As the usage of technological devices like smartphones and PCs increases, so do studies about the negative impact of overusing technology. Nowadays, several tools for monitoring and controlling device usage and achieving “digital wellbeing” exist as off-the-shelf products. These Digital Self-Control Tools (DSCTs) allow users to track their smartphone and/or PC usage and to define interventions, e.g., timers and lock-out mechanisms, to self- regulate their behavior with digital devices. Despite these tools are currently used by millions of users, several studies highlighted the need of moving beyond simple lock-out mechanisms, by demonstrating that existing DSCTs tools are often not effective.

The aim of this thesis is to explore a novel DSCT that promotes a more conscious use of technology by leveraging the intersection of two existing theories, i.e., time blocking and behavioral activation:

  • in the productivity domain, time blocking is the practice of planning out every moment of your day in advance and dedicating specific time “blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities;
  • behavioral activation is instead a therapeutic intervention that is often used to treat depression. People are asked to plan pleasant daily activities and reflect on their progress, e.g., through feedback and reward-based mechanisms.

The tool will preferably be specialized for knowledge or office workers, e.g., through an integration with the calendar application on the PC/smartphone. As an example, the tool could:

  • allow the user to “plan” her working activities of the day/week;
  • allow the user to specify how/whether she plan to use her devices in the planned activities;
  • allow the user to associate one or more interventions, e.g., a timer on her smartphone, to their planned activities;
  • allow the user to reflect on how she completed her planned activities by providing daily statistics and feedback.

The following steps are planned:

  1. Literature Review. The aim of this step is to gain an overview on the strategies adopted by existing DSCTs, as well as to investigate whether prior DSCTs have already exploited some concepts that can be related to time blocking and behavioral activation.
  2. Design. The aim of this phase is to define the specific strategies adopted by the DSCT, e.g., the modalities with which the user can plan her activities, the devices involved in the process, and the type of interventions that can be associated to a given activity.
  3. Implementation. The aim of this step is to implement the strategies defined in Step 2. The tool will involve the smartphone (e.g., through an Android app) and/or the PC (e.g., through a Google Chrome extension or an integration with Google Calendar).
  4. Evaluation. The aim of this step is to evaluate the usability and efficacy of the developed DSCT with users, either in the lab or in-the-wild.


Eleonora Zonno

Thesis Details

Luigi De Russis, Alberto Monge Roffarello
Master Degree in Computer Engineering