Ever since the stream crested, it’s been easy to fall into any one of a number of apps and forget yourself in time and space. These feeds offer up a little bit more dopamine for the small price of scrolling further. Much has been said about the problems caused by these apps—and how to deal with them.
The most dramatic advocates simply say “Delete the problem!” Shut down your accounts, remove apps from your devices, even block their websites. This is all well and good in theory, but the sad reality is that modern life is intertwined with these streams of content and updates. News, communities, and families are anchored to them. They’re also often the best place to find answers to nuanced questions. It’s unlikely that a major blog or news site has investigated the same concerns you have about your particular new stereo, your social issues, or your dog’s weird new habit. Yet there’s probably a community dedicated to that concern or somewhere on the internet, hosted on Reddit or Facebook—or you might find a relevant hashtag on Instagram or Twitter.
So many of us keep these apps around… and are guilty of opening them up when we don’t necessarily intend on it. If you’re like me, you do this several times a day, losing sense of time and space while you scroll for a few minutes. Eventually something will push you out of your stupor and you’ll quit the app, only to (1) feel guilty and/or (2) open a different stream of content.
If you’re using an iPhone or an iPad, there’s a simple automated solution for this. You can set up a Shortcuts automation to wait for a minute or two after you open the app, then exit out to the homescreen. No negotiation—your past self just kicks your present self back into reality.
The shortcut itself is actually incredibly simple.
It relies on a helper shortcut from @supermamon on RoutineHub. The Springboard—the actual name of the iOS home screen—is not typically available in the “Open Apps” list on Shortcuts. @supermamon must have built this Shortcut from raw XML in order to access it, but it works perfectly. Whenever you run the SpringBoard shortcut, it simply opens the “app” SpringBoard, which brings you to your device’s homescreen. This is silly as a standalone shortcut, but now we can use this in the
Run Shortcut action in other shortcuts to return to the homescreen.
With the SpringBoard shortcut, automating a bit of proactive personal responsibility is easy.
In Shortcuts, go to the Automation tab (the middle option on the bottom).
Then, create a new automation by tapping the plus symbol in the upper right. Choose
Create Personal Automation from the two options, then select the
Open App trigger from the list of options (it’s at the bottom, under the Settings category). Choose your villainous infinite-content stream.
Your automation will then run a single action when triggered:
Run Shortcut with the 📵 Distraction Deterrent shortcut.
The next time you open the app you selected for the automation, Shortcuts will begin counting down the seconds. You have about 110 seconds (according to the default configuration1). When that time is up, the 📵 Distraction Deterrent shortcut triggers the SpringBoard shortcut and automatically boots you out to the homescreen.
That’s it! Just don’t open the app again immediately after your past self has given you the opportunity to be responsible. 😉
Sadly you can’t have a timer run for much longer than this. The operating system shuts down background processes—even Shortcuts—after about two minutes. In my experimentation, I found 110 seconds to be about the maximum you can do in this particular implementation.↩︎