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Month: April 2019

10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus

It’s a daily struggle.

You sit down at your computer, ready to tackle your day. And then it happens.

A notification pops up – you’ve got three new emails. Before you can open them, there’s an instant message on the bottom of your screen.

Then you hear your phone ping and think, “Is that the sound of a calendar reminder or just a reply on my social media post? I’d better check before I start working…” And so it goes.

Sound familiar?

In today’s notification-obsessed world, it’s harder than ever to focus. Distractions like these can really add up.

Not only do you lose time reacting, but it also takes time to refocus. In fact, according to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being interrupted.

Fortunately, technology doesn’t always have to be a distraction– it can also be a tool to help you focus. We’ve gathered 10 of the best mindfulness-based tools that put the power back in your hands.

These technologies will help you focus by blocking interruptions, removing distractions, getting you in the zone, and reminding you to take short breaks for better productivity. Ready to have a more mindful work day?

Let’s take a look!

Tools to Block Interruptions


Our culture often feels the need to respond to everything the moment it arrives, but it’s really not necessary.

Tools like these allow you to pause the continuous stream of information for a period of time, so you can concentrate without interruption. You decide when to check emails, texts, and instant messages– not the person sending them to you.

Inbox Pause by Boomerang

Inbox Pause stops new email from coming into your Inbox until you’re ready. You can receive emails automatically on a schedule of your choice.

If you feel anxious about not checking emails immediately, you can set up an auto-responder to let people know when you check messages and how they can reach you in case of an emergency.

Inbox Pause is part of an email productivity tool called Boomerang, which is available through Google, Outlook, and iPhone. They have a free plan that includes the inbox pause feature.

Windows 10 Focus Assist or Do Not Disturb for Mac


Regardless of whether you use Windows or a Mac, you can pause notifications on your computer. Microsoft calls it Focus Assist in Windows 10 (known as Quiet Hours in earlier versions).

On your mac, it’s called Do Not Disturb. These tools work for desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. Take time to get familiar with the options, rather than letting the default setting disrupt your day.

Do Not Disturb for Android and iPhone


Just like the tools above, you can pause notifications on your phone, both Android and iPhone. Many of us are juggling multiple devices – you may have a laptop open, the phone next to you, and tablet across the room.

Make sure you check out all the do not disturb settings available. Otherwise, you might find yourself reacting to whatever technology is making a noise!

mindfulness tools
Inbox Pause by Boomerang gives you amazing control over your email. You decide when emails arrive. Any exceptions are easy to set up.

Tools to Avoid Procrastination


We’ve all fallen into that black hole of social media. Whether you love reading about the latest Game of Thrones episode, watching cat videos, or commenting on politics, we’ve all been there.

Two of these tools let you limit access to certain websites or apps for periods of time. The third tool is geared toward writers who want a distraction-free interface to avoid any temptation to stray from their work.

Freedom


Freedom is a website and app blocker. This tool has some great customization features to make it work for you. You can block only certain sites, the entire internet, or everything except the sites you need.

Freedom also allows you to schedule your blocks in advance – you can even save frequently used blocks so you don’t have to set it up every time. Think you can be sneaky and check your phone to access a blocked site? Freedom can sync blocks across all of your devices.

They offer a seven-day free trial. After that, you can pay $6.99 per month, $29 per year or $129 for lifetime access.

FocusMe


FocusMe offers a similar service to Freedom. Like Freedom, you can block specified websites and apps using a scheduler or as needed.

However, it doesn’t sync across devices (yet). It works with Mac, Windows, and Android – iOS is coming soon.

FocusMe has some additional features like break reminders and a built-in Pomodoro timer.

This is a popular productivity technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. FocusMe is a nice all-in-one tool if you’re trying to be more mindful and productive.

At the moment, their Android version is free. For Mac and Windows, it’s $6.99 per month, $30 per year, or $119.99 for lifetime access.

FocusWriter


FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free writing environment. No icons, no toolbars, no notifications – nothing to take away from your writing.

To access additional features of FocusWriter, you can move your mouse to the edges of the screen. Then you can use spell check, choose a theme, set up timers or alarms, and even assign writing goals.

This program is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X for a voluntary donation.

mindfulness apps
Tools like Freedom allow you to police yourself when it comes to internet usage. Customize the blocks based on your personal weaknesses.

Tools to Help You Get in the Zone


Although the jury is still out on the connection between music and focus, many people report that music (and certain sounds in general) enhance their focus.

These tools offer two ways to use music for greater concentration.

Focus@Will


Focus@Will is a unique music streaming service. They offer specially curated and produced music tracks designed to improve your focus.

They claim, “Scientists have discovered that depending on your personality type, there is a specific type of music that when engineered just right, puts your brain into a flow state making you hyperfocused and exponentially more productive.”

Based on their research, they assign types of music based on a questionnaire you answer when signing up. However, you can listen to any of the music in their collections. Focus@Will offers a two-week trial, then it’s $89.95 per year.

Noisli


For some people, music can be distracting in and of itself. You might prefer a little background noise instead.

Noisli is a site that allows you to create your own set of background sounds by combining clips from rain, water, wind, and more.

As one user says, “Perfect for working to — enough background noise to help me concentrate but not distracting enough to prevent me from being able to read or write. I love being able to layer the sounds and change the volume simultaneously as well!”

Noisli is available for $1.99 on Google Play and the App Store. It’s also free on the Chrome Web Store.

mindfulness tool
Focus@Will offers over 25 channels of specially curated and mixed music based on neuroscience research. By taking a questionnaire, they’ll recommend the best channels for you.

Tools that Remind You to Take a Break


We’ve talked a lot about staying focused on your work, but taking short breaks is also important to maintain overall productivity.

Instead of mindlessly taking a social media break, try these two tools to pause, take a deep breath, and recenter yourself.

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes


Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is brilliantly simple. It displays a countdown timer for two minutes on top of a peaceful nature scene. If you move your mouse or touch the keyboard, it will start again. Available for free on any browser.

Time Out


Time Out promotes a similar idea – that you need to pause throughout the day. However, it has more features.

The default settings offer a “Normal” break (typically for 10 minutes every hour) and a “Micro” break (a brief pause of typically 15 seconds every 15 minutes). This helps you remember not to tense up too much for long periods. You can change or remove either kind of break, or add new ones.

Available on the App Store for free or you can make a donation.

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is exactly what it sounds like. A simple way to take a mindful break in your day.

You don’t have to be a victim of constant interruptions.

We expect to see many more mindfulness-based tools enter the marketplace in the coming years.

Are there any others you’ve found that help you reduce distractions and improve your focus? Let us know in the comments!

10 Best Mindfulness Meditation Apps to Manage the Craziness Daily Life

If you’re feeling frazzled by the demands of modern life, you’re not alone.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 79% of Americans feel stressed every day. But we have good news. You don’t have to jet off to a month-long meditation retreat to reap the benefits of mindfulness.

It may sound counterintuitive, but your smartphone (you know, that thing in your pocket that drives you crazy?) might just be your best tool for managing stress and helping you focus. Meditation apps are an inexpensive way to test the waters with a new mindfulness practice.

Ready to give it a try? We’ve gathered the ten best meditation apps ideal for beginners, but with room to grow.

Let’s take a look at each one to give you a sense of what they offer.

Mindfulness App1. Headspace

Headspace earned the top score from a study by the Queensland University of Technology after their review of 700+ mindfulness apps. This app has hundreds of themed sessions on everything from stress to focusing. But don’t worry if you’ve never meditated before.

There’s a free Basics course that teaches the essentials of meditation and mindfulness. Headspace also has sleep meditations and sleep sounds. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: Headspace offers meditation tracks for kids too. They’ll practice breathing exercises, visualizations and even try some focus-based meditation. They’re customized for three age groups: 5 and under, 6-8 and 9-12.

Cost: Free to download for the basic course; $12.99/month, $9.99 for students, $7.99 if paid annually

mindfulness app2. SmilingMind

Although SmilingMind isn’t as well known as a big player like HeadSpace, this app offers high-quality meditation programs carefully designed by psychologists and educators.

There are specific courses for different age groups, focusing on the mindfulness challenges of each developmental stage. They also have modules for workplace issues, sports training, and classrooms. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: SmilingMind has a first of its kind program for expectant parents called “Mind the Bump.” The app helps individuals and couples in preparation for having a baby and becoming a new parent.

Cost: 100% free!

mindfulness app3. Mindfulness Daily

Mindfulness Daily is designed to support your commitment to practice mindfulness every day. This app makes it easy to fit meditation into your daily routine.

You have full control over reminders and routines that break your daily practice into small but highly effective and digestible mindful pauses, lessons, and practices. Available on the App Store. They’re working on an Android version.

What we love most: There’s a feature that offers a 15-second mindfulness pause for those times when you catch yourself in a stressful moment or on autopilot.

Cost: Free to download; additional meditation packs for $3.99 and $4.99

mindfulness app4. Insight Timer

Insight Timer offers over 15,000 guided meditations – all free! And there’s more added all the time. Once you find a teacher you enjoy, you can follow them to make sure you don’t miss any new content.

Be sure to check out our guided meditations on how to use technology more mindfully. Tap on “Meditations” and search for our founder “Robert Plotkin.”

There’s also a free course called “Learn to Meditate in 7 Days.” If you want plenty of options, you’ll find exactly the kind of support you need on Insight Timer. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: Insight Timer encourages a community of meditators. The home screen tells you how many others are meditating with you at that moment. They also have over 200 lively discussion groups and local meet-ups run by users.

Cost: Free to download; large free library with the option to purchase items $1.99 – $59.99

mindfulness app5. 10% Happier

10% Happier says it’s the meditation app for fidgety skeptics. Sound like you? If you’re looking for a secular approach, 10% Happier offers simple, practical exercises to help you feel happier, sleep better, and calm your mind.

You’ll find daily videos and guided meditations and videos for coping with anxiety and stress and for activities like walking and falling asleep. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: 10% Happier is a companion app for the book and podcast by the same name. The author (Dan Harris) frequently interviews well-respected teachers and scientists to learn more about how meditation can improve your daily life.

Cost: Seven-day free trial, subscriptions from $4.99 – $9.99

meditation app6. Calm

Calm is a Google Play Editor’s Choice for 2018. This app offers guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, masterclasses, and relaxing music. They recently added ten-minute guided video lessons on mindful movement and gentle stretching.

Calm is an excellent app for those just starting to meditate. However, it also has hundreds of programs for more advanced users. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: Calm is the only app to offer “sleep stories,” which are soothing tales read by well-known voices to help people unwind and fall into a deep sleep each evening. Like bedtime stories for adults!

Cost: Seven-day free trial, subscriptions are $59.99 annually (also offer lifetime at $399.99)

mindfulness app7. Meditation Timer Pro

Meditation Timer Pro is not as robust as the other options we’ve included so far, but it’s a helpful tool for keeping track of time while meditating.

It provides several timer options and a variety of chime sounds to gently remind you of the time. You can also log your sessions. Available on the App Store.

What we love most: Meditation Timer Pro integrates with Apple Watch, so you can easily meditate on the go. And if you want to share your progress, you can post to Facebook or Twitter.

Cost: $1.99

mindfulness app8. The Mindfulness App

The Mindfulness App is used by millions of meditators in over 130 countries. It has everything you need to get started and build a regular meditation practice.

There’s a five-day introduction to mindfulness course, guided and silent meditations from three to thirty minutes, meditation reminders, and statistics to help you view your progress. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: The Mindfulness App allows you to create personalized meditations. You can choose a guided introduction from their library and then add bells and chimes at specific times to suit your needs.

Cost: Seven-day free trial, $9.99/month or $59.99 for one year

mindfulness app9. Buddhify

Buddhify set out to be a different kind of meditation app. In their words, “While other meditation apps need you to find ten or twenty minutes of quiet time per day, we know that even that can be a struggle to fit into an already busy day.

That’s why Buddhify focuses on mobile or on-the-go meditation, which you can do wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.” Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: Buddhify charges a low one-off fee because they believe that a good mindfulness and meditation app shouldn’t be something that only rich people can afford.

Cost: $2.99

mindfulness apps10. Stop, Breathe, & Think

Stop, Breathe, & Think has a unique approach that allows you to check in with your emotions and then recommends short, guided meditations, yoga, and acupressure videos.

Through a variety of activities, the app helps you tame your anxiety, reduce stress, breathe more mindfully, sleep better, and track your mood and progress. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

What we love most: They share 10% of their net revenue with Tools for Peace, a non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth experience the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.

Cost: Free to download; $9.99/month with other tiers available based on family use and annual payment

Hopefully, one of the apps on this list has just what you need to start a mindfulness practice.

Since many of them are free to download, we encourage you to test a few out and see what feels right. You’ll be viewing your smartphone in a whole new way!

Rather than a source of distraction, it will be your guide to a more peaceful state of mind.

How One School Transformed Student Behavior by Replacing Detention with Mindfulness

“Meditation calms me down and stuff.”

– 4th-grade girl, Holistic Me program

Is meditation more effective than detention?

That’s the question now posed to schools all across the U.S. as a result of the work by the Holistic Life Foundation.

In 2001, brothers Ali and Atman Smith, along with friend Andres Gonzalez, returned home from college to start the foundation, an after-school program founded with the purpose of bringing the benefits of yoga and mindfulness to their Baltimore, Maryland neighborhood.

But what started as a small after-school program with 20 boys from local Baltimore grade schools (mistaken in the beginning by much of the neighborhood as a gang startup) has now blossomed into a national movement.

And it’s made parents and educators everywhere question the value of traditional disciplinary measures along with the power of mindfulness as a potential replacement.

Holistic Me brings mindfulness to Baltimore’s youth to surprising results

Founded as the Holistic Life Foundation’s flagship program in 2002, Holistic Me is an after-school program designed to teach yoga, mindfulness, and related meditation and breathing techniques to Baltimore’s youth.

Since beginning at Baltimore’s Windsor Hill Elementary seventeen years ago, the program has expanded far beyond Baltimore, now serving surrounding Maryland communities in:

  • Boston
  • Charlottesville
  • Minneapolis
  • Louisville
  • Somerset County
  • Asheville, and
  • Madison
The Holistic Life Foundation now serves over 10,000 children just in the Baltimore area, with the Holistic Me program serving 160 pre-K to 5th-grade students every school day:

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION MINDFULNESS PROGRAM
Source: Holistic Life Foundation

Mindfulness as a replacement for detention?

Arguably the most remarkable result of the Holistic Me program has been the transformation in student behavior.

With some success from the program under its belt, Robert W Coleman Elementary School decided to create a ‘Mindful Moment Room’ where students would be instructed to practice mindful breathing during the duration of their stay in the room, as opposed to traditional detention.

The results have been nothing less than extraordinary, with the school’s Mindful Moment Room in combination with the Holistic Me program itself resulting in 0 suspensions to date since it began.

SHOULD MEDITATION REPLACE DETENTION SCHOOL IMAGE
Source: Holistic Life Foundation

Mindfulness in the classroom (for teachers and students)

The remarkable story of student transformation through the Holistic Life Foundation at Robert W Coleman Elementary School is incredible in itself.

However, the benefit of mindfulness in the classroom is well-documented.

Studies on mindfulness in the classroom have shown that regular practice helps improve student focus, improve emotion regulation, and reduce stress levels among other benefits.

But that’s just the beginning. Studies have also shown that teachers receive similar benefits when they adopt the practice themselves, such as reduced stress, reduced chance of burnout, and greater efficacy.

Should mindfulness replace detention?

So, should mindfulness replace detention? Should schools everywhere have their own Mindful Moment Room?

That’s a question that educators need to answer for themselves.

The topic of mindfulness at school, from questions to how it’s implemented to the way it’s taught, are still in question.

But there’s no mistake that mindfulness and similar meditative practices are of huge benefit to both students and educators– and the sky is the limit for programs like Holistic Me.

“When I first started I was kinda bad… now the breathing has calmed me down.”

– 7th-grade boy, Holistic Me program

Robert Plotkin of Mindfulness for Technology Featured on the AATH Laughbox Podcast

Our very own Robert Plotkin, Mindfulness for Technology founder, was recently featured on the Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor’s (AATH) Laughbox podcast.

Listen as Robert talks with host Chip Lutz about how technology affects our brain and how to integrate that technology into your mindfulness practice.

You’ll learn:

  • A simple mindfulness practice for learning how to use your smartphone more mindfully
  • How the “reptilian” brain affects our behavior
  • And a powerful tip for managing your technology use

Listen to Robert on the Laughbox podcast (iTunes) or via Laughbox.AATH.org.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

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