Blocker / Intentionality Apps?

I am looking for something that’ll do what ScreenTime’s time limits are supposed to do, but actually convinces me to get off my devices and into bed, (in the evening), or back to whatever I should actually be doing, (the rest of the day). Most often I’m on the computer, but sometimes it’s my phone.

I have started getting ads for some apps that claim to help, has anyone used these and what were your impressions? Do you have any others that you prefer?

Apps I am aware of:


There’s lots of advertising on Instagram for this one, so I wonder how much of my money would go to the app and how much would go to Meta.

It appears to hook into the Screentime APIs somehow to accomplish blocking. Does this mean I get the Screentime screen that’s annoying but super easy to dismiss?

I’m not sure if it works on desktop for any browser other than Chrome.


I can’t tell if this one actually blocks anything, or if it tries to coach you through notifications. Looks like it’s iOS-only.

One Sec

I have tested this one. Setup is a bit of a pain in the butt because it uses Shortcuts automations to trigger, so you set up an automation for “When I open Instagram” and it launches One Sec. There’s a nice animation to suggest you take a breath and think about what you’re doing, which is really nice. Unfortunately the automation sometimes runs a few seconds after Instagram, (or whatever app), launches, which isn’t ideal. I don’t remember if there is a way to set time limits, or if there is a way to block websites in Safari. There appear to be browser extensions for desktop devices for all the major browsers.


Someone mentioned this in a post here, which is how I heard about it. It seems to be cross-platform, and work on apps and websites. Like Opal, Freedom seems to use the Screentime API, so the same questions apply - is it super-easy to dismiss?

So far, it seems like Freedom may be the best combination of features & price, but I do like the “take a moment and breathe” philosophy of One Sec. What have your experiences been?

I haven’t used the others, but I like Freedom. It works across all devices, and you can create rules both globally or on a per device basis. You can use blanket blocks (e.g. all social media) or just block specific URLs.

As for being easy to dismiss, that’s up to you. If I recall correctly, you can set it to turn off with a simple switch, or so you have to jump through a few hoops, or so that it cannot be dismissed at all, short of uninstalling it.

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Do I spy someone who has also run aground of Screen Time’s “Ask for more time” button? I know those rocks :joy:

I do think there are things Apple could do to make this better. In particular: give us the option to disable the “Ask for more time” button, and give us the option to set the default time limits offered (Safari for example offers 15 mins more, 1 hour more, all day - 15 to 60 mins seems like a big jump to me, and “all day” is a dangerous button!).

The simple solution to your question is if you live with someone you trust, ask them to set the password and not tell you what it is. That’s not practical for everyone though.

You can also look at Apple’s focus modes if you haven’t already? You can set app limits in them.

For daytime, the last few days I’ve been running a free trial of Bluebird, which I came across by accident I think in the App Store whilst thinking about pomodoro apps and then read comments about in Reddit, where people are generally positive about it (apart from the subscription, which is £30/year - I think $30/year). I was intrigued by it specifically for these reasons:

  • the app collects no data
  • it integrates with Screen Time
  • universal across Apple devices (including Watch)
  • has an “always on” screen function for iOS
  • shows the running timer in the Mac menu bar, which Toggl Track does and I quite like
  • isn’t ugly (very subjective!)

I probably would’ve liked any of those functions (except the last one) on their own, but all together they made me intrigued enough to run the free trial and see if it adds value to my life and if that value is worth the cost.

I’ve not tested the block functions (it’s integration with Screen Time means you can set Bluebird to block specific apps or websites while it is running), so can’t comment on that, but I think you might be interested in that. You would presumably use the function to say “for 60 mins do not allow access to this website”. I find running the timer is enough to keep me on task - but specifically because the timer is visible (as soon as it’s not in my line of sight I forget about it). I’ve been running it in parallel on Mac and iPhone, by which I mean I have the minimal desktop app visible and the “always on” iOS app screen switched on at the same time.

I’ve found the UI a pleasure to use - just a slide scale that you drag to set the minutes you need a timer for. It took me a little time to figure out how to set tasks and tag them (it’s got a reporting function which I thought I might as well try) - but I mean it took like 10 mins to figure out and I should’ve just checked the manual first. It runs without setting tasks though, and I’m only testing it because it’s there - it’s probably unnecessary for many of us here who have task managers and time trackers if needed already.

I haven’t decided if I will keep the app yet, but I do think it’s an interesting app and has value.

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I’ve used Freedom before and liked it. It works on Windows which is a plus because most of my focus time is needed at work.

A long time ago when I struggled to focus on writing high school English papers on my 2012 Macbook Air, I used this free app called SelfControl ( I’m not sure if it still works or not on newer Macs or not, but its thing was that you couldn’t shut it off or disable it even with a restart. Worked well back then!


Every. Single. Time.


I use BeFocused Xwavesoft - Be Focused

It is a Pomodoro timer, but it allows you to set apps and websites that can’t be accessed when the time is running.

As an aside, you can use it in combination with their Eisenhower Matrix to do list - Focus Matrix, which will set the time going when you click a to do

A couple of options not-yet-discussed:

Focus is a macOS app that offers a “hardcore mode.” When that’s enabled, and you’ve enabled Focus, you cannot subvert the app. All websites or apps you’ve blocked will be immediately closed or redirected.

Forest is an iOS app that doesn’t prevent you from accessing your distractions, but instead encourages you to stay focused … by growing trees.

I find it works surprisingly well thanks to the lack of windows on iPhone.

Now, if only there was a way to force these things to activate when you want them to… (Incidentally Focus offers a schedule mode, but that + hardcore enabled seems like a recipe for disaster.)

I dream of a way to trigger these based on calendar events, but it seems like Apple’s retired the ability to trigger things with calendar events because it was a security risk.

I do use Focus, with Bunch, so that when I fire up one of my work modes it blocks some sites. Occasionally I have to legitimately override it, but I try to avoid those situations.

Since my main problem is late evenings when willpower is zero and tend to Youtube instead of sleeping, maybe Focus + hardcore mode on a schedule would work, at least temporarily, to train me to go to bed. There may be an emergency escape by rebooting the computer, but then again maybe not.

Lots of people seem to love Forest, maybe I should give it a try. My problem is more that I never start focus sessions than I break out of them prematurely, but maybe growing a forest would incentivize me to start more focus sessions during the day, when I also tend to waste time.

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Me too. I suspect most people looking at these apps share this challenge.

It’s funny. I’ve long assumed that regularly-scheduled hardcore mode focus sessions during the workday was an unthinkable thing, because of the “what if’s”:

  • What if an urgent meeting arises that needs something I’m blocking?
  • What if I really want to engage with a distraction at that time?
  • What if I’m blocking Messages and I need to write my family about groceries?

But now that this discussion has prompted some reflection … these are all pretty trivially resolvable issues in the moment, or they are silly excuses.

It’d probably work to schedule a few two-hour blocks of “forced focus” during my work days and slot time-blocked planned work into them, rather than randomly schedule time blocks throughout the week and just hope that I’ll have the forethought/wherewithal to use these focus apps during that time.


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I’ve not used Forest for a while but if I recall correctly the tree dies if you leave the app and don’t finish your focus period. I found that a good motivator for a while.

I decided to go ahead with a Bluebird sub for a year. I’ve found it helpful this week. It doesn’t have a pause button, so if you drift off to something else you have to bin the entire session (or ignore the app, but since that messes up the reporting it’s so far discouraged me from doing that).

I’m realising there is actually value in paying for these things (I paid for Forest too). Obviously it depends whether you can afford to, but for me I realising it matters to me that I say “this is important and I am spending money on it to ensure I do it well”. Sort of the opposite to “focus is important to me, but I don’t want to spend any money on improving my skill”. I also find the fact I’m paying an additional incentive to actually use the app.

I’ve considered some of those “no access to anything apps”, but they scare me. I think about too many “what if?” scenarios (that will never happen, but what if I do urgently need to access a video on YouTube for a super-important person with 5 mins notice??).

Next week my experiment is around evening usage, which I can see is where your focus is (I was just testing work use this week).

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Have you considered removing all devices from your bedroom? Before I retired my iPhone was the only tech in my bedroom.

It stayed face down on the nightstand next to my bed in “Do Not Disturb” mode. The only people who could contact me was my family, my executive, the 2nd shift supervisor at work, and our security company. So if it made a sound I knew it was something important.

The problem is that I stay in the room where the devices are and don’t go to bed, not that I use them in bed :wink: I’m pretty good about keeping devices out of the bedroom, and actually sleeping when I am in the bedroom, my problem is getting to the bedroom.

I have no problem paying. In fact, I would pay quite a bit to have my lack-of-productivity problem solved!

A Mac Power User with no Self Control? I may know the first person who ever suffered from that problem. It started in 1984 . . . :wink:

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