The L&L Blog  /  Scrivener

Three Apps that Eliminate Distractions

Rebeca turns to three applications to help her keep focused.

For several months I’ve been distracted*. As much as I love to write, it’s become a chore. Each time I sit down to write an article, chapter, or blog post some distraction in stealth mode creeps in, and whispers in my ear, “Wouldn’t you rather watch Netflix? Or maybe check and see how many people read your last post on Medium, you know that one that took you three days to write because I offered so many enticing distractions.” 

Sometimes I think that as I get older that maybe I’m just tired and burned out. Getting the words down on paper is becoming harder and harder, but I manage to get plenty of words out on social media, I write in a journal at least 500 words per day, and I answer questions on the support queue. In the final analysis, it isn’t fatigue or burn out—it’s simply the noise of the Internet and social media that keeps my productivity at bay.

So I finally decided to do something different to keep me writing and avoid the digital rabbits holes: I reviewed all the apps I had in my arsenal that help with productivity and block out distractions. Of the numerous applications I have, I selected three: Scrivener, Tomato (more on that), and Self-Control (also more on that). 

I never found Scrivener’s interface of binder, editor, and open Inspector distracting, but of late the entire interface appears too busy. The primary distraction has been the tiny progress bar at the editor’s footer indicating whether I reached my word count. I hear the question chiming in my head “Am I there yet? Am I there yet?” Or “Okay, just another 300 words to go and then you’re done.” 

Knowing that I often glance down at that progress bar, I decided to write in Composition mode. Now here’s the thing: I never write in Composition mode in part because I’m always having to check previous chapters or refer often to my research notes. However, in this case,  I needed a distraction-free screen, and composition mode provides the option to blackout the screen with the exception of the editor. 

Composition Mode

If you’ve never used Composition mode in Scrivener. It’s simple to activate. On the far right on the toolbar, next to the Inspector icon you’ll see this:


When you hover over it with your cursor you’ll see, “Enter full screen composition mode.” Another option is to go to View-Enter Composition Mode. Once you’re in composition mode, Your screen should look like this:  

When you enable the the composition control strip—by moving your cursor the bottom of the screen until it slides up—you'll see  there are several tools that allow you to adjust the scale of the text, the position of the paper, its width, and other features like the inspector and key words. At the far right, there’s the background fade feature where you can modify how dark or light you want the background. 

What if you want no distractions, but you'd like a pretty scene or an inspiring muse? I selected a charming scenic neighborhood in the small village of Valldemosa located on the island of Mallorca. You can add an image by going to Project->Project Settings. A window will slide open; on the left click on Background Images. The pane on the right will give the options to keep it as is, add an image, or use an image from a project. This is what mine looks like after I changed the position of the paper: 



Now that’s all very nice, but you can still hit the “Esc” key or click on the icon to the far right of “Paper Fade” and mosey along to check social media or Netflix, you might think. True, but I have a nifty app that's free; it's called SelfControl, which allows me to blacklist all social media platforms including YouTube, but also news websites, email and other digital distractions. I simply indicate how much time I want to block and, unless I turn off the laptop, I’m locked out from any virtual water cooler.  



Tomato is similar to the Pomodoro method; you write for 25 minutes, and when that time is up you get a five-minute break. In this version, you can add a word goal. I set mine for a conservative 300 words. 

In the past, Tomato never worked for me. I had the same issue as the progress bar, I kept glancing to see how much time I had left. I spent more time checking the timer and less time writing. However, much to my surprise, for a recent article I wrote I used Tomato, composition mode, Self-Control,  and after 25 minutes I had written 400 words. In fact, when it was time to break, I didn’t want to stop. 

The good thing about Tomato is that it’s hidden in the background when it’s in the 25 minute mode. A small screen pops open to remind you that you're entering a five minute break. After that time is up, a dialogue box opens asking if you want to set the timer or add another five minutes. There are two versions of Tomato—Tomato One: Free Focus Time and Tomato 2: Pomodoro Time, which has a few additions like dark mode, a silent mode so you won’t be interrupted, as well the mentioned extra five minutes in case you don’t want to take a break. 

Using all three apps helped. The question, though, is whether I simply had a lot to say and perhaps that was the reason I had such a good writing sprint. The true test will be writing an article about how honey affects triglycerides, plus having to refer to several medical websites on my other monitor, and not get lured by the siren call of other sites. Will I need to blacklist more sites to avoid the noise of the Internet or will I continue to have this substantial boost in productivity? In any case, my writing practice for that day was a success using these three apps. 

*This post was written before self-isolation. Given the circumstances, focusing may be harder than usual. 


Eric Beaty

Eric Beaty  /  06 APRIL 2020

Great tips, all of these. I like using an app on my Mac for taking breaks called Time Out. It's free for the basic features, which are all you need. You can even "snooze" the break for an extra 5 or 10 minutes or skip the break altogether—which could easily lead to burnout or more distractions if you're not careful.


jd  /  07 APRIL 2020

Good tips, thanks! I use Rescuetime, which gives me a lot of data about how I am using my time, and let's me classify apps, websites, etc as time-wasting or productive; it also has a focus mode where it disallows viewing anything classified as distracting.
I have also, since Covid19, started an online writing group, mainly for peer focus-assist :)
We meet for daily Pomodoro-style sessions consisting of multiple rounds of 25 minutes of work then a 5-minute break. .
We are currently meeting 10am-2pm Eastern US time, M-F.
You are welcome to drop by occasionally or commit to daily; work for the whole time or join for just an hour or so.

We meet on Discord (invitation: )
There are text prompts for timing, and a parallel channel to chat about work, etc. It is very simple, and remarkably effective.

Anyone in the Scrivener community is welcome! (btw, Scrivener shows up as a "game" in Discord - so you can use that service to share screens, etc with fellow writers).


rabbittroop  /  27 APRIL 2020

Great tips! I just downloaded Self-Control, thanks to this post, and I really like it. Nice to have a don't-block-everything out of the box setting, instead of the sometimes over the top blocking that makes you not want to use it. I've stuck in the few websites I know I waste time on and will distract me away from work, and I can really see using this to focus when needed, and still have access to websites that are actually helpful while working.

Good stuff.


Waiting  /  29 APRIL 2020

What is your current date for Windows Scrivner 3.0? But just so you know, I too have writers block often and I understand it. Take care my friend.


Brad  /  15 MAY 2020

I love the idea of the Self-Control app. Lord knows I need it. Do you know if there's a similar program for Windows?


RS  /  19 MAY 2020

Sorry for the late responses, but to answer your questions....

Regarding the Windows release, please be a tiny bit more patient—I know, but we want this to be a great experience for everyone so we're still fine-tuning everything.

Self-Control is a Mac app, but if you use Google Chrome or Firefox on your Windows PC, they have extensions that you download to block those pesky distractions.


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