5 Apps to Keep You Focused When Working From Home or at the Office

application icons fly off the tablet computer in hand

Most of us work online. Either we actually work online, or we’re online while we work. And increasingly our various online presences merge together; your scheduling, email, and productivity might all be supplied by Google, or a rival service that offers similar functionality. The urge to open a new tab and check Twitter? Not so easy to resist. Click a link in the article you’re reading for research, and soon you’re ‘researching’ the Norwegian metal scene or salmon recipes or… is any of this your job? And that’s without the things that drop into your email inbox every few minutes, not exactly demanding your attention, but definitely giving you an opportunity to take it off your work.

Fortunately, the very same trends that gave us all these distracting apps gave us apps to help ourselves keep focused and stay on track. Here are five of the best.

1: StayFocusd

StayFocussd is a Chrome extension that basically polices your internet usage. You define a set of ‘blocked’ sites, and it will restrict your usage of them to a daily number of minutes. Go over your minutes and you won’t be able to access the site until the next day, or when the active period is over. You can set the active period yourself and of course if you’re really determined you could just open a different browser. But while the app is running, accessing blocked sites is hard. You have to type a passage of text without a single error, something that’s almost certainly less immediately rewarding that whatever you’re supposed to be doing. StayFocusd also comes with a ‘Nuclear Option’ that blocks all but a list of ‘allowed’ sites altogether, for those on a tight deadline.

Price: Free

Alternative: Self Control for Study (Android)

2: Strict Workflow

Another Chrome extension, Strict Workflow lets you concentrate on work for a certain amount of time then offers you a timed reward in the form of access to the distracting, fascinating rest of the internet. Then it cuts you off and forces you back to the grindstone. It does it by blocking access to a set of websites during ‘work time,’ then unblocking them for set periods, and then blocking them again when break time is over.

Price: Free

Alternative: 30/30 (Mac) – super task manager!

3: SimpleTimer

One for the FireFox fans, SimpleTimer sounds pretty simple. It is. It’s also a timer. See what they did there? SimpleTimer lets you set up recurring timed periods. That’s all it does. But if you make the timed periods relatively short you can utilize it to remain focused and allow yourself short breaks. Start with 15-minute work periods – the longest most of us can work before being distracted – and then gradually extend them once you can reliably go the full 15 without Facebook cravings.

Price: Free

Alternative: FocusBooster (Mac, Windows, Web)

4: OmmWriter

If you’re a freelance writer and you use a Mac, Ommwriter is aimed at you. It’s a Mac OS app that helps you avoid distractions. Here’s how it works: It’s a text editor, so you can work, but all you can change is font and size, so you can’t do anything else. (I know you guys: displacement activity is practically your job description. Ahem – our job description.) The text floats on top of a serene picture that you can preselect to suit your writing mood, and there are some ambient music-ish sounds to choose from too. When you’re done you can save your work as a .txt file or copy it and drop it into any other app.

Price: The company website says, ‘OmmWriter Dana II has no set price. We let you decide, based on what you got out of OmmWriter. As a result, we propose a minimum price of $ 5.11.’

Alternative: WriteMonkey (Windows)

5: Isolator

Isolator works by blocking parts of your computer’s desktop. It will automatically launch the apps you need, while blocking and visually obscuring those you don’t. It obscures the background, hides apps, and can even be set to launch as soon as you log in so being ‘Isolated’ is your work computer’s default mode. Isolator is open-source and Mac-based.

Price: Open Source: It’s free!

Alternative: LeDimmer (Windows)

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