We live in a world that’s digital, borderless and virtually connected. We can chat with friends across the world, follow news as it breaks, source information in seconds. But that hyper-connectivity comes with a heavy price, making it almost impossible to focus and be present. It's spawned a whole new category of technology to keep our digital toolkits in check: anti-distraction apps.
What are anti-distraction apps?
At work, our concentration is continually broken by digital distractions in the form of emails, Slack pings, tool notifications. Many of us suffer from "inbox anxiety" and can’t go 30 minutes without checking our email. We become immediately available to every new request, using asynchronous communication tools synchronously and dropping whatever we’re doing to respond to an urgent but unimportant email.
This digital dissonance is the natural consequence of the booming attention economy—the competition between app developers to keep you engaged in a saturated app marketplace. But it's terrible news for our productivity. It creates a digital environment that makes it impossible to do productive deep work requiring prolonged, unbroken concentration.
For all the digital tools that interrupt us, a select few exist purely to solve their disruption. Anti-distraction apps exist to help you carve out a moment of digital silence. While still few and far between, there's an impressive breadth of anti-distraction technology out there to help you manage your biggest digital offenders—whether you want to silence chat apps, restrict specific websites or clear desktop clutter.
The best anti-distraction apps
Check out these smart anti-distraction apps to help set boundaries around your digital activity and return your focus to where it matters.
Dewo – block distracting apps automatically
The ceaseless circle of notifications, emails and social media alerts has made it impossible for us to immerse ourselves in deep work and prioritize the things that truly matter. As human beings we’re extraordinarily fallible, and sometimes, no matter our best efforts, the lure of Twitter can be too much. Step in Dewo, your intelligent “deep work assistant”.
Seeking to reinvent the calendar for deep work, Dewo is a tool for taking back control of your time. Just hit the "Focus" button when you need digital silence and Dewo will mute notifications across all your connected devices. Over time, it can even learn to recognize when you enter flow states to do this for you automatically. You can also outsource meeting scheduling to Dewo—just say who you want to meet and it will use AI to find the time with the least impact on your space uninterrupted deep work.
Freedom – lock up the internet
Freedom gets rid of distractions in the most ruthless (and effective) way possible: by blocking the entire internet for up to eight hours. You can tailor what to bar and choose whether to block out all social platforms or apps, or leave one or two unblocked. Freedom can stop you opening all those irrelevant apps that distract you, or accessing those websites you intend just to check for a moment, but find yourself still reading an hour later – plus, it works on both your phone and laptop.
If you need a firm hand in managing distractions, Freedom’s Locked Mode will be your saviour. Once you’ve activated it, you can’t change the settings until your session is over. It doesn’t matter whether you think you’ve earned a quick peek at Facebook – you won’t get it! Locked Mode may turn your laptop into a computer from 1994… but sometimes that’s just what we need to work.
FocusMe – block specific sites and apps
FocusMe is all about creating productive routines that work for you. It allows you to block specific sites or apps for certain periods – or forever, if you’re really trying to eliminate distracting habits. It’s popular with parents because it allows them to set controls on their children’s use of tech – whether that’s limiting how long they play games for or which sites they can visit.
A big perk of FocusMe is that it can help you develop healthy working routines. It reminds you to take breaks for optimum productivity, encourages you to create scheduled blocks for specific tasks and activities, and helps suggest productivity targets. Just like Freedom, it has a Forced Mode where you’re unable to access distracting sites – even if you try to delete the app!
LeechBlock – set time limits on distracting sites
Blocking the entire internet isn’t always an option... so for a less obtrusive solution to distraction, there are smart browser extensions. Leechblock is a Chrome and Firefox extension that blocks the sites sucking the life from you. The timer allows you to choose which sites to block, when and for how long: you can give yourself a 15 minute window to browse Twitter at lunch, or set Facebook to be accessible for 10 minutes in the morning. Other than those times, however, you’re locked out.
One of Leechblock’s best features (or worst, depending on how you look at it) is its redirect page; you can choose a site you’re redirected to whenever you try to access a blocked site – and this can act as a surprising motivator. Imagine trying to hop onto Twitter and instead finding yourself redirected to a music video you hate. Getting back to work will suddenly seem much more attractive.
Mindful Browsing – resurface your goals
While surprisingly basic, Mindful Browsing packs a powerful punch. The premise is simple: install the browser extension, tell it what websites you want to be more mindful of using and set a few activities you want to make more time for. Mindful Browsing will then gently prompt you to reconsider how you are spending your time when you access certain websites. It even throws in a few photos of soothing natural scenes to aid your contemplation.
Effectively, rather than enforcing abstinence this extension aims at deeper behavioral change—nudging you to reassess your relationship with the websites you use and return your focus to your goals. It's currently only available to Chrome users, but is completely free to use.