Posts in iPads
3 Apps That Will Help You Focus at Work

We’ve all been there- you sit down to do some work at your computer and you get distracted. 

If you’re like me, it goes something like this:

  • I’ll just check Twitter real quick...
  • ... and follow a link from a sports writer to a story online...
  • ... which makes me think that maybe there are related stories so I turn to Google for a quick search...
  • ...which then takes me down the rabbit trail of three other articles related to the same topic.

Can you relate? 

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The rabbit trail is a dangerous thing. It's seductive really. The rabbit trail taps into our desire for quick, dopamine-inducing searches and internet expeditions. The rabbit trail affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not.  If you have an internet connection, you've experienced this.  If you use social media, you've experienced this.  If you have a smartphone, you know what I'm talking about.

I suppose the question is this: what are you going to do about it? 

If you need to work online and can’t become a monk (although that sounds good sometimes right?), the good news is that there are a number of apps you can use to stay focused. Here are the three that I use regularly:

  1. Self Control. This Mac-only app is very smart. It allows you to create a list of applications or websites that you know you’ll be tempted to visit. Then, by launching the app, it knows to not allow you to open those websites. I’ve used Self Control for months and find it very handy. You can also launch the app and tell it how long you want to do focused work. Self Control then begins and ends when your timed work is done.  (cost: free)
  2. Coffitivity. Cofffitivity is a website (and app) with some pre-recorded sounds that simulate a coffee shop. The makers of of the application have stepped up their game and now offer a handful of different coffee shop soundtracks. Just launch the one that fits your mood and you’re off and running. There’s something about a little bit of back noise that helps you to focus and do your work. (cost: free; a $9 premium version is also available)
  3. White Noise. White Noise comes in both a free and for-pay version and it’s great. There are tons of sounds that you can try out, from the sound of a hairdryer to the purr of a cat to the sound of a rowboat along the water. White Noise is what I use when there is some other noise in the house or in my office. I launch White Noise and it serves to negate most of the other noise around me. This is very subtle but good news- it actually works. (cost: free; a premium option is also available)

Another tactic you might try is to use an iPad for as much of your work as possible. While you can certainly multi-task on an iPad (with split-screen that allows you to have two apps side by side), it lends itself to using one application at a time. 

Whether you go with the iPad or the apps that I mentioned above, the key is to outsmart the distractions in your head. Once you do that, you’ll be more free to do your focused work.

BONUS: if you’re a person of prayer, you may want to try White Noise in order to set the mood and tune out the other noises around you. While this isn’t practical for praying at church, it does the trick for those times when you want to have a quiet time at home but just can’t seem to tune out the noise. 

Interview with Fraser Speirs, iPad Expert

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Fraser Speirs of the Cedars School of Excellence.  Fraser has been a role model and guide for Morris Catholic and our introduction to 1:1 learning and in particular, the use of iPads.

Fraser is co-host of Out of School, an excellent podcast about schools and education.

His website is

About the Cast

First let me say that Fraser is perhaps the most humble guest we've ever had.  He is brilliant without being arrogant.  He is clearly a leading voice in the TechEd space and yet is still growing, learning and trying out new things.  He was gracious with his time and scheduled the cast knowing that the day after was his school's first day of classes for the new year.  

Enjoy the cast!  Click here to listen.

From Channel One to iPads: Our Fascination with School Technology

Remember Channel One?  Remember when the tv's showed up in our classrooms, amazingly free of charge and Anderson Cooper got his big break as a teen a.m. news anchor?  Those were supposed to change the way we do school.

And then there were Smartboards.

And laptops.

And now we have iPads.  If you've followed the recent circus in Los Angeles and their multimillion dollar rollout of iPads to students, you're probably wondering about whether or not iPads actually make a difference in learning.  

Me too- actually my doctoral dissertation is on that very topic so it's a big deal when one of the nation's largest school districts decides to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a technology just four years old.  

To see the latest on the L.A. fumble, click here.   Turns out they may be changing course and rethinking their decision.  

That's too bad since iPads actually do have a positive impact on schools IF deployed thoughtfully.  They might help to bridge the digital divide as they are doing in one poor California district.  There are some best practices that ensure for a smoother deployment and actual benefits from using iPads. 

But all of this misses the point- if you're focused too much on the tool, a school may miss out on the real point of schools: learning.  Just like in your backyard when the leaves fall from the trees, you need the right tools to wrangle them into piles.  Still, you're going to need a rake or two and maybe a tarp to move the leaves after you've piled them up.  You'll still need to sweat and reserve several hours to get the job done. 

It's not about the tools- it's about the work.  

If a school is focusing too much on iPads and not as much on teachers and kids, it's deployment of expensive tablets will probably fail.  

What aspect of technology is currently helping with learning in your school?

Web/Tech, School, iPadsMike StPierre