Need to focus? Here’s a toolbox full of resources that will help you do it successfully.
Distractions are infinitely easier to deal with if you remove them in advance. I highly recommend using a distraction blocker to do so, especially if your work requires using an internet-connected computer.
- Freedom (affiliate link) – this is the distraction blocker that I use personally. It blocks websites and apps on my computer perfectly. I can either start a timed focus session (my go-to) or set up pre-scheduled blocks during each day. I also recommend their Pause extension, which forces you to wait a few seconds before accessing a distracting website (even if you’re not running a block session on Freedom).
- Cold Turkey – another full-featured website and distraction blocker.
- SelfControl – free, Mac OS-only
- FocalFilter – free, Windows-only.
Your brain will resist a task less when you commit to working for a specific, doable amount of time. A focus timer can help with this. In addition to tracking the time you’re working, it also provides you with an external commitment device. Compared to simply committing to “working for 25 minutes” mentally, using a timer is much more effective at keeping you on task. Here are a few tools you can use for this purpose.
- Be Focused – the timer app I typically use these days. It lives in my Mac toolbar, and it doesn’t require my phone or the internet. This lets me disconnect the internet if needed, and to keep my phone in another room while I’m working.
- Tomato Timer – free, online focus timer.
- Tide – my favorite mobile focus timer app. Also helps with meditation and sleep, and includes lots of ambient soundscapes. There’s also a Chrome extension.
Music and Sounds for Focused Work
Sometimes I work in silence; for instance, I don’t listen to anything when I read in the mornings. At other times, however, I like to listen to something while I work. This is especially true if I’m in a noisy environment – in which case I’ll also be using my noise-cancelling headphones (here’s a cheaper alternative – both affiliate links). Here are a few resources for finding great work music and sounds.
- Sunday Study – my Spotify playlist, chock-full of carefully chosen tracks for focused work. Also available on Apple Music.
- The Ultimate Study Music Playlist – the YouTube version of my study playlist
- Brain.fm (affiliate link) – music specifically designed for focused work. I’m listening to one of their Focus mixes as I type this.
- Ambient-Mixer – tons of user-created ambient mixes, such as Ravenclaw Common Room.
- Noisli – a tool that lets you build your own mixes of ambient sounds. Also includes a built-in focus timer and a distraction-free text editor.
Accountability and Commitment Devices
Many people – myself include – work more diligently when there’s a bit of accountability involved. I’m a huge proponent of accountability: I have a lifting coach (through Barbell Logic) who makes sure I do my workouts, and I even have money on the line to ensure I publish YouTube videos on time. If you find that you’re unable to work to your full potential through sheer self-discipline, give one of these tools a try.
- Beeminder – a “hard” commitment device, meaning there’s an actual consequence for failure. Beeminder tracks your goals in multiple ways, and with lots of integrations – including Zapier and IFTTT, which enable basically anything to be tracked. If you fail them, you get charged real money. Each failure ups the amount of money you’ll lose.
- stickK – works in a similar way to Beeminder, but it’s a bit less driven by hard data and app integrations. However, it does offer additional forms of accountability; when you set up a goal, you can set someone as your coach. Once done, that person will get email updates about your progress – or lack thereof.
- Habitica – one of my habit trackers you’ll find out here in these wild interwebs. This one is my favorite, as it turns habit tracking into a video game. You can even party up with other players and go on quests. When you’re on a quest, failing to do your habits will cause not only you to take damage, but your party members as well.
Work With Me
Here’s a playlist of “Study with Me” videos. If you’re currently isolated, but enjoy the feeling of working alongside someone else, you may find these helpful. They’re exactly what they sound like; in each one, I sit down and work for a specific amount of time, while a timer counts down on the screen.
Work with Others
Finally here’s one more tool for working with others, even if you’re physically isolated.
- FocusMate – pairs you up with another person so you can get work done together. This is a purpose-built tool that replicates the “work calls” that my friend Alex and I used to do, where we’d hop on Skype and simply do our work without talking much. The simple knowledge that the other person on the line was also working created some useful accountability.
General Focus Tips
Here are a few quick tips, which come from my many years of research and experimentation with productivity:
- Set a strong intention before you sit down to work. I recommend starting your day by writing out a small number (no more than three) of meaningful tasks you intend to accomplish.
- Put your phone in another room, and turn on Do Not Disturb. Seriously.
- If you catch yourself in a distraction loop, use a timer to get back to work. Setting an actual timer is very, very helpful.
- Take care of as many potential distractions as you can in advance. It’s infinitely easier to deal with distractions before they actually start tempting you.
There aren’t more resources here. Stop indulging in productivity porn and get to work.