Having full access to the stock market and many of the world’s largest retailers in your pocket all day can be a dangerous temptation — especially for those of us with impulse control disorders. It can be easy to make a purchase or trade a stock without giving it much thought.
Fortunately, the technology that enabled this problem can also fix it. And you don’t need the investing equivalent of ChatGPT — you just need somebody to tell you “no.”
Productivity apps originally designed with the intent of helping users disengage with addictive social media are increasingly being used in similar ways for purchasing decisions.
For instance, “Opal says roughly 5% of its 100,000 active users rely on the app to help spend less time on finance apps, and 22% use it to block shopping apps such as Amazon.com,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
How apps can stop risky investments and impulse buys
Thanks to smartphones, we can buy whatever we want, whenever we want, without anybody’s help or input.
By reintroducing what experts call “friction” to our phone usage, we can regain some control and learn to be more intentional about our behavior, whether it involves social media, gaming, investing or shopping apps.
“Social media is designed to keep you hooked to spend as much time as possible,” says the home page for One Sec, a productivity app supported by scientific research. Other apps and websites are designed to make you spend money instead.
Many of us no longer even need to pull out a credit card or fill out our address details. We’re just a few taps away from instant gratification, and sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.
A research paper published in 2021 found investors take more risks with trades on smartphones than elsewhere and are more likely to buy volatile “lottery-type” investments they see others buying into.
But having even a few seconds to rethink something that could be a costly mistake can make a big difference. Those moments give your rational brain enough time to catch up to your excited brain and hash out what actually makes sense.
Apps that can help
Here are a few popular apps that introduce delays or block you from accessing specified apps and websites on your phone, computer or both:
- One Sec (available for Apple, Android, various web browsers): This app can delay viewing social media and other apps or websites by 10 seconds each time, forcing you to assess whether you’re being intentional in your decision or just bored. There is a limited free version, with options for monthly, annual or lifetime subscriptions.
- Opal (Apple, Chrome): Opal blocks apps on your phone and computer and includes features such as customizable block lists, reminders, time limits and reports on your usage that detail focus improvement over time. There is a free version available as well as a pro plan with added features that costs $8.25 per month or $299 for a lifetime subscription.
- Freedom (Apple, Android, Chrome, Mac, PC): Freedom locks apps and websites according to a time limit or schedule you set, with customizable block lists. The cost ranges from $9 per month to $160 for a lifetime subscription.