Asssitive Technology for a Focused, Fantastic 2016!


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

Have you ever reflected back on your day and thought “Wow, I was so busy today I didn’t get anything done?”  After struggling through the later parts of 2015, feeling almost chronically fatigued, I decided to really think about how this happens, and try to address things differently in 2016.  I made of list as things that seemed to impede my productivity, which included an irregular eating/sleeping schedule, becoming distracted by smaller work tasks like emails and phone calls, and oftentimes, overwhelmed feelings about work tasks that induced anxiety and affected my concentration.

Eating and Sleeping Schedule

The Amazon Echo, a tall black cylindrical device with a lighted ring sensor near the topI found a helpful tool in the Amazon Echo, almost by accident.  It is very useful that the Echo enables you to set timers and alarms by voice so easily.  I merely said “Alexa (also responds to Amazon), set an alarm for 8:00am” and it was done!  No, fumbling around with buttons, making sure it’s AM not PM, radio or buzzer.  The Echo was placed on my dresser where I couldn’t reflexively hit snooze.  The next morning I was awoken by a very loud sound (this can be adjusted).  While Alexa also responds to “Alexa, turn off the alarm” by voice, she can’t quite make out my startled morning garble.  That means that the alarm sounds just long enough to wake me up enough to form coherent sentences.  Just enough to make sure I don’t fall back asleep.  I also use the Echo’s ability to find and play music requests by voice helpful in falling asleep.  Saying, “Alexa, play a relaxation podcast” typically puts on music that is perfect for sleeping.

I’ve been using the Echo’s timers to remind me to start preparing for bedtime or mealtimes so I can get into a routine.  In addition the Echo can make to-do lists and grocery shopping lists by voice.  Telling the Echo to add to the shopping list as I think of things we need has helped with meal planning.

The other assistive technology that has seemed to help with waking and sleep is the light box I received for Christmas.  During the winter months I experience Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Using it for 20 minutes first thing in the morning seems uplift my mood and to help me get going more quickly.


Did you know it can take up to 25 minutes to get back on track from a single distraction?   No wonder I felt like I worked all day and never accomplished anything!  I A sketch drawing of a heaping inboxstarted recognizing that I had a habit of checking my email inbox every time a new message came in, or dropping everything when the phone rang.  I decided to designate specific times during my workday for emails and phone calls, and because my inbox itself feels overwhelming (almost 7000 messages – and yes, my next step is to designate time to clean it out), I started with unsubscribing from email lists that
were unimportant.  The app made this process quick and easy.  I gave the app permission to access my email and it produced a list of all my email subscriptions.  There were lists I didn’t even know I was on!  Then, I had the option of unsubscribing, saving (keep receiving the emails) or rollup.  The rollup option maintains your subscription to the emails, but combines them into a daily digest so that you receive just one email a day.  In addition, I installed the free Cold Turkey software which blocks sites (i.e. email, social media) that can be tempting distractions when focusing on a task.

A man with hands to his ears, trying to block out noiseI know that listening to background sounds (not music because I keep changing songs) with over the ear headphones really helps me block out distractions and noise around me.  I found the Noisli website to be just what I needed.  Noisli has 16 background sounds that you can play in combination with each other.  You can choose presets for relaxation, productivity, or random or create your own ambiance.  I like creating my own sounds – combining rain, a train and a fireplace.  I try to imagine I’m on a train working on a laptop, next to a fireplace, on a long ride in the rain.  There are other websites and apps that create this effect, such as SimplyNoise and the ZenDesk Buddha Wall Machine.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Cutting out distractions, and maintaining a good schedule has done a lot to relieve to overwhelming feelings and anxiety I tend to have toward large or complex work tasks.  Yet, the tasks are still large and complex.  I began researching how to break tasks down into more manageable “chunks” and came across the Pomodoro Technique.  Essentially, the Pomodoro Technique involves working in 25 minute intervals, with a 5 minute break between each session and a longer break after four 25-minute work sessions.  The Focus Booster app (also a website) combines the Pomodoro Technique with a timer and time tracking abilities.  To begin, I set up a “timesheet” where I enter the task I’m working on, what time I started, and how long I worked on the task.  I then start the timer that alerts me when I’ve completed a 25 minute session and when my 5 minute break is over.  I find that 25 minutes goes by surprisingly fast, and I accomplish more in those 25 minutes than I expect.  Focus Booster also has an additional setting to add in your hourly wage, which then shows you how much you’ve earned across all of your timesheets that day.  This is certainly a motivator!  During the break times I stretch and rest my eyes which allows me to work longer and avoid headaches and neck and shoulder tension.

I’m using assistive technology to help me become more focused and productive in 2016, but AT is available to help with almost any goal.  For more examples, check out our webinar on AT to Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?  Are you using assistive technology to help you meet your goals?








One thought on “Asssitive Technology for a Focused, Fantastic 2016!

  1. Aimee Sterk

    This is great Laura! I feel like you did the work for me in tracking down things that will help and trying them out and giving examples! I’m going to try some of these myself.


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