Android Apps for ADD (and Others too)


Editor’s Note: We’re excited to welcome Ed Harris to our Tech Talk team this week. Ed’s a Catholic dad who has a love of tech you’re sure to appreciate. Enjoy! -SR

Although I had no idea up until about a year ago, I’ve had ADD my entire life. Even though I hold a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology, I didn’t really understand what that (“ADD”) meant. I grew up convinced that I was a lazy scumbag, and it was a massive relief to find out it was simply a case of correcting some minor chemical imbalances.


Recently, as an avid follower of the subreddit for ADHD, I was kind of surprised to see a post entitled: My shrink keeps telling me I should get rid of my iPhone. Is this a common suggestion?

My provider would hate for me to get rid of my faithful Android, and probably not just because I’d never make it to appointments. Thus, this came as a bit of a shock, more so because there were two distinct camps on the subject, both well-supported and numerous.

Probably because I am the primarily inattentive type, the ability for me to immediately take action of things and to set up a complex safety net of reminders is indispensable. Google Apps do a pretty good job of keeping track of simple to mid-complexity information, whereas third-party apps like Pocket help me to manage my personal time more effectively, allowing me the distinct pleasure of getting as much or more than a “normal person” could reasonably expect from themselves.

Let’s look at some of this stuff in detail.

Google Now

With the update to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google Now popped up to provide some of the functionality that users got from Apple’s Siri. No one is going to accuse Google of developing the app for any reason other than that.

However, Now takes a slightly different approach. For one, it uses data that it gathers from various sources, including your Google Maps searches, Google Search queries, and location data. This allows Google to do things like tell you what the weather will be like when your flight lands in Pittsburgh, or send you a little push notification if you need to leave early for work because of an accident on your usual route. Additionally, you can use voice commands to make calls, send text messages or emails, play music from your library, look up movie times, or even set time and/or location-based reminders (my personal favorite).

This may sound like it’s just a little toy to play with for users who spring for the latest phones, asking it to open the pod bay doors and such (try that with Siri sometime, she’s more fun to joke around with). For a person with ADHD, though, it presents a nearly indispensable tool for quickly accessing information that you would likely forget about, or at least neglect to take action on, because of cat pictures on reddit.

I use Google Now constantly. The major feature that I use is voice input for location-based reminders. If I’m driving home from somewhere and I realize that I’ve forgotten to make a phone call, I can grab my phone from the center console, swipe up on the home key, and say, “Google, remind me to call so-and-so when I get home.” My trusty Galaxy Nexus responds “Setting Reminder,” and I can either tap an icon to set it immediately, or wait for the ten second timer to run out and let it set the reminder automatically without me having to take my eyes off the road.

It’s also nice that I can dial calls and send texts using the same voice input, letting me do these things while I’m driving instead of having to remember to do them once I get where I’m going.

I also use it to navigate to the locations of my appointments if I’m somewhere that I don’t know the best route to take. A reminder goes off 15 minutes before I need to be in the car, heading to my destination, and says, “Time to leave for x appointment,” and gives me a button to hit to open the GPS navigation app. The fact that it factors in current traffic and weather decisions in the timing of this reminder also keeps me from showing up late, one of my major weaknesses as a person with ADD, and a significant boundary to functioning like a “normal.”

Many people have reservations about allowing their computers or devices to communicate with the mothership, squirreling away information about their behavior in order to ultimately sell trend data to advertisers and target ads seen in the periphery of your day-to-day web browsing. At the end of the day, though, that data is anonymized before it’s packed up and sold to third parties and in exchange you get features like pre-fetched GPS navigation data for your commute into work in the morning, or a scoreboard for that game that you checked the score of earlier.

Google Keep

Note-taking apps have long been a staple of app stores, since the days of Blackberry App World, there has always been someone trying to formulate the best digital bulletin board for the user to cover in Post-It notes. Google took matters into its own hands with Keep, a major addition to the Android 4.2 update. While it’s available for devices running 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher via the Play Store, it comes as a default app on any phone running Jelly Bean now.

Basically it works exactly how a bulletin board and a stack of Post-Its do. When the app is opened the user is presented with a tiled panel of squares containing whatever notes you entered. It doesn’t use categories, notebooks, folders, smart lists, or any other kind of additional feature that even the best third-party apps feel the need to pile on. The result is a chronological record of scribbled notes, to-do lists, pictures, and short voice recordings that others would require the user to navigate a folder tree to access.

This is great for me, I have to write things down. I always say, “If I write it down, I’ll remember without having to look at the note. If I don’t, I will forget.” So, for me, having to open Evernote, make a new file, enter a title, type my note, and tell it where to save it is nothing short of insurmountable. I like to think that it’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because of the whole attention thing. If I’ve got to tear myself away from a task like writing this post for 60 to 90 seconds just to write down the title of an unrelated article that I ran across, I’m just not going to do it, I want to stay on track because it’s honestly just not that easy for me.

As an added bonus, Keep syncs across devices nearly instantaneously. If I jot down a grocery list on my tablet, then lock my screen, pull out my phone to let my wife review it while I grab my jacket, the list is already there when I hand my phone to her. It’s not exactly the app’s party piece, but it’s a nice touch.

The one place that Keep falls down is its ability to save web pages in order to refer back to them later. Whereas apps like Pocket (formerly Read It Later), Readability, and Instapaper will save the actual content of a page for later review, even offline, Keep will only save the URL and a thumbnail of the page, so you can remember what it was that you were looking at and navigate back to the page. That’s where Pocket comes in.


Keep is great for jotting things down, but sometimes I want to file a webpage or article away so I can actually read it when I have time. I’d love to be able to stop and read a news article that gets shared on my Facebook feed every time one piques my interest, but generally I’m checking my Facebook in waiting rooms or tending to certain digestive functions during which we like to pretend we don’t *always* use our phones to check Facebook (btw, it’s really not healthy to do that, so we should all cut it out).

A quick tap of the share button and a subsequent tap of the “Add to Pocket” button that lives in the first spot on the share menu (the A in “Add to…” puts it ahead of everything instead of relegating it to a spot between Pinterest and Reddit) and BLAMMO, I can get back to it when I have time, which is usually about once a week.

This is good for me because it lets my brain work the way it wants to. I can be scanning the web for input whenever I’ve got a moment I’d otherwise spend staring into space, but I don’t have to get sidetracked by it and let that kind of thing interfere with my daily functions.

This actually gives me a leg up on non-ADD types, because I can confidently say that I take in more news, media, social content, and useless information than the average bear, and with a little bit of app support, I manage not to let it get in the way of functioning day-to-day.

How about you?

This is a short list. I tried to include the most valuable apps I use that directly benefit me as a person with ADD. There are literally hundreds of thousands of other productivity tools available for Android users, and each person is different, so what works for me might not be the best tool for someone else. Not to mention the fact that I left out fun tips like how to use Dropbox and Moon+ reader to sync your reading position in ebooks acquired freely and legally from Project Gutenberg (stay tuned).

If you have a favorite app or workflow that saves you time and keeps you on task, share it in the comments. People without ADD can also benefit from little productivity bumps that make their lives run smoother. So, if you’ve got one, let us know: we could probably use the help.

Read more of our Tech Talk columns.

Copyright 2013 Ed Harris


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  1. I don’t know how soon I’ll get a smartphone (I give it two years, tops), and I’m not exactly a fan of having one, AND I don’t know that I have actual ADD (more like culturally influence ADD), but…well, you have me pretty convinced to try these.

    And that graphic? PRICELESS!

    Great first piece, Ed, and welcome to CM! 🙂

  2. I have an Android smartphone (personal) AND an iPhone 4S (work) (with no siri). I don’t think I have ADD, but I do love the Google Now features. It’s handy when traveling — if you’ve received your flight itinerary in your email, it will track your flights for you. It’s hand for everyday — it tells me if there’s a delay in my (even in my mostly rural!) commute. I also use Evernote to keep lists, notes, and misc. info — it syncs to all my devices and I can save something at work and access it later at home.

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