Executive Functioning, Strategies

Tech for EF Part 2: Computer Distractions

In part 2 of this series, we tackle perhaps the most frustrating problem and common complaint from those with attention and executive functioning challenges: I need my device to do work, but it also holds endless distractions.

How can we harness the power of technology in order to use it for good, and not evil?

The Problem:

You are working on a school project but the window with youtube is open in the background. Imagine a plate of warm cookies on the table in front of you. You might be able to resist for a while. But, let’s be honest; you’re eating one of those cookies. While distractions are always around, we need to try to increase the distance between ourselves and the distractions (like moving the plate of cookies to a different room). There are a few ways that tech can help do that.

Solution #1: Reducing screen clutter

As we look at our screen, we see other windows, tabs, and advertisements, all of which can hold temptation and distraction. Reducing these can help decrease the likelihood of getting pulled off task.

One simple approach to reducing screen clutter is using the “Read Only” feature when reading an article. This provides just the text and removes the ads, banners, and most images. Mercury Reader is a third-party extension that can also do this for you.

Similarly, installing Ad Blocking software to help remove the ads that pop up and are on the sides of webpages, both to resist the click bait, but also just to give your visual system a break from flashing text and moving pictures.

Finally, there are programs that will dim out or put solid colored blocks over everything but the window you are working on. The windows don’t go anywhere, but they become less distracting. Such programs include HazeOverIsolator, and Dropcloth.

Haze Over screenshot

Solution #2: App and Web Blockers

When a dim screen still is just too tempting, it’s time to pull out the big guns. In the cookie analogy, we’re throwing those suckers in the garbage.

The best solution for temptation is just to remove it all together. This is where app and web blockers come in. Most of them work the same way:

  1. You compile a list of sites and/or applications that are known culprits for distraction (youtube, facebook, reddit, netflix)
  2. When you’re ready to be productive, you use the software to set a length of time that this “blacklist” is unavailable to you.
  3. Once you hit start, you cannot access those sites or applications

One of these programs is called SelfControl. This one is pretty ironclad and, while all of my tech-savvy kids have tried, it’s pretty impossible to work around. Opening a different browser, quitting the program, even restarting your computer won’t help. For extra punch, SelfControl has an additional setting called the “whitelist,” where instead of listing sites to block, you list the sites you’re okay with going on, and everything else is blocked that isn’t on the whitelist. self-control-app.jpg

For an app blocker instead of a web blocker (best for distractions on devices like tablets and phones, try Freedom. Same concept: create a list of apps to be blocked, set your time, and let it rip. freedom-ios2-cb90b80e9f757a1f415d3ab9db1ccfd8b519357953e83159ef16e601cf8e101e.png

There is always a conversation I need to have with my students when we install this sort of software on their devices. Just having this on there does nothing. You have to set the timer and press start. This leads to an important conversation about every strategy we try to implement, be it tech or behavioral.

A strategy or tool may help you get much closer to your goal than you were before, but there will ALWAYS be an element of choice that you have to control.

You still have to press the button, or heed the reminder, or open the app, or input the appointment into the calendar. We try to make that decision as easy as possible to make, and require the least amount of effort, but there is always an element of choice. The nice thing about these app blockers is that it takes on second of will to press the button and then you’re in it, but you still need to have that moment.

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