Distraction and lack of focus is far from a new problem, but the persistence – and insistence – of our digital world makes it harder than ever to stay totally focused on one thing, especially at work.
Here at FaxNgo, we’re all about improving your working life through the power of technology, so here’s our pick of the apps and software that will make distraction a thing of the past and help you focus better at work.
Focus better in short bursts with Simple Pomodoro
For such a straightforward concept the Pomodoro Technique has gained a huge and evangelical following.
But its simplicity is what makes it beautiful: You work on a task for 25 minutes without distraction, take a 5 minute break to stretch your legs or grab a coffee, then back to work for another 25 minutes. Once you’ve completed four work intervals you take a longer break. That’s it.
To get started, all you really need is a stopwatch or kitchen timer, but when there’s a free app as functional and well-designed as Simple Pomodoro it seems silly not to use it.
As soon as you open the app, you can tap on the screen to start the timer and jump into your first work interval. But there’s also some nice extra touches. It tracks your record so you know how well you’re doing, and you can set customized lengths for work intervals, short breaks and long breaks to fit your preferences.
I love the Pomodoro Technique because it provides a framework for focus that makes it easy to put distractions to one side for a short, defined period. Want to reply to that text or suddenly remembered an email that needs a response? No problem, the next break is only minutes away, it can wait until then. And once you start to string together several good sessions without distraction you feel motivated to keep that streak going.
Marinara Timer (Web) is a free browser-based timer with customizable work intervals for different types of task.
Focus Time (iOS) is elegantly designed and presents simple graphs to track your work week-by-week.
Frame Your Focus Better With Todoist
There are many great reasons to keep a daily to-do-list but if you have trouble focusing at work it might surprise you how much difference they can make.
We have two main aims here. The most important is to remove the distraction of uncertainty. It’s much easier to focus on a task when you don’t have that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten to do something more important. Secondly, the satisfaction that comes from completing a day’s tasks can’t be underestimated, it will breed good habits.
There are several great to-do-list apps, but I really like Todoist for its combination of clean design, smart functionality and multi-platform availability (just like FaxNgo).
Despite the minimalist interface, Todoist is really powerful. You can set up multiple lists for different projects, set time or location-based reminders, add sub-tasks, and share lists with colleagues. The best part is the seamless syncing between devices. I make do with the phone and web app, but there’s no reason you couldn’t have Todoist on every gadget you own.
Sure, you could just go with pen and paper if that’s your thing, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of great functionality and besides, it’s time to join the paperless revolution.
Just remember: to get the most benefit from keeping a to-do-list you must keep your daily tasks manageable. There’s nothing worse than starting the day with a list of tasks you can’t possibly hope to finish. Try to stick to around 5 tasks for a day and divide large multi-day tasks into digestible chunks.
Wunderlist is the equal of Todoist in almost every way. I just prefer the look and feel of the latter.
Hold Yourself To Account With Rescue Time
If you’ve ever had to submit a daily report to a demanding manager you’ll already know what a great aid accountability can be for getting tasks done.
RescueTime operates on a similar principle. It works in the background logging your every online and offline activity throughout the day and presents detailed real-time graphs and reports that make it impossible to lie to yourself about how productive you’ve been.
You can see how long you’ve spent on specific websites and programs (all of which can be labeled on a scale from ‘very distracting’ to ‘very productive’) and the graph showing hour-by-hour activity makes it easy to see where the trouble spots lie.
After using it for one month I was shocked at how small distractions during my day added up to significant lost time. I also learned which times of day my focus is at its worst, which allowed me to tailor my schedule to place less intensive tasks during those hours.
Prevent Your Focus From Wandering With Freedom
Still having trouble focusing? It’s time to go for the nuclear option!
Seriously, Freedom is like a big red button you press to kill all distraction dead.
You open the application (it’s compatible with Windows and Mac), tell it how long you want to work for and it kills your internet connection (and local network too if you wish).
The only way to get back online is to reboot your computer. The hassle and the wait required just to waste time on Twitter makes this a surprisingly effective way to stay on track.
It can be a problem if you need to use the internet for research but I get around it by combining this with the Pomodoro technique. I’ll allow myself one or two work intervals to do research online and take notes, then kill my internet connection with Freedom for subsequent work intervals.
Focus Lock is like Freedom for Android phones, but with more fine-grained control over which apps you’d like to allow to run.
Anti-social is from the same developers as Freedom but allows you to only block common timewasters such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Focus Better By Postponing Distractions With Pocket
I love to read. Worse still for my productivity, what I really love are highly detailed 9,000-word posts on content strategy and juicy New Yorker articles that go on for days.
If you’re like me and you find it hard to resist a really enticing headline then Pocket is a godsend.
Create an account and add the extension to your browser of choice and you’re ready to go. Now, every time you come across an irresistible article or blog post you simply click on the pocket extension and save the article for later.
The web and mobile apps sync automatically and do a great job of packaging all your reading material in an appealing way. Images and intros for all of your saved articles are laid out in a chronological grid and articles themselves are cleanly formatted to suit your device. Pocket makes it a pleasure to browse all that sweet, sweet reading material on your commute home, freeing your mind to focus better while at work.
Instapaper is a little more configurable than Pocket but it’s a paid app and doesn’t have as many features.
So, these are our choices for the best apps to boost your focus and prevent distraction from ruining your productivity. Have you got any favorites we missed? Maybe you strongly disagree with our recommendations. Either way, let us know in the comments below.