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5 apps and websites to help software engineers unplug

Hack Reactor

photo of a woman relaxed with a drink

By Brittany Anas For Hack Reactor

Are you shocked when you check in with your smart phone’s weekly “screen time” or “digital wellbeing” reports? In addition to the time you spend on your small screens, you’re also logging significant time on your big screens as you write and debug code. 

In fact, the average person spends 13 hours a day looking at screens, according to the 2020 Screen Time report from UnitedHealth Care. But for those with lucrative careers tethered to tech, including software engineers and coding bootcamp grads, we’re willing to bet screen time surpasses the average. According to one survey, software engineers devote 19 hours a week to design and coding and spend plenty more hours in front of their computers doing administrative tasks and waiting for tests to complete. 

With all this time spent in front of computers and on digital devices, you might be feeling like you need a tech timeout. Enter “The National Day of Unplugging,” an awareness campaign that promotes a 24-hour respite from technology during the first weekend of March. (It falls March 5-6 this year). With a world that went digital during the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s day of unplugging is especially relevant and participation is open to anyone. 

Unplugging for a day, of course, can be a good way to re-evaluate your relationship with tech. But health and wellbeing experts say that setting regular, year-round boundaries around tech consumption comes with numerous benefits, including reduced strain on your eyes and neck, decreased stress levels and better sleep. 

To help, there are some great apps and websites that can help you track and reduce your screen time.

Sure, we get the irony: More tech to help enable digital breaks? 

But some truly great online tools exist to help you disconnect and be productive with your time online, ultimately leading to a better work-life balance. Here are five of our favorites. 


Freedom

Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, getting sucked into debates on Twitter threads or following a targeted ad to your favorite outdoor gear site where you start browsing? Freedom can block distracting websites and apps so you can stay focused on your work and can be your most efficient self while you’re logged into your computer, phone or tablet. The app and website blockers works with Mac, Windows, Android, iOS and Chrome.


Pomodor

Ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Productivity enthusiasts love this time management method that breaks down your work into intervals, with alternating bursts of productivity and short breaks. Typically, you focus solely on the work at hand for 25 minutes and then give your brain a five-minute recess. You can use that break to do anything, like getting up to stretch, playing with your pet or checking your messages. The Pomodor site is beautiful in its simplicity. It allows you to access alternating 25-minute and 5-minute timers. (That way, you can stick to this productivity method without grabbing your phone to set a timer, thus risking distraction). 


Bashful

On average, people check their phone screens 58 times a day. Android and iPhone users alike have access to do not disturb modes that will silence calls and other notifications. But going a step further, Android users can install Bashful, which allows them to lock their screens for a period of time so they can work without the nagging temptation to check their messages and notifications. Notifications are muted while the phone is locked. If you absolutely need to access your phone, you’re not completely locked out: You can press and hold the unlock button for five seconds. A pro version of the account will allow you to schedule distraction-free time so you can truly zone in on your coding and debugging tasks. You can also set distraction-free locations so that you’re not distracted while you’re on, say, a hike.


Moment

An exclusive for iOS users, Moment allows you to schedule daily limits on any app you’d like that’s on your phone. When your allotted time is up, it will send you push notifications to let you know you’ve hit your limit. We love that this app gives you a breakdown of how much time you spend in various apps. It will also give you feedback like how often you check in with your phone. That way, you’ve got the information you need to apply limits where you need them most. It also comes with free daily coaching tips.


BrainFM

If you love productivity hacks, try BrainFM. The background ambient sounds and music are engineered to improve your brain activity and help you relax and stay focused. Scientists at BrainFM teamed with academic institutions and composers to build the library of musical compositions that bring BrainFM listeners to a state of “neural phase unlocking,” which allows neurons to work together to stay focused. The more of a productivity groove you get into, the better you can enjoy a work-life balance.

Which apps and websites do you use to help unplug or set boundaries with tech?