Hacking Productivity in a World of Digital Distractions

4 min read

person checking their phone at work

Strategic Avoidance and Your Lean Productivity Stack

These days it seems everyone is talking about technology, smartphone, and app addiction and the tactics tech companies are using to keep our attention and get us hooked. However, the reality is that fighting digital distractions is not new. We’ve been fighting the urge to have fun online for the sake of productivity for years, and we’ll be doing it for the rest of our lives.

Think about it…

Long before behavioral analytics, gamification, and behavior design techniques such as endless scroll pervaded our apps and sites, we still had hundreds of potential distractions at our fingertips. (Raise your hand if you crushed some Snake!)

Today, we face the same challenge, but the playing field has changed. App and website developers have stepped up their game, designing addictive experiences and using knowledge from neuroscience to literally program our brains. The battle for your attention is heating up! Will you submit to app addiction or find ways to maintain productivity in the digital world?

Below I have outlined some strategies and tools that help me to break bad habits and reduce my urge to go off task. Beating app addiction doesn’t have to be scary. I say, if app developers can gamify digital experiences, then let’s make a game out of beating their tactics!


Productivity Strategies


Get offline as much as possible

After years of trying and failing to effectively use digital to-do lists and planners, I recently made the switch back to a physical planner. A colleague of mine used one religiously for a year and a half sitting across from me. She really enjoyed it and from what I saw, it really helped her productivity. So I decided to give it a try.

Three months in and I’m hooked!

  1. The act of physically writing things down helps solidify my tasks in my mind.
  2. The freedom to write my events or tasks large, small, circle them, etc. helps me ensure the right things pop out at me, at first glance.
  3. It’s offline! When I open my planner to look at my day, I am not triggering any of my app addictions with notifications, emails, alerts, or any other digital distractions.


Make it harder for yourself to access distracting apps

Out of sight, out of mind.

For apps that I don’t want to go so far as to delete, but feel that I have poor self control with, I bury them deep in my iPhone. We’re talking home screen page 3, in a folder labeled “Junk”, and on the second or third slide of that folder. Removing the icon from my screen and requiring a good 5-10 seconds of work to find the app helped me to break the cycle of mindlessly opening and checking these apps. (This is a proven method and below I share a tool you can use to help with this too!)


Have a few productivity tools in your back pocket

The previous two tactics are empowering and will make you feel great, but can only take you so far. The reality is we are a generation that works, lives, and communicates online. So when good ole’ avoidance isn’t a viable option, you’ll need some extra support to stay productive and avoid distraction online.

Below are some free tools I’ve found helpful over the years:


Tools to Boost Productivity & Reduce App Addiction




Give yourself a little breathing room.

Space is an app designed to help you break the chemical reward cycle hardwired into our brains that is now associated with opening and checking your favorite digital distractions… I mean apps. Space loads a Moment of Zen before you can open the apps you need to break from. This shuts down the instant gratification cycle and puts you in charge again. The more frequently you use the problem app, the longer Space makes you wait to open it.


Self Control


This one is hard core.

Self-Control is very straightforward app. It allows you to create a blacklist of distracting websites and block access to them for a set amount of time. You simply create a list of domains, and select for how long you want them to be inaccessible. On the flip side, you can create a whitelist and block everything but the sites you want to be able to use. This really helps me with productivity for tasks that require deep thinking and long periods of focus.

Caution! Once you start the timer you won’t be able to unblock it until the timer is up. Even if you restart your computer or delete Self Control.


News Feed Eradicator


Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you haven’t already deleted Facebook, you can delete the distracting newsfeed with this. It’s a chrome extension that’s free to use and will replace your newsfeed with a productivity quote. It’s a simple, effective solution that prevents you from succumbing to endless scroll, while still allowing you to get notifications from your friends/family.

Stay connected to grandma, without wasting time viewing photos of her friends cats. WIN.




First you’ll say YIKES, then you’ll say thanks.

While RescueTime doesn’t block you from accessing anything, it provides amazing transparency and accountability. RescueTime monitors your usage in the background and sends you daily and weekly reports on where you spent your time. You can group domains into categories such as personal and work, and see daily and weekly digests of how much of your time you spend working vs. personal. You can also get detailed with categories if you need to drill down and get transparency in problem areas like maybe: messaging, shopping, twitter, etc.

I’ve found this tool helps me to gamify how much time I spend in categories. Each week I’ll try to beat my time spent in work categories, while lower my time in social or other categories I count as digital distractions.




Because you can do anything for 25 minutes

This native app utilizes The Pomodoro Technique which breaks your time up into work and break segments. The Pomodoro Technique traditionally uses 25 minute work sessions followed by a short break (5 min or so).  It works because it breaks up your tasks into manageable time segments. During these segments you will naturally be more focused and less likely to be pulled away by a distraction since you know there is an opportunity to take a break coming up soon.

A secondary benefit in time management, is that breaking up your work time in standard segments allows you to learn how much time different tasks take. Over time you will get better at estimating your work which will help your productivity and benefit your team as well!

For me it really helps my focus and productivity when I have a finite periods of work with short breaks at scheduled times, especially for deep thinking or longer tasks such as… writing a blog post. 🙂


Alright folks, break is over. Now put down that phone and let’s get back to work!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and good luck in your hunt for productivity and app addiction tools! You got this. 


breaking app addiction

Lindsey Meredith