A lot of things vie for our attention these days. For example, I was just captivated (for far too many minutes) by this GIF of a cat surprised by a cucumber.
Thank goodness there are apps out there that will help me track my time, focus my attention, and block out all distractions. I figure if I share them with you, maybe I can shame myself into using them more often.
This one’s desktop-only, but comes in Mac, Windows, and Linux flavors. You can block any website you choose, meaning you won’t go down that digital rabbit hole. I’ve used SelfControl, and it’s good. You set the amount of time you want to force yourself to focus, tell it which sites you don’t want to be able to open (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, and Gmail are my usual defaults), and you’re done.
Even if you reboot your computer or delete the application, you can’t open those sites (I’ve tried). Did I mention it’s free? Because it is.
One of my biggest problems I face is keeping track of how much time I’m working on any one project. As a freelancer, this can be a big issue when it comes time to submit hours for a project. Toggl enables me to track different clients and projects from a website, desktop app, or mobile app. It’s extremely easy to set up, and you literally just have to click a button to start or stop the clock.
Most individuals can get by with the free version, which even allows teams of up to five members. Larger plans with additional reporting options start at $5 per user per month.
Some of us have gotten so used to getting work done in cafés that the soft murmur of people talking, the clinking of spoons on ceramic mugs, the whirr of the espresso machine, and the clunk of the door closing have become our working soundtrack. If that’s you, you’ll love Coffitivity, which will give you that experience wherever you are. You can even layer your own music over the coffee shop sounds if you want.
Also a free app—the web version offers a few extra café options for $9 per year. (I wasn’t going to mention it, but I’m using the app right now to get this article done. True story.)
If you have always meant to start a meditation practice and just never found the time, Calm aims to help. I’m not going to say you can necessarily become a regular and deep meditator by using an app, but if there is one that can get you there, this is probably it. The app offers “7 days of calm”—a 10-minute per day program to build mindfulness. The web-based app offers various scenes and an accompanying soundtrack (“Plains of Wheat,” with the sound of wind blowing through the stalks, or “Pouring Rain,” with the sound of pouring rain, for example). The mobile app offers these, along with guided meditation for whatever length of time you select.
I got really wrapped up in the “Passing Clouds” scene and music earlier today, which is what helped me get the first half of this piece done. It’s free, but has lots of meditation plans you can purchase if you get really into it.
If you’re spending too much time on your mobile device, but can’t seem to break yourself of the habit, Offtime might help. The app tracks how much time you’re spending on your smartphone. You set a maximum number of minutes you want to be able to use your device over the course of a day, as well as the maximum number of minutes per session. Then the app tells you when you’re using it too much. Self-shaming is surprisingly effective.
Free on Android and $2.99 on iOS.