Oct 31, 2014
Computers hae a way of helping and hindering us. Today I talk
about 6 Apps for Mac and PC's that put you back in the driver
Jocelyn Glei of 99u.com shares her thoughts on focus for
A recent happiness Study from
Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that the more our
minds wander, the less happy we are. Summing the research, the New
York Times wrote,
“Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading
or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the
activity instead of thinking about something else.” In short, being
mentally “present” and focused on the task at hand really does
matter – quite a lot, in fact.
f only finding focus were so simple. With a tidal wave of
information coming at us daily, focus is rapidly becoming the
scarcest commodity of the 21st century. With this in mind, I’ve
rounded up a handful of the best apps for fighting back against the
constant distractions of our digital lives.
1. Self-Control – Block out distracting websites for
a set amount of time.
If you find yourself slipping into a Twitter sinkhole when you
should be updating your business plan, Self-Control may be the app
you need. Set it for 4 hours, for instance, and your browser will
behave as if it’s offline for that period of time. No amount of
browser restarts or computer reboots will stop it. Before you have
heart palpitations, know that you can whitelist or blacklist
certain sites. So, rather than completely disabling the entire
Internet, you can selectively decide which sites are OK, or not OK,
to visit during your focus period. For Macs only. PC users can
try Freedom, a
2. TrackTime – Audit how you’re spending your
time on your computer.
This good-looking app tracks everything you do on your computer,
spitting back out a sort of “attention audit.” How much time are
you spending in Firefox? How many hours a day in your email client?
What are listening to on iTunes? If you let TrackTime run in the
background, it builds these patterns into a lovely rainbow-colored
timeline of your online life. Its most effective use is as a sort
of wake-up call: If your daily timeline shows you shifting
between apps and tasks every 2 minutes or less, you know there’s a
problem. For Macs
3. Concentrate – Maximize focus while shifting
between different tasks.
Concentrate is great for shifting between tasks that require
different mindsets. I have a variety of recurring tasks that
require different tools: 1) Writing, 2) Social Media Management, 3)
Event Planning. Concentrate lets me configure a different set of
tools for each task. When I activate “Writing,” the app
automatically closes my email client and Internet Browser; blocks
me from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube; launches Microsoft Word;
and sets my instant messaging status to “away”. Then, when I want
to concentrate on “Social Media Management,” I can customize a
completely different set of actions to happen relevant to that
activity. There’s also a handy “concentration”
timer. For Macs
Velocity – Centralize and sync all of your scattered
If you’re anything like me, one primarily challenge for focusing is
getting all your notes in one place. Before Notational Velocity, I
would write some notes on paper, some on text files on my desktop,
some on my iPhone notes app when on the go. Notational Velocity
organizes all of your notes on your desktop in a centralized,
searchable location and syncs with Simplenote or WriteRoom on your iPhone. This seems like a
little thing, but it really makes life so much easier. (More nerdy
details here.) For Macs only.
5. FocusBooster – Focus on single tasks for 25
This app is based on the principles of the Pomodoro
Technique, a time management system that challenges you to
focus on a single task for 25 minutes and then give yourself a
5-minute break. Combining the features of a to-do list and a
time-management coach, FocusBooster allows you to list out your
daily tasks, and then it tracks your time as you work through them.
When 25 minutes are up, an alarm sounds and you get a break. It’s
an easy way to practice expanding your attention span without going
overboard. For Macs and
6. Think – Limit your attention to a single
application at a time.
This is an extremely simple app that’s akin to “Spaces” on a Mac.
When activated, Think allows you to bring just one application into
the foreground on your computer, while everything else is hidden
underneath a nearly opaque backdrop. While you can easily shift
between other applications when you need to, it creates a clean
space for focusing on the task at hand. (It also works well in
tandem with FocusBooster.) For Macs only.
7. FocusWriter – Create a distraction-free
environment for writing.
If writing is something that you do on a regular basis, it’s
incredibly useful to have an easy way to create a distraction-free
setting. FocusWriter re-creates a word processor-like environment,
blocking out absolutely everything on your screen except for the
words you type on a simple grey background – all menus (date,
timer, dock, etc) are tucked away until rollover. Despite its
pristine appearance, FocusWriter does have the usual rich text
editor features, such as spellcheck and word count. Plus a few
bonuses like a daily writing goal (word count or writing time) and
very gratifying typewriter sounds for each
keystroke. For Macs and
8. Anti-Social – Block the social websites that are
killing your focus.
Anti-Social is like a light version of full-scale
Internet-blocker Freedom. Rather than
blocking the Internet in its entirety, Anti-Social automatically
blocks all of the known timesinks for a set period of time. Sites
that are off-limits include Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Digg,
Reddit, YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo, and all standard web email programs.
It’s not that different from Self-Control (see above), except that
it comes pre-equipped with a blacklist (which you can add to, of
course). If you can’t handle your Internet abstinence, you can turn
Anti-Social off by rebooting your computer. For Macs and PCs.
9. StayFocusd – Curb the time you spend
browsing time-wasting sites.
This extension, for users of Google’s Chrome browser, works in the
reverse manner to Anti-Social or Self-Control. Rather than setting
a period of time for which you CANNOT use the Internet, it allows
you to set a period of time to indulge in time-wasting sites. Only
want to give yourself 60 minutes a day for Twitter, vanity
Googling, and updating your Netflix queue? This is your app. Rather
like when you were a kid and only allowed to watch 2 hours of TV a
day. For Firefox users, LeechBlock performs a similar
function. For Macs and
Out – Take regular breaks to keep your focus sharp.
For optimal focus, we need to take regular time-outs to relax and
rebuild our energy. Time Out is a super-simple application that
runs in the background while you work. At set intervals (say, every
90 minutes), it fades in and gently reminds you to take a 5-10
minute break. You can also use it to remind you to take 1-minute
“micro-breaks” to avoid eye strain from staring at your computer
like a zombie for hours on end. For Macs only.