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Your phone is constantly vying for your attention. “1 new message,” it beeps. “Someone mentioned you on Twitter,” it chirps. When you’re trying to concentrate, this is a nightmare. It’s time to block distractions and get things done with some free apps.

Blocking distractions is different from apps that improve focus. You need to block distractions when you set time aside for work Time Blocking -- The Secret Weapon For Better Focus Time Blocking -- The Secret Weapon For Better Focus Are you looking for a more efficient way to organise your work-days? Try Time Blocking. This time management tactic can help keep you on track while keeping distractions, procrastination, and unproductive multitasking at bay. Read More , because trying to achieve a zen-like state of complete concentration is harder than simply stopping things that are trying to grab your attention.

Blocking Distractions Is Better than Saying, “You Just Need Discipline”

phone-distraction-work-discipline

You need to understand two things before you start blocking distractions. First, no app is completely fool-proof. Second, this is a battle between your need to work and your discipline. These apps aren’t going to magically stop everything for you; you have to play an active role in exerting some discipline.

The key, though, is that apps make it easier to say no to distractions. Discipline and willpower are muscles which we don’t exercise often. Just like you wouldn’t suddenly lift 200 pounds with your untrained muscles, you shouldn’t block distractions with sheer willpower alone.

Is it possible? Yes. Is it the best possible way? No.

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“The conventional wisdom is that a lack of self-discipline explains procrastination. There’s certainly some truth to that, but as a researcher and designer, my goal is to build better systems in spite of our failings,”

So says Fred Stutzman, a researcher who built the Freedom distraction blocking app.

If you are already self-disciplined, then you’re better off with apps to hone your focus Enough Already: 4 Android Apps To Curb Your Smartphone Addiction Enough Already: 4 Android Apps To Curb Your Smartphone Addiction These smartphones are fantastic for productivity, really. You can check your email, research things online, read your RSS feeds, take photos, upload them to Facebook, read what your friends have to say on Facebook, chat... Read More . However, if that self-discipline is an issue, then first try blocking distractions.

Best for Android: ClearLock

Clearlock-android-distraction-blocking

ClearLock keeps it really simple and is the perfect app for beginners. Start the app and you’ll get a list of all your apps. You can select all or pick and choose which ones you want to block, once you start a “lock session”. Tap the Play/Start button and choose how much time you want the session to last for.

Once ClearLock kicks in, it won’t allow access to or notifications from any app apart from the approved apps. That includes calls and messages too. If it’s an emergency and you need to access your phone in the middle of a session, you can restart it and use it as usual. But that’s where the minute amount of self-discipline is important. Ask yourself, is it really an emergency?

Clearlock-one-hour

If you want to allow phone calls from your important/favorite contacts to come through but not others, you can set up Android Lollipop’s Priority Mode How to Set Up Android's Priority Mode (and Get Back Silent Mode) How to Set Up Android's Priority Mode (and Get Back Silent Mode) Volume controls changed a lot in Lollipop, so we're here to help you make sense of all of it. Read More for that and then allow the Phone app in ClearLock.

The paid ClearLock Pro ($1.99), an in-app purchase, lets you schedule lock sessions to automatically kick in at preset times. Pro users also get the QuickStart Widget to access ClearLock from your homescreen.

Download: ClearLock for Android (Free)

Other Options for Android

FocusLock was a close contender, since it works like ClearLock but also incorporates the Pomodoro productivity technique Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More by setting 25-minute block periods with 5-minute breaks.

Of course, that time period is customizable. However, the interface isn’t as simple and clean.

FocusON was going to be my choice when I started writing this article, since it also lets you block websites and notifications along with apps. However, that website and notification blocking is quite selective.

For example, you can’t block websites in Firefox, it works only in Chrome. And the notification blocking doesn’t work that well either. ClearLock’s simplicity won me over, but if you want more customization and scheduling for free, FocusON is worth a look.

Best For iOS: None. Seriously.

Airplane-Mode-iPhone

Unfortunately, Apple’s restricted ecosystem makes it impossible for an app like ClearLock to exist on iPhones or iPads. Your only option to block apps is to dive into the phone’s settings and switch off Wi-Fi and cellular data, or switch on Airplane Mode.

Yes, that’s not the best solution, but there really isn’t anything better. I tried out a few apps, like the aforementioned Freedom for iPhone, which claimed to offer similar distraction-free blocking, but they just don’t work well.

iphone-no-notifications

Several people have shared their productivity-boosting experiences to make a distraction-free iPhone, so you might have better luck by reading those. But here’s the bottomline:

  1. You can individually shut down notifications for each app and then individually re-enable them when you’re done with work
  2. You can switch off Wi-Fi and cellular data to deny Internet access while allowing phone calls and text messages.
  3. You can switch on Airplane Mode to turn everything off.
  4. You can swipe up from the bottom of the screen and tap on the moon icon to turn on Do Not Disturb. This will stop notifications, alerts and calls when the screen is off. You will still get calls if someone calls twice within 3 minutes so you can get alerted to an emergency. You can allow Favorites or filter by contact Groups.

Do Not Disturb

With Do Not Disturb you can also choose a time when you want to be disturbed.

There is no middle path to block notifications or calls and texts for iPhone and iPad users. You might want to play around with IFTTT to set automated triggers for calls and texts on iOS Put Your iPhone To Work With IFTTT Put Your iPhone To Work With IFTTT IFTTT is an acronym for "If This, Then That" and it's pronounced like the latter part of the word "gift". The service promises to put the web to work for you, using a system of... Read More .

Rules for Distraction Blocks

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No matter which app you use, you need to set up certain rules for yourself and the people around you to ensure the block is working well. After all, the phone is just one aspect of the distractions; the battle is within yourself, isn’t it?

Cal Newport, the author of Study Hacks, has a few lessons for those who want to work in distraction-free blocks:

Newport’s full experiment at 99u is worth reading for more details on what it’s like to work a full day without distractions.

How Do You Block Distractions?

Image Credits: FirmBee / Pixabay, geralt / Pixabay

  1. Chris
    October 18, 2016 at 1:28 am

    Yes, iOS is very restrictive, but actually has Perental Controls build in by default. Just enable that and use it to block yourself from websites / apps / photos / etc

  2. fcd76218
    October 17, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    If your cell phone is turned off while you are working, it will cause no distractions.

  3. likefun butnot
    October 15, 2015 at 1:30 am

    First, essentially everything that can create a notification on my mobile devices will create that same notification on my computers. Second, I really don't allow mobile apps to make noises at me (Android 5 has pretty good notification controls, which are found under "Sounds" in Settings) at all unless they're E-mail messages or instant messages on an account that only a tiny number of people know I have. I don't accept SMS messages, I don't use any social media and I have individual ringtones set for anyone who might call me.

    All of which is to say I don't want to and don't need to look at my phone very often, which is exactly the way I want it.

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