It’s a wild and exciting world out there — and by out there, we mean on here, the internet, home to pictures, posts, tweets, threads, videos, gifs, memes, and even some useful information. It is fantastic — a wonderland of exploration, entertainment, and… distraction.
Yes, we know that you too wander down Wikipedia rabbit holes and fall victim to the infinite scroll. The digital world is great in many ways but is a nightmare for focus. And it’s no surprise, notifications are designed to grab your attention, and apps are made to retain it. In fact, recent research, as well as testimony from big-tech insiders, all points to apps being designed to be literally addictive.
So don’t worry, it’s not really your fault that you can’t focus on your work, and what’s more, you don’t have to go it alone! There are friends to help you along the way: focus apps!
What Is a Focus App?
In simple terms, focus apps help you to concentrate on what’s important, they cut down the distractions that normally stop you from getting through your task list and help you to be as productive as you can.
Good focus apps should:
Keep anything unimportant out of sight and out of mind.
Schedule when tasks, to-dos, and information are delivered to you
Reduce context switching
How Do Focus Apps’ Features Improve Productivity?
We know that focus apps are designed to keep you concentrated, but how exactly do the tools and features we’re looking at help keep the distractions at bay?
Automated Information Flows
It’s easy to lose focus when there is a constant flow of new information — which at the end of the day, is precisely what the internet is. So, a good focus app will reduce, or at least redirect, this flow to deliver important information to you and leave everything else at the door.
Millions of bits of information are sent to the brain every second, but the conscious human mind can process only 50 — it’s vital that you cut any unnecessary information from your mind and workflow.
The Right Thing at the Right Time
In addition to only delivering the important information, good focus apps will also allow you to decide when that information is delivered. The last thing you want is to be in flow and have the “ping” of a notification break your focus.
(The “when” of information delivery may seem like a small affair, but there is a reason that email marketers spend about 90% of their lives figuring out exactly the best time to send an email.
Banish Context Switching
Good focus apps combine and consolidate the tools you need to get work done to minimize the number of apps you need to switch between. Switching tools means switching focus, which can seriously impact your productivity.
Research has shown that once you’re distracted, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus in what is known as context switching. Losing almost half an hour every time you need to open a new tool could mean hours of productivity lost in a day. Your brain, like a computer, can only process and switch between a limited number of tasks — don’t make switching tools something it needs to think about.
What Are the Best Focus Apps?
Now we know what to look for and why, it’s time to dive into the best focus apps that you can use today.
1. Spike — the all-in-one productivity app
Spike email client is a comprehensive productivity app that combines all the tools you need to stay focused at work into a single, intuitive app. At its core, Spike is based around email — where the average professional spends almost a third of their time already — but makes it work for you, rather than the other way around.
First, Spike’s innovative Priority Inbox separates out the essential messages from everything else, delivering only what you need so you can stay focused on what’s important. It cuts through the clutter that normally distracts you from being actually productive.
What’s more, Spike also offers Tasks and To-Do Lists right within your inbox, so you can schedule what to focus on and when. These tasks can be set to pop up exactly when you need them, so you only have the most relevant info and to-dos, saving you from distraction and keeping you focused. This isn’t only for tasks, however, with Spike offering the ability to snooze any incoming email until a later time or date, so you can focus on the right thing at the right time.
Importantly, Spike doesn’t only offer the tools to stay focused, but also the foundation for it by combining everything in a single package. This cuts down on context switching since you don’t need to swap between a bunch of apps. You can think less about how you’re going to get something down, and more about what you’re doing.
2. Forest — the app that turns focus into floral
Distraction equals deforestation with this inventive focus app designed to keep you away from your phone and focused on work. When you want to focus with Forest, you open the app and plant a digital seed. While you focus on your work, your tree will grow. However, being distracted by your phone— using other apps and generally not focusing — will lead to a withered and dead tree.
The more you use it, and the more you focus, the bigger your forest becomes. What’s more, Forest has partnered up with the tree-planting organization Trees for the Future, so you can also help to get real trees planted — that’s a win-win.
3. Toggl — an all-around timer to track focus
Toggl helps you stay focused by keeping track of what’s being done and when. It is a comprehensive time tracking app that allows you to break down how you spent your time by task, project, client, and more. It also includes reporting features so you can see where you’ve spent time — and where you’ve wasted it.
This is a great option for people looking for focus apps to help them figure out exactly when they are most productive in order to build a schedule of deep work, surface tasks, and breaks.
4. Session — small blocks on a big calendar
Session is another timer-based app for improving focus techniques at its core — breaking down your day into 25-minute blocks of focused time, cut together with breaks. In addition to the timer, Session also includes a focus planner, which acts like a calendar for laying out a plan of tasks.
As with other focus apps, Session blocks notifications from other applications, meaning no distractions during your focus periods, however, this is currently only available on Macs. The blocking doesn’t stop there, with Session encouraging you to block any websites that you know personally affects your ability to focus.
5. Serene — keeping focus in three steps
Another macOS app, Serene, tries to give you back your focus at work in three stages. Firstly, the app asks you to define one goal a day and then break your day down into individual sessions to achieve it. Then, when you’re working in one of these focus sessions, Serene blocks distracting apps and websites as well as silencing your phone and even controlling IoT devices that could distract you.
Finally, serene offers what it calls “focus enhancers,” such as focus music, countdown timers, and break notifications so you can stay on track. Serene does a great job of combining some of the most important features of focus apps into a single, easy-to-use package.
6. Cold Turkey – blocking out distractions
As the name suggests, Cold Turkey cuts you off completely from those addictive apps and websites that normally eat up all your time. What sets it apart from other distraction blockers is how hard they’ve made it to bypass as well as the scope of what can be blocked — everything from individual pages to the entire internet, as well as local files and apps.
These blocked-out sessions can be scheduled in advance using the Cold Turkey calendar for a more structured approach to your productivity. What’s more, they offer what they call the “Frozen Turkey”, a block on your entire computer to ensure you actually take a break from screen time, which in the end will allow you to better focus at work .
The Best Focus Apps for Getting on Track and Staying There
The digital world is a distracting place, with apps, websites, and more all vying for your attention. Staying concentrated is tough, but there are focus apps out there to help you — whether you’re looking for a simple timer or a comprehensive productivity platform like Spike. Cut through the clutter of the web and reclaim your time by getting focused and staying productive.
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