Working from home with ADD: Try these apps to stay on task

My fellow attention-drifters in quarantine, I see you.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor
Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
Rae Hodge
5 min read

It took me two hours to get this sentence written. It is of no particular brilliance, the typing of it took only a few seconds, and the ones that follow it will come quickly, laying themselves like a line of train tracks as I hammer out a list of digital resources I've used to combat my Attention Deficit Disorder. But thanks to the effects of sudden coronavirus quarantine-induced work-habit changes on my routine-dependent brain, I had to spend two hours wrestling my attention to the page in a process requiring roughly the same energy output as the muzzling a feral dog. 

Hold on. I need more coffee. Where were we? 

This isn't my first rodeo working from home with ADD, though. Experience has taught me to implement many of the same preventative work from home measures a lot of you already do: Be careful to rebuild and maintain the regular rituals of the workday, stay at the desk at all costs, don't ditch your medication without your doctor's orders, get proper exercise, keep an eye on blood-sugar levels and eat brain-healthy foods. Along the way, however, I've used some steadfast online tools to bolster my efforts. 

Here are a few of my favorite apps and tools to help others with ADD work from home more effectively.

Hold your attention with timers and white noise

Getting started on a work task can be a beast, but staying with it through the end is the real fight for a lot of us. I use a combination of two digital tools to reinforce my follow-through: the white noise from the cockpit of a 1944 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and a stopwatch. 

The stopwatch is a simple concept for me. I'll use the timer on my phone and countdown to the next coffee break, or set a hard deadline for myself to artificially induce those classic ADD adrenaline contractions that kick into high gear when a countdown nears its end. But staying in my seat requires something more. 

Mynoise.net has been online since 2013 and has seen up to a million hits a month, with mobile apps available in both Google Play store and the App Store. While any number of online white noise generators could do the trick to distract your wandering mind (and Mynoise has nearly any to suit your taste), few sounds are as successful in muting the internal monologues of yours truly as a layer of propeller thrum interspersed with mostly unintelligible tower radio chatter

Bonus distraction: If you're looking for a creepy thrill, check out Mynoise's Evil Charm soundscape

Step away from social media

Hyperfocusing on social media is a silent killer. One second you're stopping to check a message, and the next thing you know 18 years have passed and a kid the state says is yours is somehow in college. 

Try the RescueTime app. Available for free on Google Play store and the App Store, RescueTime automatically tracks which apps you're using and how long you're using each of them to populate visualizations describing where your day went. It's also available as a desktop app. You don't have to keep glancing at it either. RescueTime's notification feature pings you when you're getting too far down an attention-sucking rabbit hole, so you can pull yourself back on track. For the competitive among us, the app's "Productivity Pulse" gives you a chance to compare your days. 

Yes, it's a privacy nightmare for those who'd rather not hand over a record of their every click to any single app. But if you're looking for something simple to keep track of time spent, it's a tried and true productivity hack that you can customize to help you sort your day out. 

Break tasks down to avoid procrastination paralysis

One of the worst ADD feelings is the bottom of the almighty Project Cycle. You know what I'm talking about: You get all ginned up about a great project idea and start writing down all your hows and whens and whys in a fit of manic genius, only to come back to a disorganized mess of notes on scrap paper and the paralyzing feeling of having bitten off more than you can chew. You get overwhelmed by the ambitious scale of your big idea and its seeming insurmountability. 

That's when you should Remember the Milk. This deceptively domestic errand-running app is designed to break down your to-do list into manageable tasks, rewarding you on each baby-step with the sweet serotonin hit of a check mark as you plow through subtasks toward larger and larger parts of your list. 

Available for free (but with in-app purchases) in both the App Store and Google Play store, Remember the Milk is not specifically designed for my off-market project management uses, but instead to head off domestic interference during the workday by syncing across devices and integrating with Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter, Evernote and other apps. 

Watch this: Get the right tech to help you work from home

Focus your brain

When you've got an extreme need for social media distancing, there are plenty of ways to put your apps to sleep (she says, refreshing her Twitter mentions). But one of the easiest ways is to use the Brain Focus productivity timer. 

The app is free in both Google Play store and the App Store, and is simple enough not to draw you into a spiral of attention-sucking customization options. Just install it, tell it which apps to shut up for you and set the timer. It will then block you from accessing those apps for the amount of time you set. If you want to track your time, it's got features to help you, but its streamlined interface is geared toward a quick tap to get you back to work, based on the Pomodoro Technique. 

If you've never heard of the Pomodoro Technique -- long-time fan here -- your ADD might appreciate you giving it a go. It's a productivity technique that rhythmically cycles through short bursts of work and short breaks by setting timing micro-limits. Named for tomato-shaped timers common to Italian kitchens, the technique is designed to hitch your attention to an audible ticking and dinging until your brain starts pumping out focus like Pavlov's dog drips drool. 

Brain Focus is just one of the productivity apps borne out of the technique, which might account for some part of its efficacy. 

Jeez, my leg is really twitching today. 

Wait... What was I saying... ?

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