Computer programs

Smartphone & tablet apps

Browser extensions

The strategies below can help you change your use of digital devices

To understand what you want to change, it can also be helpful to know how you spend your time:

Track yourself

Understand how you use your devices

Use a tracking tool to see how much time you spend in which apps at what times.

Digital Wellbeing
Android icon

Simplest option on Android (if it’s compatible with your version of Android!).


Made by Google, so it’s well-designed and possibly pre-installed on your Android device.


Limited ability to analyse your data.

What it can do:

Get a daily view of your digital habits:

  • How frequently do you use different apps?
  • How many notifications do you receive?
  • How often do you check your phone or unlock your device?

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on your Android device, go to Settings > Digital Wellbeing
Screen Time
iOS iconMac logo

Simplest option on iOS, but its functionality is limited.


Made by Apple, so it’s built-in on iOS and Mac.


Limited ability to analyse your data.

What it can do:

  • see how much time you spent, how many notifications you receive, and how many times you check your device
  • if you have multiple Apple devices, you can see your combined usage

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • iOS go to Settings -> Screen Time; on Mac go to System Preferences -> Screen Time
  • to combine use across devices, toggle on ‘Share across devices’
RescueTime
Android iconMac logoWindows logo

Best option for automatic time tracking on PC and Mac.


Very well reviewed in tech magazines and blogs. User-friendly. You can download your data. Does not sell or share your data.


Few, apart from the general limitation that understanding your own behaviour often isn’t sufficient to change it.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • tracks time spent on your laptop or desktop computer and automatically categorises it in ‘productive’ and ‘not productive’ time
  • receive weekly & annual summaries, and see how your patterns of use have changed over time
  • can also block websites

Price: Free: Time tracking.
Pro (14 day free trial, $12/month, $78/year): Allows access to all historical data and includes blocking features.

StayFree
Android icon

One of the highest rated & reviewed time trackers on the Play Store.


Highest ratings & most reviews among time tracking apps on Google Play.


Does not tell you which exact websites you spend time on within a web browsing app.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • view charts and statistics of your usage history
  • notify you when you spend more time in an app than a set limit
  • export your usage history to CSV or Microsoft Excel file

Price: Free (in-app purchases & ads).

Block or remove distractions

Card image cap
Out of sight, out of mind

Leave your device(s) at a distance to reduce temptation to use them mindlessly.

Multi-Factor Authentication on computer or USB
Mac logoWindows logo

The solution that lets you leave your phone at home.


Leaving your smartphone at home can be a simple and effective way to stay focused, but Multi-Factor Authentication at your university might require you to keep your phone with you.


Can be slightly less secure, because an attacker with access to your physical laptop and its password could access your university services.

What it can do:

  • use your laptop for multi-factor authentication device, via an app you install on it, or a physical USB you plug into it
  • it is then sufficient for you to bring your laptop to the library

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • You can use the browser extension authenticator.cc, or a password manager such as 1Password for MFA on computer. (Note: the ‘Authy’ desktop application is reaching end of life on 19 March 2024)
  • The above ‘try it yourself’ links are to instructions from the Oxford University IT services – if you are not at Oxford, check your own university for specific guidance
Cold Turkey Blocker
Mac logoWindows logo

Make it easier for yourself to have tech-free downtime.


Works on Windows & Mac. Very powerful and flexible blocking and scheduling. Does not collect user data.


Creating a weekly block schedule requires the paid version.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • ‘Frozen Turkey’ mode lets you block your computer entirely
  • initiate it manually until a specific time, or set a weekly schedule

Price: Free: Block on session basis.
Pro ($39, one-time): Schedule blocks.

Get an alarm clock

So you don’t need to keep your phone by your bedside.


If your phone is alarm clock, it’s difficult to not use social media as the first thing in the morning.


You might get nervous about missing emergency calls overnight.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • get a physical alarm clock, then keep your smartphone out of the bedroom at night

Price: NA

Card image cap
Block distracting websites or apps

For some time, block things you don’t want, or allow just the things you want.

Cold Turkey Blocker
Mac logoWindows logo

Most flexible tool for Mac/Windows. Blocks apps & websites. Powerful scheduling functionality.


Works on Windows & Mac, and all major browsers on your computer. Very powerful and flexible blocking and scheduling. Does not collect user data.


Blocking apps (in addition to websites) and creating a weekly block schedule require the paid version.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • create lists of websites or apps to block, then initiate blocking manually (Free) or set a weekly schedule (Pro)
  • show a motivational quote when you try to access a blocked website
  • make it hard or impossible for you to override the block (e.g., require yourself to type in strings of random characters)
  • you can add pomodoro-style breaks to blocking sessions
  • has a mode that locks you out of your computer entirely

Price: Free: Block websites on a session basis.
Pro (£29, one-time): Block apps and schedule blocks.
Student discount: Request 20% off by clicking the link in the FAQ page

Freedom
Android iconiOS iconMac logoWindows logo

Good option if you want one blocker that works across Mac/Windows/iOS/Android. Blocks apps & websites.


Has been in the game for a long time and is one of the world’s most widely used blockers. Well designed and works across most devices.


Not free.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • create lists of websites or apps to block, then initiate blocking manually or set a weekly schedule
  • blocking can be locked so that you can’t turn it off

Price: Free: Trial 7 block sessions.
Pro ($8.99/month, $40/year, $99.50 one-time purchase): Check the website for discount codes.

Unpluq
Android iconiOS icon

Well-designed option that lets you choose your own blocking barrier (e.g., require a physical tag to be nearby, or shake your phone repeatedly).


Well-designed and has create ways to include friction to override blocking. Probably the only blocking tool that also lets you use a physical tag to unblock apps.


Free version is limited.

What it can do:

  • block distracting apps on a schedule
  • choose between 6 distraction barriers to override the block (e.g. shake your phone for some time, scan a unique QR code, use your Unpluq Tag on your keychain)
  • you can get a physical tag where your apps are only unblocked if you have the tag present.

Price: Free: Block 2 apps, on one schedule, with a choice of 2 distraction barriers.
Pro (€4,99/month, €39,99/year): Block an unlimited amount of distracting apps, unlimited schedules, whitelist contacts, get access to all the distraction barriers (including the Unpluq Tag) and more.
Unpluq physical tag: €19,95.
Student discount: Email with proof of student enrolment for 50% off the Unpluq tag.

Opal
ChromeiOS icon

Great alternative to Apple’s limited Screen Time.


One of the first, and best, alternatives to Apple’s limited Screen Time for blocking apps and websites on iOS.


Pushy with paid options. Can require a little trial and error to get it set up right.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • block apps or websites
  • begin blocking manually, or automatically at specified times
  • set daily usage limits
  • can be sync’ed with Apple’s Focus Mode, so that an Opal block is turned on when you turn on focus mode
  • can be sync’ed with a Chrome extension to block websites on laptop

Price: Free trial: 3 or 7 days.   Pro: $9.99/week, $19.99/month, $99.99/year, $299/one-time.

Stay Focused
Android iconiOS icon

One of the best options for blocking on Android. Blocks apps & websites. Powerful customisation.


Highly rated & reviewed on the Google Play Store. Has received positive feedback from ReDD workshop participants.


Some features may require in-app purchases.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • block apps, websites, and keywords in browser URL
  • begin blocking manually, or automatically at specified times
  • set daily usage limits
  • “strict mode” prevents you from overriding blocks

Price: Free: Usage statistics, flexible app and website blocking.
Pro (£3.09/month, £12.99/year, £22.99/one time): Removes ads, unlimited usage limits, and more features.

SelfControl
Mac logo

A simple, free and open source option for website blocking on Mac.


Simple and reliable. Free and open source.


Only blocks websites. Only available on Mac.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • create lists of websites to block, then initiate blocking via a simple slide
  • impossible to disable once set

Price: Free.

LeechBlock
ChromeFirefox logo

Good option if you only need to block websites.


Highest rated free blocker on Chrome Web Store & Firefox add-ons store. Does not collect user data. Open-source.


Only blocks websites in the Chrome, Firefox, or Edge browser.

What it can do:

  • block websites
  • begin a blocking session manually, or set up an automatic blocking schedule
  • set a countdown timer that delays your access to websites instead of completely blocking them
  • set a password to edit settings, to slow you down in moments of weakness where you want to override it

Price: Free.

RescueTime
Android iconiOS iconMac logoWindows logo

Good option if you’re already using RescueTime for time-tracking.


Good scheduling functionality that integrates with your calendar.


Can’t block apps, only websites.

What it can do:

  • RescueTime’s primary function is time tracking, but the Premium version also has easy-to-use website blocking
  • you can easily start a ‘FocusTime’ block manually, sync it with your calendar, or have it activate when certain criteria are met (e.g. activate for the rest of the day after you’ve spent 30 minutes on social media)

Price: Free: Time tracking.
Pro (14 day free trial, $12/month, $78/year): access to all your historical data and includes blocking features.

Micromanager
Mac logoWindows logo

Simplest way to lock yourself into specific apps on your computer.


Well-engineered, simple way to lock yourself into specific apps on Windows and Mac computers. Does not collect user data.


You can only lock yourself into apps; it cannot block websites. If you want a more precise way to turn your computer into, e.g., MS Word + your internet browser with only wikipedia and all other websites blocked, you may want to use Cold Turkey Blocker from the same developer instead.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • restricts you computer to only chosen apps for a period of time

Price: Free: Lock yourself into 1 app for a duration of time.
Pro (£15, one-time): Lock yourself into an unlimited number of apps (and also set up a break schedule).

Cold Turkey Writer
Mac logoWindows logo

Simple and effective way to lock yourself into a writing program.


Simple way to lock yourself into a full-screen writing program when you need to focus - it’s like transforming your computer into a typewriter.


Only useful when you require nothing more than a writing program. No formatting options in the free version.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • a full-screen, minimalistic writing program that you cannot leave until (a) you have typed a specific number of words, or (b) a specific length of time has passed
  • you can import a text file into the program, so that you can use it to, e.g., do focused work on an essay draft for 30 minutes

Price: Free: Locks you into simple writing program.
Pro (£7, one-time): Adds themes, font formatting, productive soundtracks, etc.

Screen Time
iOS iconMac logo

Simplest option on iOS, but its functionality is limited.


Made by Apple, so it’s built-in on iOS and Mac.


Limited scheduling functionality - you cannot set e.g. multiple block times on the same day. On Mac, it requires Mac OS Catalina or higher

What it can do:

  • set time limits for a category of apps (e.g., Games or Social Networking) or for individual apps or websites
  • block apps and notifications during scheduled periods (‘Downtime’)

Price: Free.

Digital Wellbeing
Android icon

Simplest option on Android (if it’s compatible with your version of Android!).


Made by Google, so it’s well-designed and possibly pre-installed on your Android device.


May only work on Android version 10 and up. Easy to override.

What it can do:

  • limit how much time you spend in an app or on a website each day
  • block distracting apps on session-basis, or set up a schedule so that distractions are automatically blocked during specific hours

Price: Free.

Blockalicious
iOS iconMac logo

Free and simple way to block websites.


Simple alternative to Apple’s Screen Time for website blocking.


Can’t block apps, and you might find it too easy to override the blocking.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • easily add websites to a block list

Price: Free.

Card image cap
Hide distracting features on websites or apps

Did you know you can customise websites or apps to make them less distracting?

MindShield
Safari logo

Hide distractions on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google Search.

Made-by-ReDD logo


Open source and developed by the ReDD team. Powerful way to control what website elements you want to see on a number of websites, on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Backed by research.


No obvious downsides.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • works on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Search
  • adds a button you click to select elements to hide and save your preferences
  • open source and developed by the ReDD team

Price: £1.99 one-time payment.

News Feed Eradicator
ChromeFirefox logo

Replace the newsfeed on Facebook (or feeds/recommendations on YouTube, Reddit, X, Hacker News…) with a motivational quote.


200,000+ users and stellar ratings on the Chrome Web Store. Open source


Depending on how you use the sites, hiding feeds altogether could be too invasive.

What it can do:

  • hide Facebook’s newsfeed and/or YouTube’s recommended videos and/or feeds on Twitter, Reddit, and Hacker News
  • replace the feeds with an (optional and customisable) motivational quote

Price: Free.

Inbox When Ready
Chrome

Hide your inbox on Gmail until you want to see it.


Very highly rated on the Chrome Web Store.


You may still want to check your inbox before you write the reply, to check if relevant new information has come in.

What it can do:

  • hides your Gmail inbox by default - you can still search and compose emails, but need to click “Show Inbox” to see your email inbox
  • can also lock you out of your inbox at scheduled time intervals

Price: Free.

Ad Guard
Android iconiOS iconMac logoWindows logoChromeFirefox logoSafari logo

An ad blocker that also allows you to remove any element of a website you don’t want to see, by clicking on it.


Extremely popular ad blocker with rave reviews. Open source.


Can be a little tricky to set up.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • hide any element on a website, by clicking on it
  • remove social media widgets (e.g. like buttons) on websites with a simple filter
  • block all ads
  • protect your privacy by blocking common third-party tracking systems

Price: Free: AdGuard browser extensions are totally free. AdGuard apps for iOS and Android have free versions.

Pro (£23.88/year, £59.99/lifetime): Fully protects up to three devices. The pro apps for Mac, Windows, and Android offer a free trial.

Click to Remove Element
Chrome

Remove any element you don’t want to see, by clicking on it.


Simple way to remove distractions yourself as you go along on the web. Very positive reviews on the Chrome Web Store. Does not collect user data.


Manually clicking away distractions may be tedious.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • hide any element on a website, by clicking on it

Price: Free.

Remove HTML Elements
Firefox logo

Remove any element you don’t want to see, by clicking on it.


Simple way to remove distractions yourself as you browse the web. Very positive reviews on the Firefox Add-ons store.


Manually clicking away distractions may be tedious. Unclear privacy practices

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • hide any element on a website, by clicking on it

Price: Free.

Distraction Free Mode — Google Docs & Slides
ChromeFirefox logo

Add focus mode to Google Docs & Google Slides


Very highly rated on the Chrome Web and Firefox Add-ons stores. Very few downsides, simply adds an extra functionality. Does not collect user data.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • adds ‘distraction-free mode’ button to Google Docs and Google Slides - when you click this button, it removes all visual distractions

Price: Free.

MS Word Focus mode
Mac logoWindows logo

Get rid of the visual distractions with the click of a button.


Nothing to install, simply a functionality to get familiar with.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • if you use Microsoft Word, be aware that it has a ‘focus mode’ built in, which hides visual distractions

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • go to ‘View’ in the ribbon and click ‘Focus’, or click the ‘focus’ button at the bottom of an open document
Card image cap
Limit notifications

Only receive notifications you really need, at the times you want to see them.

Clean up which notifications you receive
Android iconiOS iconMac logoWindows logo

Decide what content should be allowed to interrupt you.


Nothing to install, simply a systems setting to get familiar with.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • go over your notifications settings and carefully consider which apps you will allow to notify you - toggle off any notifications you do not need

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on iOS, go to Settings -> Notifications
  • on Android, go to Settings -> Apps & notifications -> Notifications
Use ‘Do Not Disturb’ to mute or schedule non-urgent notifications
Android iconiOS iconMac logoWindows logo

Guard your daily routine against interruptions.


Nothing to install, simply a systems setting to get familiar with.


If you easily worry about missing something important, it requires a little care in setting it up, so that the things you do want to let through always are in fact let through.

What it can do:

  • schedule Do Not Disturb, so that during certain hours (e.g. 9pm to 8am) only calls from your favorite contacts go through directly:
  • alternatively, manually toggle on Do Not Disturb when you need to focus

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • set up schedule: on iOS go to Settings > Do Not Disturb ; on Android, swipe down from the top of your screen to open the notification shade, press and hold the Do Not Disturb icon, then open up ‘more settings’
  • manual toggle: on iOS, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open up control center, then select the moon-shaped Do Not Disturb icon ; on Android, swipe down from the top of your screen to open the notification shade, and select the Do Not Disturb icon
Use Apple’s ‘Focus mode’
iOS iconMac logo

Filter notifications, and apps visible on the homescreen, based on what you are currently doing


No need to install anything, it’s an inbuilt functionality to get familiar with.


If you easily worry about missing something important, it requires a little care in setting it up, so that the things you do want to let through always are in fact let through.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • select which notifications you do and don’t want to receive
  • create custom ‘focus’ modes for different purposes e.g. work, sleep, personal, where specific notifications are allowed
  • customise your home screen so that only apps related to your ‘focus’ mode appear, and hide notification badges
  • schedule ‘focus’ to activate at certain times, in particular locations, or when you open specific apps
  • share your focus status with those who try to message you

Price: Free.

Use Android’s ‘Focus mode’
Android icon

Pause distracting apps and hide their notifications.


No need to install anything, it’s an inbuilt functionality to get familiar with.


If you easily worry about missing something important, it requires a little care in setting it up, so that the things you do want to let through always are in fact let through.

What it can do:

  • select apps to block/allow for when you want to focus
  • set a schedule for focus mode to turn on/off automatically

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on Google Pixel go to “Settings” > “Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls” > “Focus mode”, and then select the apps you’d like to pause and either “Turn On Now”, or “Set a Schedule”
  • on Samsung Galaxy devices, go to “Settings” > “Modes and Routines” , then select a pre-existing mode or “Add Mode” and toggle on “Restrict App Usage”. Select the apps you want to use and receive notifications from, everything else will be blocked. “Turn On” to enable focus mode manually, or “Turn On Automatically” to create some conditions.
Schedule a notification summary
iOS icon

Receive batched notifications at set times of day, so that you are not continually interrupted by them.


No need to install anything, it’s an inbuilt functionality to get familiar with.


You might not want to schedule summaries for notifications which are urgent and require your immediate attention.

What it can do:

  • decide which apps you want to include in your notification summary
  • decide which times of day you’d like to receive the summary

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 or later go to “Settings” > “Notifications” > “Scheduled Summary”, then turn on Scheduled Summary
  • under Apps in Summary, select the apps you want to include in your notification summary
  • under Schedule, tap the Add button to add a new schedule or the Remove button to remove a schedule
  • adjust the time for each scheduled summary you’ve set up
Hide notification badges on your homescreen
iOS icon

Remove the stressful red notification badges in your homescreen, and review notifications on your own schedule.


No need to install anything, it’s an inbuilt functionality to get familiar with.


If you like to keep track of unread messages in this way, this might not be for you.

What it can do:

  • decide which apps (if any) you would like to see notification badges for on your homescreen

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on iPhone/iPad go to “Settings” > “Notifications”
  • scroll down and select the App you want to hide badges for
  • toggle off “Badges”
Hide message previews on your home screen
iOS icon

Stay aware that you’ve been contacted without getting sidetracked by the content.


Instead of turning notifications off altogether, choose to receive a message alert without displaying its content.


You might prefer to see the content of every notification, if you don’t want to miss something important.

What it can do:

  • you can decide what content to see in notifications when you receive a message
  • you can normally customise this either in your smartphone’s Settings, or inside in app’s own notification settings

Price: Free.

Instructions:

iOS: Go to Settings > Notifications > the app you want (e.g. WhatsApp) > Show Previews > Never

Card image cap
Declutter your homescreen & desktop

Visually distracted? Rearrange and simplify your digital environment.

Hide notification badges on your homescreen
iOS icon

Remove the stressful red notification badges in your homescreen, and review notifications on your own schedule.


No need to install anything, it’s an inbuilt functionality to get familiar with.


Some people find notification badges useful.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • decide which apps (if any) you would like to see notification badges for on your homescreen

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on iPhone/iPad go to “Settings” > “Notifications”
  • scroll down and select the App you want to hide badges for
  • toggle off “Badges”
HazeOver
Mac logo

Dim background windows.


Simple way to reduce visual clutter and stay focused.


No obvious downsides.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • automatically highlight the front app window by dimming all background windows
  • dimming amount is customisable

Price: $4.99 one-time payment.

Blank Spaces
iOS icon

Simplify your homescreen to a minimalistic list of your most important apps.


Simple way to reduce visual clutter. Does not collect user data.


Requires iOS 17.0 or later.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • replace your homescreen to a minimalistic list of your most important apps

Price: Free trial: 7 days.
Pro: $3.99/month, $13.99/year, $22.99/lifetime.

Before Launcher
Android icon

Get a minimalistic homescreen, with plain text instead of shiny icons.


Highly rated on the Google Play store.


All apps are still available if you search for them.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • replace your homescreen to a minimalistic display of text
  • filter notifications to only those you need

Price: Free: Everything you need.
Pro (£5.49, one-time): Additional customisation like hiding apps, pinning apps, and filing apps into folders.

Niagara Launcher
Android icon

Get a minimalistic homescreen, and make everything accessible with one hand.


Recommended by a ReDD workshop particpant, and highly rated on the Google Play store.


Some basic features require the paid version (e.g. having your battery level visible on the homescreen)

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • replace your homescreen to a minimalistic list of apps and widgets
  • everything is accessible with one hand, no matter how big your phone is
  • the homescreen is an adaptive list where messages and media player etc pop in when needed

Price: Free: Most basic features.   Pro ($9.99/year, $29.99/lifetime): Additional features such as calendar and wearther widgets, customise app icons, and pop up folders.

Move distracting apps off home screen
iOS iconAndroid icon

Simple way to make distracting apps less alluring.


No need to install anything, it’s simply about organising your device layout.


May only reduce habitual checking for a while, until you get used to new app location. Might need to move apps to new locations periodically.

What it can do:

  • arrange your apps so that the home screen is minimalistic and simple, and the apps you want to use less often require a bit more effort to get to
  • for example, try limiting your first page of apps to only apps you use for quick in-and-out tasks - move the rest, especially those you find yourself using mindlessly, off the first page and put them in folders

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • if you normally open apps by searching for them, then you can stop that app from showing up in search, such that you instead have to go find it where you placed it on your phone

iOS: go to Settings > scroll down to the relevant app (e.g. Safari) > Siri & Search > turn off ‘Show App in Search’ and ‘Suggest App’

Stacks
Mac logo

Automatically organise the mess of files on your computer’s desktop


No need to install anything, it’s simply about organising your device layout.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • neatly organise files in your desktop into groups
  • when you save a file to desktop, it is automatically added to the appropriate stack

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on your Mac, click the desktop, then choose View > Use Stacks or press Control-Command-0. You can also Control-click the desktop, then choose Use Stacks.
Auto-hiding dock
Mac logo

Automatically hide the dock on your screen when you’re not using it


No need to install anything, it’s simply about organising your device layout.


No obvious downsides.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • automatically hide your Mac’s dock
  • to see it, simply move your mouse to the bottom of the screen

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on your Mac launch System Preferences and select the “Dock & Menu Bar” panel on the left
  • check the box that reads “Automatically hide and show the Dock”
Full screen mode
Mac logoWindows logoSafari logo

Remove visual clutter in your apps.


Nothing to install, simply a functionality to get familiar with.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • a basic trick for minimising visual distraction when working on laptop is to place apps you need in full screen mode

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on Mac, click the green full-screen button to make an app run in full-screen - or click and hold to place two app windows side by side
  • in the Safari browser on laptop, make a window full-screen, then click ‘View’ and untoggle ‘Always Show Toolbar in Full Screen’ (to make the toolbar appear again, bring your cursor to the top of the screen)
CinemaDrape
Windows logo

Dim background windows.


Free and open-source. Simple way to reduce visual clutter and stay focused.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • instantly blank or dims the parts of a web page or background windows that you are not focusing on

Price: Free.

Make your goals attractive

Card image cap
Focus in bursts with a timer

Use a countdown timer to be productive in short, manageable bursts.

Be Focused
iOS iconMac logo

Simple, no-nonsense Pomodoro timer.


Very highly rated on the Apple App Store.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • on iOS, provides a simple countdown interface, along with a to-do list and usage history
  • on Mac, adds a simple icon to your menu bar that you can click to set yourself a task you’ll do and start a countdown timer

Price: Free
Pro ($0.99, one-time): Removes banners and ads.

Demo:

Boosted Time Tracker
Android icon

Time tracking linked to specific projects and tasks.


Highly rated on the Google Play store & recommended by students at Oxford.


Not very minimalistic. Maybe too many bells and whistles for some.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • single-click time tracking for all of your activities
  • split your projects into smaller tasks
  • pomodoro timer, countdown timer, and many other productivity tools
  • view detailed reports and statistics of all your tracked time
  • view all of your tracked activities in a calendar

Price: Free.
Pro (£/one-time):

Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant
Chrome

Minimalistic Pomodoro timer.


Very highly rated on the Chrome Web Store.


Timer only appears on your web browser.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • super minimalistic pomodoro timer: adds a little toolbar icon with a red countdown timer
  • click this icon to start or stop a countdown timer; right click it to see your history or configure the timer durations

Price: Free.

StudyTimer
Firefox logo

Simple, open-source pomodoro timer.


Highly rated on the Firefox Add-ons Store. Open-source.


Timer only appears on your web browser.

What it can do:

  • adds a toolbar icon, which can be clicked to start a timer
  • you can see the number of minutes remaining on the countdown on the toolbar icon

Price: Free.

Minimalist Pomodoro Timer
Android icon

Beautiful, simple, and customisable timer.


Very highly rated on the Google Play store.


Can be trickier to get the hang of than other pomodoro timers.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • minimalistic pomodoro timer with immersive full-screen mode
  • customisable in most ways you might want (focus & break length, timer styles, daily reminders, notification sounds)

Price: Free.

Card image cap
Add reward or punishment

Reward yourself for staying focused, e.g. by protecting a virtual plant or animal.

Forest
Android iconiOS iconChrome

Simple way to gamify not using your phone or distracting websites.


One of the most used (10M+ installs) and praised productivity apps on the Google Play, Chrome Web, and Apple App stores.


Some people might not find it motivating.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • a gamified productivity timer:
  1. plant a tree and set a duration of time where you want to focus and not use your smartphone / distracting websites (Chrome)
  2. If you stay focused without getting distracted before the time is up, you’ll get a beautiful, healthy tree; if you cannot resist using your phone, your tree will die
  3. grow your personal forest over time by being focused

Price: Free on Google Play, $1.99 on Apple App Store

Flora
iOS icon

Simple way to gamify not using your phone or distracting websites.


The most highly rated and reviewed alternative to Forest on the Apple App store.


Some people might not find it motivating.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • similar to Forest:
  1. plant a tree and set a duration of time where you want to focus and not use your smartphone
  2. if you commit to your task without getting distracted before the time is up, you’ll get a beautiful, healthy tree; if you cannot resist using your phone, your tree will wither
  3. unlock new trees over time by succesfully focusing
  • multiple people can sync with each other and grow trees together

Price: Free (in-app purchases).

Focus Quest
Android iconiOS iconMac logo

A gamified adventure app which rewards focus time with virtual coins to aid your hero on a quest.


Recommended by a previous ReDD workshop participant – good for those who don’t find keeping a tree alive motivating enough. Advertised as a focus booster to help manage ADHD.


Might add distractions.

What it can do:

  • a quest story game combined with a focus timer:
  1. set a timer for the task you would like to focus on
  2. if you stay on the app and focus for the allotted time, you will gain coins/resources!
  3. use these resources to buy gear and train your hero, as you level up along an adventure quest.

Price: Free (in-app purchases).

The Most Dangerous Writing App
ChromeFirefox logoSafari logo

Keep writing ’till you reach your goal, or your work gets deleted!


Positive reviews in magazines from Wired to Lifehacker; nothing to install - just visit it in your web browser


Only useful for specific writing purposes.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • simulates the feeling of being so close to a deadline that you just need to keep going to get our your first draft
  • if you stop typing for more than a few seconds before your reach your goal (typing for a number of minutes, or typing a number of words), everything is deleted
  • very useful in those writing situations where you just need to bash out a rough draft, which you will then edit afterwards

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • go to the website, set a time or word goal, then begin typing
Flowstate
iOS iconMac logo

Keep writing ’till you reach your goal, or your work gets deleted!


Loads of critical acclaim in tech magazines and very highly rated on the Apple App Store.


Only useful for specific writing purposes.

Try it yourself

Mac

What it can do:

  • choose how long you want to write (5, 15, 30 min), then enter a flow session
  • if you exit early, or stop typing for longer than five seconds, all progress is lost
  • the only way to save your work is by writing until the timer ends
  • in this way, the app forces you into a state of flow

Price: £4.99 one-time payment.

Card image cap
Go grey scale

Turn your device black and white to make it less visually attractive.

Grey Scale for iPhone and Mac
iOS iconMac logo

Simple way to make your device less enticing.


No need to install anything, it’s a simple systems setting.


If you do not set up an accessibility shortcut, it can be impractical.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • putting your phone or laptop in grey scale can tone down the allure of apps and notification markers
  • note that for this to be useful, you need to be able to toggle it on and off easily, because you will want to turn colour back on for some functionality (like maps)

Price: Free.

Demo:

How-to:

Instructions:

  • to switch your iPhone / iPad to grey scale, select Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Colour Filters, then toggle Colour Filters on and select Grayscale
  • set a triple-tap on the Home / Power button to toggle grey scale on and off, by going to: Settings > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut > Colour Filters
  • to switch your Mac to grey scale, go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display > Colour Filters, then select Greyscale and toggle Enable Colour Filters on.
  • set a shortcut on Mac by going to System Preferences > Accessibility > Shortcut, and ensure Colour Filters is ticked. Now you can switch greyscale on and off by triple pressing the power button.
Grey Scale for Android
Android icon

Simple way to make your phone less enticing.


No need to install anything, it’s a simple systems setting.


If you do not set up an accessibility shortcut, it can be impractical.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • most android phones will have a greyscale feature
  • putting your phone in grey scale can tone down the allure of apps and notification markers
  • note that for this to be useful, you need to be able to toggle it on and off easily, because you will want to turn colour back on for some functionality (like maps)

Price: Free.

Instructions:

  • on Android (v11&) add a gray scale toggle to your quick settings: (1) from the top of your screen, swipe down twice, (2) at the bottom left, tap Edit (3) touch and hold the grayscale symbol, then drag to where you want it
Gray-Switch
Android icon

Useful if grey scale is not built into your androids system setting.


Positive reviews in the Google Play store.


Slightly fiddly to set up.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • conveniently switch your devices display mode between colour and grey scale
  • exclude certain applications from grey scale mode (e.g. photos)
  • options to switch your phone to grey scale according to a time schedule, or when it reaches low battery

Price: Free.

Keep your goals in mind

Card image cap
Delay distracting apps and websites

Take a deep breath and stay mindful before you start using a distracting app or website.

one sec
Android iconiOS iconChromeFirefox logoSafari logo

Delay the opening of specific apps or websites by a few seconds to remind yourself why you’re using it.


Very highly rated on the Google Play and Apple App stores. Backed by research.


No obvious downsides.

What it can do:

  • delay the opening of a distracting app or website with a few seconds
  • shows you how many times you’ve opened the app/website within the last 24hrs and asks if you still want to continue

Price: Free.   Pro (£9.99/year): Lets you apply it to an unlimited number of apps, change to other prompts, and more.

Demo:

How-to:

ScreenZen
Android iconiOS icon

Highly customisable app that can delay and block the opening of distracting apps.


Very highly rated on the Google Play and Apple App stores.


No obvious downsides.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • time delay before opening a distracting app
  • set an usage goal and block the app when you reach your limit
  • schedule settings for different days and times of day
  • interrupt your scrolling after a short time on a distracting app so you don’t get sucked in
  • progress reports on app usage

Price: Free.

clearspace
iOS icon

Make yourself take a deep breath when you open a distracting app, and automatically close the app after a set number of minutes


Rave reviews on the Apple App store.


Slightly tricky to set up, but clearspace has a video to walk you through it.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • redirect impulse clicks by enforcing a time buffer
  • select the session length you need. clearspace pulls you out at the end, so you don’t get lost in the scroll
  • track your progress over time with advanced analysis of your app usage patterns

Price: Free: Connect to only one app.
Pro (£6.99/month, £44.99/year): Unlimited connected apps, schedule usage of apps, advanced data insights.

Card image cap
Put quotes or to-do’s on new tabs or websites

Use a browser extension to change the content of new tabs or distracting websites.

Momentum
iOS iconChromeFirefox logoSafari logo

Display a motivational photo and your goal for the day on new tabs, sync across devices.


Very highly rated on the Apple App store.


Depending on how you use your browser, you may prefer to see recently visited websites, or other information, on new tabs.

What it can do:

  • replace the content of new tabs with a customisable start page with an inspirational image and your main focus for the day

Price: Free (in-app purchases).

Demo:

Todo Tab
Chrome

Display a minimalistic to-do list on new tabs.


Very highly rated on the Chrome Web Store.


Depending on how you use your browser, you may prefer to see recently visited websites, or other information, on new tabs.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • replace the content of new tabs with a clean and simple to-do list

Price: Free.

Daily motivation
Chrome

Display motivational quotes on new tabs.


Very highly rated on the Chrome Web Store.


Depending on how you use your browser, you may prefer to see recently visited websites, or other information, on new tabs.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • show a new motivational quote every time you open a new tab - replaces the default content of new tabs

Price: Free.

Tabliss
Firefox logo

Customise new tabs with motivational photos, quotes, to-do lists, and more.


On the list of ‘recommended extensions’ curated by Firefox staff.


Depending on how you use your browser, you may prefer to see recently visited websites, or other information, on new tabs.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • replace the content of new tabs with a motivational photo or image, but highly customisable
  • can also add to-do lists or quick notes, work hours to count down the day, etc.

Price: Free.

Todobook
Chrome

Replace YouTube recommendations or Twitter’s feed with a to-do list.


Very highly rated on the Chrome Web Store.


The developer noted on Jan 4, 2021 that he will update it to work again on Facebook, but has yet to do so.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • replace YouTube’s video recommendations, and Twitter’s feed, with a to-do list (it used to work on Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites, but needs an update)
  • when you have completed all to-do’s, you unlock the recommendations / feed for 5 minutes

Price: Free.

Card image cap
Get pop-up or task bar reminders of your goals

Get a simple nudge to remind you of your goals, when you need it.

Shortcuts
iOS icon

Set your own reminders to be triggered e.g. when you open a specific app.


The new ‘shortcuts’ app can be used to show yourself reminders when certain conditions are met.


Can be a little tricky to set up.

What it can do:

  • the shortcuts app lets you do most things if you’re creative and tech savvy
  • a simple way to use it to stay focused is to have it show you a specific reminder text when you open or close a specific app
  • for example, you might get it to say “Why did you open your inbox?” when you open or close your mail program

Price: Free.

Instructions:

Here’s an example of using the Shortcuts app to show a custom alert when you open the Mail app.

  1. Open the Shortcuts app & press ‘Automation’ in the bottom of the screen
  2. Press ‘Create Personal Automation’, then scroll down and press ‘App’
  3. Press ‘choose’, find and select the Mail app, and press ‘Done, then ’next’
  4. Press ‘Search for apps and actions’, search for ‘alert’, then press ‘Show Alert’
  5. Set a text for the alert and press ‘next’
  6. Toggle off ‘Ask Before Running’, then press ‘Done’

Now, when you open ‘Mail’, your alert will be shown at the top.

Modes & Routines
Android icon

Perform custom actions (e.g. turn on greyscale) at specific times or when you open specific apps.


Pre-installed on Samsung and very flexible functionality.


Can be a little confusing to get started with because of the multitude of options

What it can do:

  • ‘IF… THEN…’ process
  • ‘IF’: e.g., at certain times, when you open specific apps, at certain locations, …
  • ‘THEN’: e.g., turn on greyscale, show a custom notification, mute all sounds, …
  • for example, you might get it to show a notification saying “Why did you open your inbox?” when you open your email program

Price: Free.

Instructions:

Here’s an example of using Modes & Routines to show an alert when you open Instagram on Samsung.

  1. Open the Modes & Routines app and click ‘Routines’ in the bottom right.
  2. Press the plus sign and then press the writing under the ‘If’: ‘Add what will trigger this routine’.
  3. In the search bar, search for ‘App opened’ and choose Instagram, then press ‘Done’.
  4. Press the writing under ‘Then’: ‘Add what this routine will do’.
  5. Choose ‘all actions’ and search for ‘Show custom notification’.
  6. Type your notification, e.g. “Why did you open Instagram?”, and add e.g. “Stop” as the title.
  7. Press save.

Now, if you launch Instagram, your notification will be shown.

Shortery + Shortcuts
Mac logo

Set your own reminders to be triggered e.g. when you open a specific app.


The new ‘shortcuts’ app can be used to show yourself reminders when certain conditions are met.


On Mac, you need to use two apps: Apple’s ‘Shortcuts’ app that lets you create an action; and then the ‘Shortery’ app that lets you execute that action (e.g. showing a text alert) when you open or close and app.

What it can do:

  • the shortcuts app lets you do most things if you’re creative and tech savvy
  • a simple way to use it to stay focused is to have it show you a specific reminder text when you open or close a specific app
  • for example, you might get it to say “Why did you open your inbox?” when you open or close your mail program

Price: Free.

Instructions:

Here’s an example of using the Shortcuts & Shortery apps to show an alert whenever you open Safari on Mac.

  1. Open the Shortcuts app and click the ‘+’ symbol to create a new shortcut.
  2. Give it a name where it says ‘Title’, e.g. ‘Stay on track’.
  3. In the search bar, search for ‘alert’, and double click ‘Show alert’
  4. Change the alert text to whatever you want, e.g. “Why did you open Safari?”.
  5. Open the Shortery app and click ‘Add Shortcut Trigger’.
  6. Give the Trigger a name, then under ‘Shortcut’ find the one you just created (if you don’t see it, click ‘Reload Shortcut List’).
  7. Then under ‘Application’, find and select Safari (it needs to be running).
  8. Under ‘App is’ select ‘Launched’

Now, if you quit and launch Safari, your alert will be shown.

One Thing
Mac logo

Put one task in your menu bar.


Your task bar is a very handy place to put things you need to continuously be reminded about.


It might be easy to miss.

Try it yourself

What it can do:

  • write a sentence that is shown in your menu bar

Price: Free.

Card image cap
Redirect yourself from distractions to what you want

Send yourself to a useful website or app when you open a distracting one.