Difficulty with sustained attention is a common symptom of ADHD . Perhaps you've found yourself trying to focus on a task but wandering back to social media or email instead. The multi-purpose nature of modern phones and computers makes implementing either of these strategies very difficult. Regular notifications and one-click-away entertainment encourage us to split our attention between multiple tasks simultaneously and to give in to distractions.
If you find yourself diverting your attention to notifications, multitasking to alleviate boredom, or browsing social media when you should be working, a focus-aid app may be helpful. The following list was put together with ADHD symptoms in mind. It contains some of the best apps for supplementing inhibition control by restricting app accessibility and removing distractions.
The links in this post with the asterisk* are affiliated, which means that if you purchase anything, the organisation provides some money to support this website. Rest assured these links are all for items we have either used, or thoroughly checked to make sure they fit this article's requirements.
1. Freedom.to *
Freedom.to is an app for Apple, Android, and Windows that restricts access to certain websites and applications. Simply start a session, pick how long you want to focus, and choose the sites you want to block. This app is useful in curbing habitual clicking and prevents multitasking. As a result, it encourages time-blocking and other positive task-management behaviours.
Easy to use: Freedom provides a premade list of popular distracting sites that you can choose from. You can also choose by categories, such as social media or news. When you select a website to block, freedom also blocks the app.
Plenty of features: You can manually override the session. There is also a Locked Mode which creates a session you cannot override.
Simple and attractive interface: Freedom makes it easy to manage repeat sessions and create separate blocklists for separate distraction types (eg. Work distractions, study distractions, and night-time distractions). The app has a polished and aesthetically pleasing look. For instance, when you try to navigate to a blocked site, you will see ‘You are free from x.com” on an otherwise blank, pastel background.
Works on everything: Apple, Android, and Windows. Your freedom.to account transfers your filters across devices, meaning if you block Instagram on your PC, it will also be blocked on your mobile phone.
Subscription based: Freedom.to offers a 7-day free trial, then it is $2.42/month for a yearly subscription, $7/month for a monthly subscription, or $130 to buy use of the app for life.
Forest is an app for iOS and Android that encourages focus by showing the growth of a forest based on how much time the user keeps the app open. If the app is closed halfway through tree growth, that tree dies. This is a clever system for discouraging the impulse to use other apps. Seeing a tree in the process of growing inhibits the impulse long enough for it to pass and likely be forgotten by the time the tree is fully grown. Then it's safe to click away. The visual of the forest also helps reduce time blindness as it represents how much time has passed since the period of concentration began.
Simple interface and concept: You can decide to focus on an ongoing stopwatch basis, or pick an amount of time to focus with the timer function. If you pick the timer, decide how long you want to focus, and the app will grow the tree in this period. If you pick stopwatch mode, just plant.
Useful features: One of the most useful features allows you to add custom phrases that appear on the screen at random intervals. You can keep them as the default “put down your phone”, you can supplement UO’s reminders, or you can send yourself motivating quotes or mindfulness-based phrases.
It’s cheap: $2usd for the app, forever.
In-app purchases: Forest does encourage you to spend more real-life money by buying things in the app, such as bottles of Sunshine Elixir.
MyNoise is a website and an app for iOS and Android that provides access to a variety of noises. Listening to music to focus can become just as distracting as outside noises, and this app provides an alternative noise that masks distractions without being distracting itself. These noises include ‘distant thunder, ‘crystal stream, and ‘cat purr’, and are designed to fade into the background of your attention while still nullifying outside noises.
Easy technical support: This is a small app, and the founder is active on Reddit and regularly responds to queries.
Legitimate basis: MyNoise was Created by a PhD level sound engineer and endorsed by the NY Times.
Plenty of features: MyNoise has gone above and beyond in the feature department, given its non-existent price tag. This app even allows you to design your own noise using the website’s white noise generator.
No internet connection required: Maybe you live somewhere with unreliable internet, maybe you love camping, or maybe you like to turn your internet off to focus on a task. The MyNoise app does not require an internet connection to function.
Ad-free: MyNoise is mostly funded by donations.
It’s free! The free version of the app comes with five noises, and you can choose to pay $1usd per additional noise or $10usd for the whole catalogue.
Basic Interface: The layout of this app is no-nonsense and prioritises features over aesthetics. To some, this may be off-putting, but to many this is a pro!
4. Beeper App
Beeper App is an app for iOS and Android. Not to be confused with Beeper, which is an app that aggregates all your social media chats, Beeper App is a simple app that beeps at set or random intervals to prompt you to stay on task. At the beep, the user taps ‘I’m still on task’. While this micro distraction may seem counterintuitive to concentration, reminders like this act as a working memory aid and make it easier for you to focus on the task itself rather than focusing on the fact that you must focus.
Basis in research: Beeper App is based on sustained attention research which emphasises self-monitoring, the act of ensuring current behaviour is in line with intended or ideal behaviour. The benefits of self-monitoring rely on awareness of both current and intended behaviour, and for those of us with ADHD, periods of distraction are accompanied by a lack of awareness that we have been distracted . The utility of Beeper App is that it forcefully reminds us to check if there is a discrepancy between current and intended behaviour.
Easy to use: Both the appearance of this app and its functions are minimalistic, making its use highly intuitive.
Not for headphone users: If you are like me and enjoy listening to music through headphones while you work, a beeping noise coming from an external source is mostly inaudible, and a beep coming through the headphones may be unpleasant.
Lack of features: As reviews will attest, this app is good at what it does. However, Beeper App does not offer any additional features.
No longer in active development: Beeper App has not seen an update since 2020, so your $1usd is unlikely to include future developments to the app.
5. Apple focus mode and Android focus mode
IOS and Android feature Do Not Disturb modes, where notifications do not appear, and some version of a ‘focus mode’, where the user can block access to certain apps for a set amount of time. These settings offer similar utility to apps like Freedom.to and work by limiting the ease with which distractions appear and can be accessed. Both iOS and Android have similar focus settings, so the pros and cons remain the same.
No installation required: iOS and Android have ‘search’ fields in their settings, making finding modes like this easy.
Necessary features are present: All the basic features for reducing distractions are present in these settings. Select the apps you want to block and the time you want them blocked for. You can pick which apps are blocked from use and which are just blocked from sending notifications (iOS has a notifications blocker built into the focus setup, while Android has a ‘do not disturb’ mode). Both Android and iOS offer features where this mode can be set to go on automatically.
Too easy to access blocked apps: On Android, when you try and open a blocked app, a pop-up will tell you that focus mode is on and present you with an offer to use the app for 5 minutes. This means using the blocked app is only an extra click away. On iOS, only allowed apps will appear on your display, but simply switching between your focused display and your regular display couldn't be easier.
Limited ease of use: Picking which apps to block is time-consuming, as apps are not organised by category. If you have many apps, it can take a long time to scroll through them. However, once you have selected apps to block, you can easily access this blocklist at any time in the future.
ADHD can have a huge effect on productivity. But it doesn’t have to. If you’re looking for neurodiverse-friendly strategies you can use immediately, then book a free consultation with one of our ADHD Coaches.
They will help you understand your executive functioning struggles and learn how Unconventional Organisation can help you. Plus, they also have ADHD!
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References 1. Barkley, R. A. (1997). Behavioral inhibition, sustained attention, and executive functions: Constructing a unifying theory of ADHD. Psychological Bulletin, 121(1), 65–94. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.121.1.65 2. Scheithauer, M. C., & Kelley, M. L. (2014). Self-Monitoring by College Students With ADHD: The Impact on Academic Performance. Journal of Attention Disorders, 21(12), 1030–1039. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054714553050