Notes on using Freedom to block digital distractions

Escape” by Metaphox is licensed under CC BY 2.0, via openverse.

I’ve been using more or less since it launched. I was recently asked by someone how I use it, and since it didn’t fit in the text box on that platform, here’s a mid-ish-long set of notes on how I use it.

  • Everywhere: It’s on all my devices, no exceptions—iPad, phone, desktop work computer.
  • Scheduled sessions: I use what Freedom calls “sessions” to schedule blocks of time that block out distracting sites. My current blocked sessions are:
    • Working hours: Mostly self-explanatory, starts an hour after school drop-off so I can do some messing around or necessary social stuff before work. Also includes a lunch break every day (actually implemented as two sessions), though unfortunately that isn’t synced to my calendar so sometimes I am unblocked while working and then blocked during my actual lunch.
    • Morning self-care block: There’s an hour in the morning (before family breakfast) that blocks social plus work stuff. Ideal (not always respected) is that I should be using this time mostly for fitness or meditation, not the device. Am sorely tempted to replace this with just keeping the device well away (probably upstairs) and using an Apple TV device for fitness/meditation.
    • Evening family block: From roughly when my son gets home to his bedtime, blocks primarily social. Can still do some work if sorely needed but try to avoid social during that time.
  • Add sites freely: If I’m at all tempted by a site, I add it to the Blocklist. Better to overblock than underblock. (I understand why it probably can’t, but it’d be neat if Freedom monitored web usage, said “I notice that you’ve visited this more than X times today, would you like to block it?” Bonus for: “and add its RSS feed to your feed reader?”) In particular, I mass block sports, social, and news sites—you simply don’t need those things most of the time.

Because of my recent participation in the Mind Over Tech Accelerator trainings (which I cannot endorse enough if you struggle with digital focus!), I’ve made some recent experimental changes to my freedom use. I’m not sure yet if these will stick long-term:

  • Breakfast-time session: I’m experimenting with blocking more things during my family breakfast (6:50-7:50) and just relying on voice control or a shared family kitchen iPad for the few things I need to do during that block. In other words, using Freedom to force me not to touch my own devices during this block of family time.
  • Pomodoro: I’ve been experimenting with Forest for pomodoro timing, but I do wonder if I can do Freedom instead.
  • Apps: Freedom just added the ability to block apps, so I don’t use this yet. Not sure if I will, because most of the things that suck my time can be dealt with by blocking their network connections.

My challenges with Freedom (suggestions welcome!):

  • Reliability: Because Freedom is inherently doing something that the operating system doesn’t love (interfering with your use of the device!) it sometimes stops working, and you have to re-engage it. Which is fine, unless… I’m doing something that it wants to block. For example, during a recent trip, it disengaged and it was more convenient for various reasons not to turn it back on. Which was fine except now I’m back home, I should turn it back on, and I’m… not. (I’ll do it right after I post this! Probably!)
  • Social: My work does sometimes genuinely require use of social, which is hard if you’ve… blocked all social with Freedom. I don’t have a great solution to this, but people are mostly reasonable if you say “actually, I have social blocked on this machine, is it OK if [I do it later, you screenshot it, etc.]”
  • Location: This is a very First World Problem, but when I travel to another timezone, Freedom assumes I’m trying to cheat (not unreasonable!) and stays on my home timezone. I wish it would check my actual location (GPS?) and update automatically to match where I actually am.
  • Slack: My most distracting friend groupchat is on slack, and there is no good way (as far as I know) to only block my friend slack while not blocking work slack. I solve that on my primary work computer by simply not logging into friend-slack on that machine, but on other devices I use during the work day (most painfully my iPad) it can be a distraction.

Overall this is an amazing product, and if you struggle with digital distractions I highly recommend it.

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