A Field Guide to Productivity Apps


The concept of having the ability to live without any form of restrictions or constraints is what is referred to as freedom. Alternatively, it can be termed as liberty. This fundamental right is something that is cherished and sought after in many societies.

A woman sits isolated inside a bubble, her typewriter in front of her, and looks up at the dark birds gliding above her, outside the barrier.

My spouse uses an app known as Freedom to restrict his access to sites like Twitter and the writers’ collective chatroom when he wants to concentrate on writing.

I frequently inquire if he has observed some absurd tweet or something, and he will respond with, “I’m running a Freedom session.” Or he will supply this information without being asked, a way to hold himself to a higher standard–a way of informing those around him that I am writing today; nothing will interfere with this activity.

This is the same as when I write WRITE in bold capital letters on my wall calendar: I am committing my time and energy prior to the start of the day, declining all brunch and outdoorsy invites; I am promising to delay any other tasks (tidying, grocery shopping, physical activity) until the next day.

I still prefer to use a wall calendar; I do not have any productivity apps.

I had been curious about trying out some kind of Proustian questionnaire that a friend of mine completes at the end of every year, so I decided to live my life aiming to answer the question,

‘What did you do this year for the first time?’ This has driven me to seek out novel experiences such as taking a motorcycle ride and going dog sledding.

I want my answers to the question to be memorable and vivid. In the future, I would like to answer it with ‘hot-air ballooning’.

I thought that using a focus application could lead me to notice something new about myself or time. Therefore, the next time I wanted to write, I decided to try out one or several of these apps.

On the day I had planned to write, I encountered an issue: I couldn’t install Freedom on my laptop since it was owned by my employer and I didn’t know the administrator password.

Instead, I downloaded a Chrome extension, LeechBlock, that offered similar features. However, its options were too complex.

I had to select which sites to block, when to block them (within certain time periods, after a set limit, or both?), and how to block them (displaying a separate URL, using a filter, closing the tab?).

It dawned on me that I would rather be writing than trying to figure out the nuances of these applications.


This particular technique has been created with the intent to help individuals with their productivity and focus. It has been proven to be a successful system for many over the years.

The technique is simple, and it generally involves setting a timer for a specific amount of time in order to complete a certain task.

After the timer goes off, a short break is usually taken. This cycle is repeated until the task is complete.

A woman is taking a break after putting in some hard work with the “pomodoro technique” and a stack of written pages. She is resting on a giant tomato, with her typewriter nearby.

The Pomodoro Technique has been around since the 1980s, when Francesco Cirillo, an Italian student, started using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to set aside a period of time for studying, followed by a break.

According to the official technique, described in the book written by Cirillo, one should focus on a single task for 25 minutes, then taking a 5-minute break.

After four pomodoros (“an indivisible unit of time”, as the Todoist website calls it), a longer break can be taken. Although there are many apps and browser extensions designed to facilitate this technique, one doesn’t need to use them.

Productivity apps can be helpful for tasks like taxes that you don’t want to do. However, when I’m in the mood to write, nothing beats a full day of writing. I like to begin early in the morning and work until it’s dark or until cocktail hour, mimicking Joan Didion’s approach.

She states that the drink helps her to step away from the pages, forming a diaphanous veil. I also take breaks to eat, due to the fact that writing apparently uses up 20 percent of the body’s energy, and sometimes to check the internet.

I don’t need to use any internet blockers because when I’m writing, it’s more interesting. All I need is the right mood and a Saturday.


A typewriter is held by a woman, and its pages stretch toward a fan that is in motion, which turns the paper into several tiny pieces.

When I asked my group chat if they ever utilized productivity apps, a few mentioned Freedom and other blocklist programs like SelfControl, which the Zapier blog describes as “the nuclear option for blocking distractions.” It cannot be bypassed unless you reinstall your operating system.

Another friend mentioned Write or Die, which has a “kamikaze mode” that will delete all of your work if you pause for more than a fixed amount of time.

The Most Dangerous Writing App, a similar tool, will erase all of your progress if you stop typing for over five seconds (it is unknown if it can tell if you are writing or just typing).

I was drawn to this app yet it filled me with dread. I don’t like to have my writing progress interrupted.

I find that the best moments in writing are when I’m daydreaming, standing up, pacing around, and waiting for ideas to come to me. I’m quite attached to my work and almost never delete my old tweets or erase my mistakes.

Even though I knew I was being ridiculous, I was afraid that by using this horror app, I would ruin my previous work. However, I’m very diligent about backing up my hard drive.


The term used to refer to a vast area of land covered with trees and other vegetation is known as “forest”. However, it is also called “woodlands”.

A woman is shown sitting at her typewriter on a tablet, with a backdrop of woodland trees and plants.

When I was looking into productivity apps, Forest was the one that seemed the most unique.

The idea is to set a timer for how long you don’t want to look at your phone and if you stay away from it until the timer runs out, a virtual sapling will begin to grow. But if you look at your phone before the timer goes off, the sapling will die.

The paid version of the app allows you to use virtual coins to donate to the Trees for the Future nonprofit, which plants actual trees. However, you can also donate to the nonprofit directly. Real trees won’t care if you’re struggling to write.

I was considering writing about productivity apps as I had been reflecting on my own lack of productivity over the past year, which had been a marked contrast to my usual level of productivity.

Before the pandemic, I had been able to be successful in both my job and my writing career, but recently I felt that I had begun to struggle with both.

I was not lacking in time, as my social life had been reduced significantly, but I felt I had lost my mind – not in a mental health way, but in a way that I could not access the section of my brain that I usually use for writing.

My thoughts no longer seemed interesting to me and I was worried that this might be a permanent change and that my creative capacity had been damaged beyond repair.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, there was plenty of time for leisure on Saturdays, yet I was lacking in spirit. Writing was not appealing to me and activities that I wanted to do were out of reach. I desired to roam around the library, followed by some sushi and karaoke.

I wanted to be honored with awards for my works and receive a huge amount of money that would let me resign from my job and take it easy every morning.

I wanted to be in my parents’ home, the one I called my home, and there were moments that I was missing my mom so much that I thought she had passed away.

Unlike Dorothy Parker, I felt very frustrated whenever I was not writing. However, I don’t begrudge the fact that I had nothing to say for myself. I now think my brain was in a deep sleep, and I’m hopeful that it will awaken soon.

Additionally, I remind myself that my writing is not done for the sake of rewards, which are often minimal. (Fake little trees.) I write for the feeling of typing after a pause, in the exact way I want to express my ideas, with words that perfectly match the thought.



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