A Guide to the Urban School’s Distraction Free Software

David Immerman, Staff Writer

Music blaring, Facebook glaring, and in the background behind all the other multimedia Web pages on your laptop is the history essay comparing the rise of fascism in Germany to the rise of fascism in Italy, due tomorrow, and all you have is an introduction. Uh-oh – you’re in freak-out mode.

Distractions. They’re everywhere, especially at a school like Urban, where technology is integrated into the curriculum on a regular basis. In fact, media distractions and overuse of the laptops is “the only true concern that I still have,” says Howard Levin, director of technology.

Levin believes that it is important for Urban to address distractions since it has “become an issue publicly in the country.” So that’s what the tech department did. When Urban students and faculty received their laptops for the new school year in September, most noticed a new kid on the Dock: Distraction Free.

Thus, if you’re tired of Facebook staring at you all night, or you just want to finish that essay sooner and more efficiently, check out the features below. Who knows? You might become truly Distraction Free.


Freedom is a simple, easy-to-use tool that disables the Internet connection on your laptop for whatever designated amount of time you set (from 15 minutes to 8 hours). And, just in case you’re tempted to hop back online to check that ever-so-important status update, the only way to disable Freedom after you’ve commenced is to restart your computer, an annoying hassle. Freedom is an excellent tool to use when your reading e-books, handouts and other reading sources, and you don’t want to be distracted by your friend’s annoying Tweet about how much homework they have. According to an article in the Chronicle, “22 percent of teens check their sites more than 10 times a day.”


Concentrate is an application that creates shortcuts that launch and block different applications, websites, and documents, kind of like having your mom standing behind you while you use your computer. For example, you can set up an “activity,” called “Research,” which would instruct Concentrate to quit and block all applications except for Microsoft Word and Safari; block Websites like Facebook and Stumble Upon; and even set your iChat status to something like  “away.” That way, when you click on “Research,” all applications quit, Safari and Word open, and distracting websites such as Facebook melt away. Lindsay Welch (’11) head of student Tech Support, recommends using Concentrate for writing “a first draft of your essay…you can tell it to open your essay and quit all other applications, except for Microsoft Word.”

According to Pew Research Center, 73 percent of wired American teens use social networking sites.


Isolator is a no frill, easy-to-use, turnkey menu-bar application that hides all windows except for the one you’re using and turns the background black. In a survey of 59 Urban Students, 22.6 percent of students who use Isolator use it for writing essays.


Like Isolator, Think is a tool that lets you focus on one application at a time, while turning the background black, except that in Think, you can focus on one application, and you can adjust the transparency of the background with a sliding tool. That way, you can keep your awesome background in view, while dimming it to a level that won’t be distracting. Think is great for reading and taking notes. According to Sophie Bedecarré Ernst (’13), “I use both (Think or Isolator) for any type of writing assignment.”


WriteRoom is a cool and simple word processing program that provides an extremely basic workspace with only the essential functions for typing: A cursor. The program opens up in full screen to a black background and a green, blinking cursor. That’s it – No more, no less. Just straight up writing. Charlotte Blanc (’13), says, “I use WriteRoom for Peer Ed writing,” so she can reflect deeply on her feelings without being distracted by other on-screen items.

Time Out:

It’s a long lab report on mitosis, and yes, you probably want to get it done as soon as possible, but it’s important to take breaks when using the computer for a long time. And that’s why we have Time Out. Time Out is a nifty application that allows you to set breaks for yourself – the micro break, which is about 30 seconds, is great for a quick stretch, or a “normal” break, for a designated amount of time perfect for a snack or a quick cup of coffee. This could be a great application to use in combination with WriteRoom on a long writing project.

In a New York Times article, kids 8-18 on average spend 7.5 hours a day with devices such as computers, smart phones, and televisions. Time out!