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Can’t control your focus? Here’s an effective fix for your distraction-addled mind

People sometimes say to me: “As a business leader, you must have so much self-discipline and self-control…”. I laugh wryly in response.

The truth is, I really don’t. I struggle with self-discipline and self-control a great deal. If it was entirely up to me, I’d be eating fried chicken on the sofa watching Netflix non-stop. Probably.

When Slack pings, WhatsApp buzzes, emails pop… I find myself overtaken by an urge to immediately sate that curiosity. I use the excuse that I’m great at multi-tasking, that my job is to be ever-supportive of my team’s requests, but if I’m honest with myself, I know it means whatever I’m working on doesn’t get the focus, depth, or efficiency I’d be able to achieve if I wasn’t reactive to distractions.

To quote Cal Newport in his inspiring book Deep Work: “You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. Over time distractions drain your finite pool of willpower, regardless of your intentions – unless, that is, you’re smart about your habits.”

Freedom from waning willpower

So, when I discovered Freedom, I became very excited. It’s an incredible app I’ve been using for years. Freedom blocks distracting apps and websites, on your computer and phone, for set periods of time. You can customise what apps/websites are distracting, and you can pick different lengths of time.

I tend to go for 25 minutes at a time – the length of a pomodoro. I feel like there’s nothing in this world that can’t wait 25 minutes… 30 minutes? Yeah, that can be a long time, but 25 feels somehow not as threatening.

Freedom buys me time to work on something I just need to get done quickly, and knowing I only have 25 minutes acts as a psychological encouragement to focus and complete the task in the time allocated.

Keeping yourself honest

I particularly use it when I’m about to work on a really creative or analytical task. I know that a WhatsApp ping will take me out of my flow state, and I’ll lose that delicious feeling of being really immersed in a deep task.

What’s brilliant about Freedom is that it not only blocks you sending or receiving any notifications, it also blocks you even accessing the app. I’ll find my muscle memory switching tabs to look at WhatsApp even if I don’t have a notification, and Freedom will instead serve me a green screen reminding me I’m blocked from this distraction. It’s an effective reminder that I’m really trying to be in a deep work state.

It also syncs across my devices, so WhatsApp is blocked on my desktop and mobile at the same time. And I can specify specific websites or other distracting apps that I know pull me away from focus.

Collective flow state

I love Freedom so much that I give it as an employee benefit to my whole team, and encourage them to use it throughout the day. We’ve developed a cultural norm at FLOWN to use a butterfly icon in Slack to denote if we wish to not be disturbed because we are in a flow state. I know then that they are likely using Freedom, and working on something significant. Good on them.

Our friends at Freedom have been really kind and let us offer our members a great offer. FLOWN members get 40% off the Yearly or Forever plans. You can sign up and try Freedom for free at https://freedom.to – their Premium plans include unlimited devices, scheduled and recurring sessions, locked mode, and ambient sounds and music.

To get the code, just become a member of FLOWN, and we’ll send you the code this Friday.

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