Using tech to aid student self-motivation


With a new year on its way, you may be wanting to create new habits surrounding device usage. It’s a hard feat because the tech we need is generally designed to be addictive, but there are tools you can utilize to cut out distractions and help you focus. 


On Mobile

Apple Specific – Screen Time

For those with an Apple device, Screen Time is a great way to build better habits surrounding distracting apps. Through Screen Time, you can track time spent on your devices, limit app usage, and set downtime. 

To access Screen Time, open the Settings app and click Screen Time. From there, turning it on will make its features accessible. WIthout enabling its other features, users simply get reports on how much time they spend on apps and websites. 

App Limits is Screen Time’s most prominent feature. It allows users to set daily time limits for selected apps. Once the time limit is met for the day, the app is blocked off, but users can enter their Screen Time password to give themselves another fifteen minutes or hour. Though the apps can be unlocked, it serves as a reminder of how much time you’re spending. If you don’t want to be able to unlock an app after the time limit is met, you can make your Screen Time password something you wouldn’t memorize. (Keep it written down somewhere safe for future reference). You can always add or remove apps from the limited list. 

Via Screen Time, users can also set up Downtime. During scheduled Downtime, most apps will be blocked off. Calls will still go through and with the “Always Allowed” list, one can make sure certain apps are always unblocked. To enable Downtime, navigate to Screen Time’s settings. From there, select Downtime and choose the days and times Downtime is to be enabled. 

Overall, Screen Time’s simple but flexible format allows you to refine usage easily. If you find a time limit is too short or too long to be helpful for you, it’s easily adjusted. All of Screen Time’s features can be toggled on and off separately, so you can pick and choose what works for you. 


Study Bunny: Focus Timer

Study Bunny is a productivity app with a built-in pet bunny. The main features are the work and break timers. For studying, set a countdown timer that’ll count down to zero or a stopwatch to record how long you study for. After study sessions, you can set a countdown break timer to recharge. When you use the study timer, you earn coins to purchase accessories for your bunny. 

With Honesty Mode enabled, if you leave the app while the timer is running, your bunny will ask you if you were being productive or distracted once reopened. If you weren’t distracted, you’ll resume your study timer. If you were distracted, you’ll be taken to a spinner to determine whether you’ll lose a coin, two coins, or have to watch an ad as “punishment.”

There’s also an optional To-Do list, flashcard feature, and study tracker built-in, meaning you can do more within the app. When you don’t have to switch between different apps as often, there’s less temptation to open social media or games because you won’t be seeing them on your home screen. 

There’s also instrumental music for those that find it helpful. Additional tracks can be unlocked with earned coins or by watching an ad. 

Study Bunny is motivational due to its simple but pleasing artwork. Though it may take time to get used to navigating the different features, its customizability allows you to make it your own. 



The concept is simple: set a timer for the amount of time you want to write. If you stop writing for more than a few seconds, a bar appears at the top of the screen. If you still don’t type anything, the bar will fill up and all of your work is deleted. So just type! 

I originally downloaded this app for non-academic story writing purposes. I’ve found that no matter what you’re typing, it removes hesitation. The hardest part of essay writing for me is shutting off my inner perfectionist, but you have to get something on the page before you can refine it.

There’s no required structure, so you can write full paragraphs, brief thoughts for an outline, or stanzas of poetry. 

I know what you’re thinking. If there’s a chance this thing will delete all my work, how is it productive? If you really run a blank or you’ve written all you need to, you can type random letters until the timer runs out. The point is to just get started. 

There’s also a word count section in the top right corner. It’s rewarding to watch it go up, especially if you have a specific word count goal. (And it’s helpful for gauging how much more writing you have to do for the day). Better yet is that, as you set your timer, the app gives you an estimate for how many words you’ll write in that amount of time. For example, five minutes gives an estimate of 120-180 words while 32 minutes ranges from 768 to 1152. 

Regardless of what you’re typing, Dangernotes is straightforward and powerful. 


Computer Programs


FocusWriter is a distraction-free word processor, perfect for story or essay writing. 

There are different backgrounds, such as a relaxing blue, a dark sky, an image of clouds, and more (you can even make your own themes). I recommend choosing something you find calming and non-jarring so as to not be distracted. Additionally, there are optional timers, alarms, daily goals, typing sound effects, and writing statistics. 

For both productivity and happiness, it’s important to have separate spaces for working and relaxing. Physically, this isn’t always possible due to space constraints. You can however create mental associations by using certain programs for work activity and others for hobbies. To use FocusWriter as an example, you can use one theme for all your academic writing, and another one for all of your creative writing. 

If you can’t download an offline word processor, another way to minimize distractions is by turning off your internet while using Google Docs. FocusWriter just has helpful additional features that I’ve found motivating. 

Sidenote: If you need a more professional word processor, like Microsoft Office, LibreOffice is free and absolutely excellent. Using FocusWriter is like using nice stationary and a tracking planner, but a bit quicker. Its aesthetic qualities make you want to keep using it. 


Google Chrome Extensions

Simple Blocker

Simple Blocker allows you to block off a custom list of websites for any duration of time. I use it to keep myself from opening social media when writing on Google Docs. 

To set up your blocklist, simply copy and paste the websites you want blocked when the block list is switched on. 

There are two ways to enable the blocklist. You can switch it on and it’ll block your selected websites until you flip the switch back, but you can also use the “sleep timer” to have it turn off after the timer runs out. 

I personally like Simple Blocker for how intuitive and simple it is. However, if you need a consistently scheduled blocklist, BlockSite allows you to select times and days during which the Blocklist automatically switches on. 

We often open social media to check “for a second” and fall down a rabbit hole. Having a simple reminder that I don’t want to go there has been a great aid in rethinking those habits. 



Believe it or not, YouTube doesn’t have to be a distraction. 

For help focusing, you can listen to videos with ambient noise or instrumental playlists. For winter time, I’ve been into ambient videos with fireplaces. Playlists often have specific themes (like classical), which is inspirational if your project has a specific vibe. 

Additionally, some channels have videos specifically made for studying. They include timers for working and taking breaks, if you’d prefer to not set timers yourself. Pomodoro timers typically include four intervals, each composed of one twenty five minute work session followed by a break. 

On mobile, YouTube has an optional break reminder as well. Open up the YouTube app on your phone, click your profile picture, and scroll down to “settings.” Set up “remind me to take a break” by selecting the amount of time you want a reminder after. As an example, you might set it up to remind you after twenty minutes. Then, when you’ve watched YouTube for twenty minutes, it’ll pause your video with a pop-up asking “Time to take a break? You’ve been watching for 20 minutes.” This won’t block off YouTube like Screen Time would, but it’s a helpful check-in. 

From the same mobile settings menu, “remind me when it’s bed time,” allows you to set the time you want to go to sleep. If you’re watching YouTube at bed time, you’ll get a reminder that it’s time to hit the hay.

My favorite way to use YouTube is by far the ambient noise videos. I’ve been using different videos for different projects which helps me get into the right headspace. 


If you’re struggling with focusing, remember that it’s not necessarily a personal failing. With distractions abound, juggling responsibilities can be stressful. Hopefully, in finding helpful tools, you’ll be able to reclaim your time and make room for what you love doing.