or less a tree-growing game: if you leave your phone alone, the tree in the app grows; if you pick it up, the tree dies. As a bonus, the app developers say they invest in planting actual trees!
Mindful Browsing is a plugin for Chrome that shows you peaceful scenes—along with reminders of things you maybe wanted to do instead of surfing the web.
For more tips on digital mindfulness, pick up a copy of Keep Calm and Log On!
Please note: I have not had the opportunity to do security or privacy checks on these apps.