685: Fighting Digital Distractions

Really looking forward to this episode!

I object!I bet those mums and dads who’re on their phones at Disney are happily recharging their own personal batteries.

I too use a Disney focus mode like David but he described his turning on while in the parking lot. I am in Florida so there are four locations which I have added but there only seems to be a turn on when I arrive and off when I leave. I find, especially at magic kingdom but I think it is all parks, that it leaves the focus mode when I leave the parking lot. It can take 30 minutes from parking to park at MK.

Can I get it to stay on until I turn off manually instead?

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“Disney Focus Mode” is quite an oxymoron

I believe it is intentionally impossible to focus on anything other than the parks while at Disney.

From the iOS 16.4 release notes:

  • Notifications for web apps added to the Home Screen

Yay, something else to turn off.

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True. I use it to use a home screen that all the quick access apps like the disney app, camera, Lines app and to set my phone on low power mode and my watch was to the Famous little guy with a complication for alarms for setting the 120 min Genie+ wait quickly.

Drinking game: David promotes focus modes.

I struggled with digital distractions, and then I got laid off in August and let go from my next job in January. Sometime recently, I decided the universe is telling me I should be self-employed. And I find I’m much less distractable and more focused.

So if you’re having problems with distractibility, maybe the problem isn’t your phone or your willpower. Maybe it’s your life. This may not be good news for you to hear.


Dave[1] asked, rhetorically, whether we’d permit co-workers to interrupt us as often as we permit our phones to interrupt us. This reminded me of the following meme:

“There is a dog” is ALWAYS an appropriate reason to interrupt.

[1]: I think it was Dave. I didn’t take notes.


IMO if you are battling digital distractions one thing that might help is purchasing a silicone case for your iPhone. One that makes it hard to get your phone out of your pocket.

There was a time when we turned our phones off before we entered a meeting or sat down to share a meal with someone. Maybe we need to fine tune our notifications like Stephen and David suggested. Then put a speed bump between us and our phones.

I agree strongly that the fight for our attention is all pervasive and driven by greed (I don’t think they actually said that bit) and that there are a lot of very clever people using sophisticated understanding of human psychology to (basically) exploit us. Even so, as they acknowledged themselves, I thought that Sparky and Steven sometimes sounded a bit too much like old folks scandalised by new fangled ways.

I think Mike Schmitz has a good rule for navigating this minefield: “create more than you consume”. It keeps the technology and tech companies serving you instead of the other way around.

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Just like I thought, I loved this episode. I went through my notification settings to ensure I had everything where I wanted it. I ended up turning off way more apps, and killed almost all notifications on my iPad. Really trying to get aggressive about that.

I also enjoyed the discussion and what I took from it is: be deliberate. If you want to get lost on the internet, scrolling Facebook, etc., it’s ok — just be deliberate. I’ve started using screen time to remind me if I’m using an app too much that day. I have FB limited to 15 minutes per day. There are certainly days where I extend that because I’m enjoying reading updates from friends and family, but most of the time when I hit the limit I put down FB for the day. It works for me!

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I thought I had my focus modes tuned in well but after listening to this episode I went back in and tinkered. I actually looked for “good uses of focus mode” on Google and found someone who said they had a “Solitude” mode. That mode for when you are not in the mood to talk/text, and you just want your notifications to stop. I set up the following, and only my wife and kids can text me. I know it’s not super “focused”, but for being left alone, I figured these were good apps to start with.

And yes, the Reader apps need to be together and I have a space to fill. Hey, I just set it up late last night.


This was another great episode! But I think you guys left out an important point. For some reason, only the Driving focus mode allows the phone to auto-reply to an incoming text message. If I’m working, or sleeping, or doing ANYTHING at all that requires my attention, shouldn’t I always want a customizable auto-reply?? Why would Apple only allow this for driving mode? What about when I go out with my family to see a movie? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone texted me I could send them an automatic response saying, “Today is Wednesday, March 29th. I will be unavailable for text messaging or phone calls between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM. I will get back to you after 9:00 PM.” Isn’t that better than just a generic message telling iOS users only that I have focus mode turned on? If Apple can program auto-reply for driving mode, why would they intentionally leave it out of other focus modes? It doesn’t make any sense at all. Also, of course, auto-replies in driving mode get sent to Android users as well. In other focus modes, they do NOT see that you have focus mode turned on…so they think you’re just intentionally ignoring their text messages.


I think the era of doing focused work on a computer is dwindling. Nearly every app thinks interrupting what you’re doing is ok. This is not just messaging apps but app updates and other system notifications. The whole thing is geared toward interruption.

If Apple allowed a kill switch that stopped all, and I mean all notifications, updates, and system messages and just let you get on with your work you might succeed, it doesn’t and nor is it likely to.

You have to aggressively faff around in the settings only to have it reset when you update your system to apple’s let’s annoy you with every interruption possible.

No, computers are about as useful for doing focused work as is trying to do deep work on a packed bus ride.

If you want focus try pen and paper.

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What do you have on your computer? I can write or read or do other work for hours on my iMac or iPad without a single interruption.

The trouble with pen and paper is that you have to invest a whole lot more time transcribing what you have written in order to use it for something. If you have it in a computer, you can re-use it instantly for almost any purpose.

And there’s nothing worse than trying to edit handwriting - the frustration that I can’t just correct, move, re-write etc. whatever and whenever I want is intensely distracting and chills creativity. “Words which dance in light” (i.e. text on a screen) is a huge advance. I really don’t understand the recent “analogue is better” movement.


Unfortunately not all of us have that option! I have a really terrible left-handed claw grip that leaves my wrist in pain and fatigued after writing just a few lines. Not to mention the smudging that occurs even with the quickest-drying ballpoint ink. I even had to get special permission to type my university exams on a computer back in the day. I wish I could write for any length of time using pen and paper, at the very least for a personal journal because I also love stationery but alas…

More generally applicable points are that it’s also a slower process for most, in comparison to the speed at which thought is constructed. And the inability to edit/add/change things with ease.

I think it’s important to remember that analogue tools made a lot of things not as accessible or easy for many; especially neurodivergent, those with dyslexia etc. Many of us rely on computers to produce output that others took for granted.


Fellow lefty here. I’m in my mid-forties and trying to learn how to hold a pen properly. With my claw grip, the writing is passable, but I cramp up. With a “decent” grip my writing is slanted to one side and not fit for public consumption. It’s so messy.

I wish I could write by hand at length. I can type like the wind blows though.

Definitely relate.

Oh, and my friends/wife/family make fun of me whenever they see my signature. It looks like a dog signed it with a pen in his mouth.


(It’s almost as if different people use different tools in different ways…)


Nothing out of the ordinary. Onedrive, dropbox, Fantastical, Creative Cloud, MSO365, Arq backup, etc. Many of these apps will notify you about something or other. Be it a red number icon in the menubar, or a pop-up or it steals your app focus altogether (really infuriating).

I’m not saying computers are unproductive (although, perhaps not as productive as we think), but am referring to the threads focus on digital distractions. When I want uninterrupted focus time, non-digital is going to get rid of 99% of digital distractions.

There are some interesting books/articles on how computers make us dumber as our reliance on them causes us not use our own brain. Lynn Kelly’s Memory Craft highlights how ancient tribes in history memorised thousands of plant species, animal species and routes through the wilderness and today we can’t even remember the jobs we’re supposed to do today. Analogue may not be “better” per se, as that depends on your definition of better, which in turn will depend on your use case scenario. There is however, a still recognised link between writing and remembering.

I’ve followed this advice for 30 years and now have a whole bunch of stuff on my computer that I either can’t remember what exactly it is, or it has never been re-used. It would be interesting for someone to do some research of what percentage of information that people store is actually re-used or looked at again. Granted of course, that it does ndepend on what you use your computer for. I’m just not convinced that everything needs to be on a computer for search and access.

Me too! Lefties unite! I had the advantage in primary school of having a headmaster; Mr Schneider; who was a stickler for handwriting and made us all practice daily. The consequence for me is that I write like a righty, only with my left hand with no smudging or claw hand-hold.

I think this is a great point. Computers have really helped people with accessibility and that is to be celebrated. Technology has made life better for so many people for which I’m extremely thankful.

Which is were I’ll finish. Personally, I now find tech in general too distracting for proper focused work. My flow in thinking is interuppted too much and reduces the quality of what I can output. I also wonder if the constant distractions harm our ability to concentrate over time? A kind of constant erosion on our ability to focus for any length of time. All this means that for focused work I often use pen and paper or a tablet with no notifications and limited apps installed.

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