Hack the School Year

When your teen needs to buckle down, take a tip from the pros and use apps and plug-ins to keep them on task. By Christine Elgersma
Hack the School Year

Multitasking, distractions, procrastination -- these aren't problems only adults have in a digital world. Kids have to fight to stay focused, too, especially when the task at hand is homework and IMs, texts, games, and whatever's going on outside the window keeps them from making progress. When business folks need to speed through boring stuff like reports, taxes, and paperwork, they install productivity tools. If your teens have trouble concentrating, use these apps and plug-ins to fight their objections.

For the teen who says, "But I barely waste any time!"

RescueTime. Before you start shutting things down, get a sense of what’s up. Designed to improve work-life balance, this plug-in tracks how much time you spend on certain sites, generates reports about productivity, and lets you set limits to either totally block sites or allow a set time for certain activities. No one can argue with the hard data.

For the teen who says, "I feel so overwhelmed!"

Dayboard: New Tab and Site Blocker. As kids move through high school, their schedules and schoolwork get more demanding. Dayboard is a plug-in that can be helpful for anyone who needs a simple, visual reminder of what they need to do. Just enter a total of five tasks and you'll see them every time you open a tab on your internet browser. That means whenever you launch Google Chrome, for example, to search for outfit ideas when you're supposed to be researching the Vietnam War, you'll see your list. For teens who are still distracted, there's also a site blocker to help keep them focused.

For the teen who says, "I just want to check Instagram really fast … "

Work Mode. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg would be where he is today if he checked his Instagram every five minutes? OK, bad example. But for kids whose Achilles' heel is social media, Work Mode might be a real gift. It blocks all your feeds, so you can't hop on and off to see what your friends are doing.

For the teen who says, "One device just isn’t enough."

Freedom. This tool works across devices, so if your teen loves to jump from computer to phone to tablet, it might be the one to try. You can restrict specific apps and sites, block the internet entirely for dedicated homework time, and schedule internet sessions that end at a predetermined time.

For the teen who says, "But what's in it for me?"

Forest: Stay focused, be present. Unlike other site blockers, Forest offers a virtual reward for staying focused. As you work, a digital tree grows, and at the end of your session, you can add the tree to your collection. If you click out of the app, however, bye-bye tree. You can see how often you stay on task just by looking at your virtual forest. As an extra incentive, you earn coins that you can use to buy different types of virtual trees or donate to an organization that plants real trees.

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About Christine Elgersma

Christine Elgersma works on learning and social media app reviews and parent talks as Senior Editor, Parent Education. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped cultivate and create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app and... Read more

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