Advent 2023: FocusMe

Like a lot of folks, I struggle with executive dysfunction, and it gets exacerbated when I'm hungry or tired. When I was younger, back in the bad-old-days of dial-up and slow internet, my goto activity at those times was to read; I'd read easily a book a week (except when I was reading Dumas; those took forever). Now with a phone in my pocket and the internet always there, I find myself going through social media or browsing news, and I find I'm the poorer for it.

However, when executive dysfunction kicks in, it's hard to choose to do something else. Recently, I took a page from my son, and started looking into ways I could game myself into better choices.

What did I end up doing?

My oldest son has figured out a combination of apps for his phone and his computer to help him better focus and manage his time. Some of these introduce the ability to block usage of selected applications or websites either on-demand (e.g., when he wants to focus on something), or on a schedule (when there are blocks of time on a recurring basis when he needs to focus).

For me, this latter was what I needed, and it was for a very specific set of times: when I first get up in the morning, and just before bed. During weekdays, I have a pretty specific schedule, so I know what these should be. It was a matter of taking control.

My son uses the parental controls on his phone to do this, but I've found those too easy to circumvent. What I ended up using is the Android version of FocusMe, but I went with the version on Google Play (free to use, but omits a few features).

I set it up so that on work nights, I block a set of apps and websites from 10pm until 7am.

I have it setup such that I can bypass/disable the block, but it requires me entering a 16 character random password to do so, which is, honestly, sufficient enough to get me to really ask myself if I want to bypass it. (The password is generated on-the-fly each time you want to bypass, which means you can't just memorize it or copy/paste it from a password manager. I know this because I've needed to edit the rules... and that requires disabling each rule just prior to doing so. It's not fun!)

How has it worked out?

Interestingly, just knowing I've taken the step of blocking the apps meant that I haven't even tried to access these apps during the scheduled focus times. I've had notifications from some of these apps crop up, and FocusMe won't even let me read them; once I try and expand the notifications, it kicks me out of the notification area with a warning!

What do I do instead?

Well, in the mornings, I'm now doing my maintenance exercises. When I had COVID in October, I got out of the habit of doing the exercises my physical therapist assigned me for my shoulder and knee. I was starting to notice some soreness again, but I was also struggling to make the time to do my exercises. And then I recalled that when I've been most successful with regular exercise is when I do it first thing in the morning. Since I'm no longer doom scrolling when I first wake up, I'm now exercising instead.

And that means I then also jump in the shower first thing when done. (This may not feel like a big thing, but with executive dysfunction... even hygiene can become challenging at times.) And if there's still time before I need to start rousing other members of the family, I get started on lunch preparation, coffee, and sorting out breakfast.

In the evenings, I find myself taking time to breath and relax before bed. Not cluttering my brain with news or social outrage has made it easier to keep racing thoughts from keeping me up.

Final notes

It's still early in my experiments with FocusMe, but I'm noticing a positive change, and often it's just a matter of finding that one thing that will nudge you in a positive direction. For me, that was (a) deciding a change needed to be made, and (b) finding a way to help me make that change. As someone who struggles with AuDHD, having tools readily available to help counter my tendencies is hugely helpful.