“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”Arthur Ashe
Almost everything we’re doing at the moment is through the slightly grainy lens of a device – from work, to home-schooling, to passing yet another evening in the bloody house. And any time you’re feeling brave enough to check, your screen time is probably through the roof.
Well you’re not alone. There have been significant increases in time spent online in the past 12 months, and we are seeing an increase in eye strain and eye issues (possibly linked to this increase in our screen time).
And it’s completely understandable as most of our connection to the outside world at the moment is through devices and screens. However, that doesn’t mean that we should just accept those bad habits that might have crept in around our digital device use. We can take back some control and ensure that we’re not still screen junkies once we’re allowed out into the world again.
Today, I want to walk us through a couple of tech tools that can help us get the best from our digital interactions and support any changes we want to implement – from work tech, to smartphones and social media.
Now whenever I mention tech tools as a solution to problematic tech use (or even just some niggly habits we want to break), I am often greeted with a wry smile and a nose-tap, as if to say “oh yeah, that’s how they get you! We have to use technology to manage our technology habits. I see what they’re up to!”. But if you’re smart and intentional about what you want to do, using tech solutions to tech behaviour problems can be a great idea.
The analogy I like to use is to think of an over-spender. We all know one of these (or maybe you’re one yourself. And maybe even spending online is the habit you want to address). This person – let’s call her Mary – is bad with money. She never has anything left in her account at the end of the month. She loves online shopping, though hasn’t a clue how she manages to spend so much. So she makes an appointment with a money advisor to have a chat. “Welcome Mary” he says. “I see here you’re spending too much, more than you’re earning. So you need some help. Right then, I’d suggest you spend less and then you’ll be all sorted. Thanks a lot, and that will be €100 for the consultation”.
There is no way this consultant would just state the obvious and expect Mary to know what to do. Yes, she knows what end result she wants, but she doesn’t have the knowledge or tools yet to get there.
And that’s how I view these tech tools too – they can help you on your way to improving your behaviour. It’s unlikely that you’ll use them forever, just like someone new to meditation uses a meditation app, but as they develop their own practice it’s unlikely they will always need the support of the app.
Tools for productivity
BlockSite is a free browser extension for Chrome and Firefox, and an app for Android and iOS, that does exactly what it says on the tin.
LeechBlock NG for Chrome and Firefox isn’t quite as comprehensive as BlockSite, but it does the job, and it’s free to use. You can specify up to 30 sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set. You can block sites within fixed time periods (e.g., between 9am and 5pm), after a time limit (e.g., allow up to 10 minutes in every hour), or with a combination of time periods and time limit (e.g., allow up to 10 minutes in every hour between 9am and 5pm).
Freedom app is the whole kit-and-kaboodal, so if you like all the bells and whistles it is perfect for you. Start sessions on-the-fly or schedule your Freedom time in advance. Plan out sessions that recur daily or weekly. With Freedom, you can make productivity a habit.
Tools for focus
The Zinnia app is basically an attractive app for scheduling and journaling and can be really useful for getting yourself organised.
Momentum Dash is a Google Chrome extension with one simple purpose: to prompt you to set your intention when you start your day. It is a peaceful start page that keeps you focussed on what’s most important, and I really love it’s simplicity and non-invasive prompting.
Forest is an app helping you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work. A bit like a Tamagotchi, but instead of food you feed it by being focussed. But it can itself be distracting so just a word of caution about it.
Habit-forming apps like Habitify or Habitica can be great tools, especially if you have a gaming-type mind are driven by achievements.
ByLoftie is a real-life alternative to using your phone at night. A Gen Z’s alarm clock, it is perfect if you like to use music or other audio from your phone to send you off to sleep.
Hide toxic content on social media sites
I haven’t tried this myself, but I’ve read that French start-up Bodyguard recently launched its app and service in English so that it can hide toxic content from your eyes.
Tools for Kids
- For primary kids, Check out CyberSafe Ireland’s website, where they have a wealth of resources on tech monitoring and apps that are suitable for younger kids.
- For post-primary kids and teens, check out WebWise and take a look at their Parent section – https://www.webwise.ie/
Remember – you won’t need to use the tech or the app or the “new shiny thing” forever.
Once you have established some good habits, you likely won’t need the support any more but it can be a great starting point if you’re stuck or don’t know where to start!