We spoke with Fred Stutzman, Founder and CEO of Freedom, to discuss how his innovative application enables people to be more productive by managing digital distractions across multiple devices.
“Where did the time go?”
We’ve all experienced moments when it seems like time has simply vanished. It’s nothing new. Yet it seems like modern technology has compounded this feeling by allowing any person, app, and even your refrigerator to grab your attention away from whatever you’re doing at any time of day.
As an educator, your time is precious. That’s why we reached out to Fred Stutzman, founder and CEO of Freedom, a productivity application that blocks digital distractions across all your devices, to ask him how his research on privacy, behavioral economics, and productivity lead him to develop this innovative tool.
C4E: What was the driving force behind creating Freedom?
Fred: As a graduate student, I studied social media – and noticed just how much time we were spending on social media, and how distracting it was. When I was completing my thesis, I noticed I was not being as productive as I’d hoped, because I was spending time on social media. To get my productivity back, I started working from a coffee shop that didn’t have wifi – until one day they opened up a wifi access point. It was at that moment I decided to make some software that will help people fight back against distractions, and I went home and wrote the first version of Freedom that night.
C4E: How does Freedom work?
Fred: Our goal at Freedom is to block distractions on all your devices so you can work effectively. One of the main trends we see is that people have more devices – it’s not enough to just block distractions on the computer if you have a phone or tablet next to you. We want to make it incredibly easy to turn off the noise, so you can get your best work done.
C4E: How did you decide upon the layout and functionality of Freedom?
Fred: For the functionality, our goal was to develop an application that allowed us to block distractions on all devices – so we set out to accomplish that. Most of the features we’ve added since have been driven by our customers. Our customers are very vocal and have so many good ideas on how to be more productive, so we try to listen and implement them. As for the layout, we worked with a UI designer who came up with the look and feel for the apps, our website – he’s pretty amazing!
C4E: How did your academic research influence the development of Freedom?
Fred: On many levels! From my study of social media, to some time I spent working with a behavioral economist, I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about the space and apply it to our products. In addition, finishing a dissertation has some analogues to starting up a company. You’ve got limited time and resources, but you’ve got to get it done! Having been through a dissertation definitely helped me tackle the challenges of starting the company.
C4E: What have been your most memorable experiences/customer feedback after releasing Freedom?
Fred: We’ve had so many memorable stories! Customers who have finished their books, screenplays, compositions, and projects of all sorts. We can’t name names, but chances are you’ve read a book, or seen a movie or TV show that was produced with Freedom. We love knowing that we’ve built something that is having a positive impact on people’s lives.
C4E: Who was your most influential mentors?
Fred: My graduate school advisor, Gary Marchionini. Gary is the rare combination of a field-leading intellect and a great teacher and mentor. He’s shaped so much about how I think about information and solving information problems.
C4E: What do you think are biggest challenges for society with respect to our relationship with technology?
Fred: There are so many, but the major problem I see is that our values are not aligned. A major reason we purchase technology is to complete work and accomplish our goals. And to do work on a modern computer or device is like trying to do your homework with the television on. We’re not valuing these important use cases and people are suffering as a result. I think we need to step back and design for people, not clicks or eyeballs.
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C4E: Outside of the using Freedom, what are some ways you reduce distractions from mobile devices.
Fred: My best piece of advice – sleep with your phone out of reach! You don’t have to sleep with your phone in another room, or across the room. Just make it hard enough so you can’t check it through the night, and that putting the phone away for the night is final. Sleep is absolutely essential and making this one change can help tremendously. Try it for three days, you’ll be amazed.