Wearable Focus Aids for the Easily Distractable

Wearable Focus Aids for the Easily Distractable

I have been very distracted lately. There’s a lot going on with personal and client projects, and I’ve had to be very flexible with my scheduling. Because of this, I find myself task-switching more often than I like, which means reloading my brain with another context and skill set. Jumping between writing code, doing design strategy, and visual design is (for me) enormously taxing. For example, I forget how to have a normal conversation after I’ve been coding for a while and talk like a malfunctioning robot. Likewise, moving from the more visual/social activities into programming demands that I retreat into a little box, which I don’t like doing. Household chores are another drag.

Index Card Nagger I’m at the point now that my brain is in full rebellion, and is eagerly jumping at anything that looks like a fun distraction. It got so bad on Saturday that I actually wrote down that I was going to do LAUNDRY on an index card, complete with a step-by-step list, and then used an old badge lanyard to wear around my neck. Everytime distraction threatened me, I would look at the card yoked below my neck. It looks ridiculous, but I can pretend I’m at a Laundry Conference, and it actually did help me muddle through my laundry task list. Yay!

Index Card ScabbardBecause I like ridiculous ideas, I do like the concept of wearing your tasks. I once made an Index Card Scabbard out of an archery arm protector and a pen protector sheath. It’s one of those love/hate things; a hardy few proclaimed their support, while others posted funny remarks on Lifehacker, along the lines of, “I’m not as dysfunctional as THAT idiot”. That said, perhaps it is time to bring it back. I certain could use it. In fact, there are a number of options available out there.

Recently, reader Jesse’ forwarded me some links to a “tactical arm board” and similar products used by pilots, as he had been using them himself and wanted to let me know what he’d found:

  • Tactical Arm Boards are used by military personnel in the field, holding maps and other such things. They’re similar to the football wrist coaches, except built for heavy-duty use. There’s one that folds out into a map, but this Mayflower Arm Board seems to fit the bill with both external and internal compartments. The football wrist coaches are cheaper, but they also look flimsy.
  • Pilots use knee boards and armboards too. Jesse’ forwarded this link to a pilot writing armboard which is essentially a notepad on your wrist. It looks gigantic, but if you’re writing down stuff while flying, I guess this is what you want.

  • While surfing for good web links, I stumbled upon this WristWriter, the so-called “toolbelt for the wrist”. It’s a scrolling paper wristpad, using waterproof Rite in the Rain paper. I’m going to have to order one just to have in my collection.


p>The lanyard approach, if it’s not uncouth to toot my own idea, is less extreme-looking than any of these products (though I still want them all!). I may go find a nice piece of wood laminate and cut a slot in it to serve as a surface for sticky notes so I can wear them around my neck. For extra stealth, I could make it look like an actual security badge on the outside that flips open somehow at the press of a finger to show you your to-do list. Or, I can just use thick index card stock and a slot punch. The important part to me, though, is the step-by-step list that accompanies the to-do task list. Might not be a bad thing to do; reader ChewLH mentioned another aviation-themed product idea to me a few months ago that might work well with it, but it’s not my idea to share.

As a concluding observation, there’s something very satisfying about wearable information aids. Wearing a watch, for example, has been very reassuring when I’m flying. I usually just use my cell phone to tell the time these days, but having a watch(especially one you like) gives you INSTANT TIME OF DAY. That little bit of assurance helps keep me from freaking out when I wonder what time it is, for the 100th time, as I’m waiting to board. To-Do lists have something of the same power, but when they’re not easily accessible they lose their immediacy and directness; this is one issue that smartphones and PDAs have, as the to-do list takes a few taps to pull up usually, and in the process you may get distracted by something else you see.

There may be something more intimate–and therefore stirring more commitment–about wearing your task list. Unfortunately this conflicts with looking organized; wearing your list around your neck makes you a target for ridicule if you’re not a pilot, football coach, astronaut, or squad leader. Those watch-shaped Post-It pads are a step in the right direction, but this will be a tough one to crack.


  1. Roger 12 years ago

    Try a google search on wrist slate. These are sets of plastic boards that scuba divers use to make notes and communicate underwater. Real useful for photography addicts. Use a pencil and then erase as needed. The units have 2 or 3 panels that fold back on bungee cord, so you have pages/ability to prioritize.

    Pretty robust too, and of course rainproof, without all that paper expense. Might even work with dry erase pens, but I have not tried.

  2. Avrum 12 years ago

    I admire your efforts to cobble together creative and practical accountability tools. Unfortunately I don’t have the self-discipline (or don’t care to invest the time/energy) to stick with any system/tool beyond the honeymoon phase (3 -4 days). Working for myself, I need accountability that looks, acts and emotionally feels like a supervisor/manager. To that end, I’ve hired a biz coach (who works with therapists) to serve as a mentor, manager, & accountability partner.

    Have you heard of Action Days – http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com/end-procrastination-with-action-days.aspx

    I think they serve a similar purpose that coaching offers, minus the high fee.

  3. Shanna Mann 12 years ago

    I tend to write on my hand when I really need to remember something. People seem to view this with the same distaste as biting your nails, and I really don’t understand why. It’s more discrete than an arm board (although I love your id badge idea) and you can’t leave home without it!

  4. Mike Fried 12 years ago


    This hits close to home.

    Around the time I read your wrist scabbard post years ago I started using a conference badge holder that was close, in design, to a travel document/passport holder on a lanyard. It has room for pens, glasses and blank 3×5 cards.

    It does the job, but like with Avrum’s experience it is sometimes hard to stick with these things.

    • Avrum 12 years ago

      Mike –

      There’s a concept in marriage/family therapy that we learn to love/parent from our family or origin, in one of two ways:

      1. as an unconscious repetition i.e. feeling –> doing the same way our parents did
      2. choose to do the exact opposite with the hope of getting a different result.

      My hunch is that work – the way we work – is probably similar to the above. If so, we each need to fine our own way. This might be why so few are able to replicate the motivation and/or working methods of Seth Godin, David Allen, David Seah, etc. On the upside, this is good for productivity software and blogs

  5. Andy Wall 12 years ago

    Dave, Again I bow to your creativity dude. Reminds me of some of the more off the wall hipster pda hacks from when I first started getting into this kind of stuff. What about some sort of heads up display device ?

  6. adelbert 12 years ago

    I admire by how you find a way to organize your task and not end up getting lost, very resourceful and nice ideas, this is a good way of ending procrastination, well done!

    Zero Dramas

  7. Gary Constantine 12 years ago

    Hey, Dave,

    Here is a potential “convergence” product idea in the making, and since you are into goal surrounding “making things”, let me briefly expand on that.

    When we last met a few weeks back we talked about this “list on a lanyard”, which was or has been used as a really effective ADHD tool by many over the years. Given the degree of so-called “multitasking” (which I’ll borrow even though there is no such thing really as multitasking), or rather having to consider working on a 100 different strategic and tactical executions daily across multiple “centers of excellence” in Dave Inc, my suggestion is to consider constructing or at least some ideation sketching around this concept:

    Consider either the Jimi wallet you love, or the Flip wallet in your “gear” blog, as the basis for a design that amps up this list-on-a-lanyard, basically with a hole in this case to suspend the lanyard, make it reachable, perhaps with a retractable lanyard so you can extend it out or with a quick disconnect as needed to put it on a table, to appear less dorky, or geeky, or that you have some kind of mental disorder.

    Better yet, simply copy the apple aesthetic design language of white and brushed silver (which is not patented), and everyone would want one, because now its cool, and for under $30 its an easy buy even if someone uses it for month and then sits it perpetually on a shelf. Total start up costs, models, prototypes, injection mold design/fab, minimum run qty of 2K pieces: $10K invested, profit margin of 40%, nets you $24K for the first 2K pieces. Line up a few distributors, a few gifty “uncommongoods.com”, sites, and you’ll be placing subequent order for 2K, 5K+ in 9-18 months thereafter.

    You want to take it one step further? Pair it up with a Iphone or Androd app and this awesome mini printer.

    Sell these cases in tandem, under collaboration with Berg as an add on accessory, design the “to-do” software as perhaps a “lite” version of your ETP pads, and have the printer timed, wirelessly to print your list automatically each am, stuff it into your “flip-to-do” case, and after lunch your printer automatically prints from the cube for the afternoon to-do’s.

    Its a starting point to just hammer and hammer out until all the psychographic and user demographics and proper design language is fully worked out, but hell, its alot of fun, and maybe we team up??????

    This is how it starts, not just considering making something complete, but instead to add value to perhaps what exists, or is emerging, and in the end it not only benefits people with perhaps varying levels of disorders, but any of us struggling to find enough hours in the day to get things done!!!

  8. Author
    Dave Seah 12 years ago

    Hey Gary!

    Yes, that mini-printer is awesome! I’ve so far been unable to snag an early peek at it :)

    The idea is very exciting, but I don’t have 10K to invest. I’m hoping to get to that point with the printed goods, which has an investment level of about 1/10th of manufacturing; I’m seeing similar margins and ramp-up times here, which gives me a confidence I didn’t have before!

    I think it would be cool to outline it all and collaborate in that fashion. I suppose it might come down to design intrigue and the ability to execute, two areas that I think I flip-flop on, but perhaps that’s part of the learning curve.

  9. Gary Constantine 12 years ago

    Yes Dave, we have much to talk about.

    The mini printer is indeed awesome, I envision all kinds of applications for something so easily mobile.

    Keep in mind though, today you, me, or anyone doesn’t actually need to have $10K personally to invest. Funding is the easy part actually, for example, you can trial balloon any idea and working model on kickstarter.com, flesh out the concept, identify the rollout strategy, and ask for $20K+ if need be. The way to substantiate if any product idea has legs is measured by who contributes $, and if you don’t make the goal, the project simply is cancelled.

    So, all we’re talking now about really is product ideation and strategy, and the perservation and perspiration to converge ideas and skillsets to create one product at a time, learn from it, then rinse and repeat.

    As I’ve commented before, you can spend hours on kickstarter, on core77, and even get frustrated by the simple and often completely ignorant success of those achieving their product goals as seen on the shark tank TV show. The thing is though… the world is quickly recognizing these on-ramps are out there. The time is now, before there are oceans of ideas flooding these sites making it that much harder for the mini-investor to just find you, or us, as the case may be, if we aren’t able to fund ourselves, or through VCs. Its always been the case that “he who gets there first wins”, or at least in the beginning to parse out your part of the winnings, soon as possible.

    As you know, I leave space within my “collaboration bubble”, in addition to my other bubbles which range across all of my interests, since as you know the magic happens outside of the comfort zone, and when I find or discover people with their certain magic (like you have), to me its only a matter of time when opportunities converge, that is if we’re paying attention to that. So the collaboration bubble always receives 10% of my time, and thats a ton of fun for me to work along with other talent, and it energizes me often more than other bubbles!

    Looking forward to hammering out some ideas with you! Gary

  10. Shelley 12 years ago

    Several marvelous ideas, perfect, by the way for busy moms schlepping around and managing umpteen things!