Office dwellers have always had to deal with distractions—from a ringing phone to a chatty colleague. But the digital devices have now filled our lives with texts, email notifications and the ever-present temptation of surfing the web. A brave few have enough willpower to ignore the buzzes and bleeps and get stuff done. For the rest of us, there are tool to boost concentration.
For desktop computer users, there’s SelfControl and Freedom, respectively available for Mac and PC. The apps let you block access to certain websites for an allotted period of time. They’re great tools for people who can’t help checking Twitter or Facebook, because no matter how many times you restart your browser—or reboot the entire computer—those sites won’t be accessible until the set time limit has elapsed.
SelfControl is free, while Freedom pricing starts at $2.42 (U.S.) a month. Freedom boasts more than 100,000 users, ranging from writers and software developers to researchers and executives.
For those who don’t want to entirely block contact with the outside world but who could use help concentrating, there are several apps that incorporate the Pomodoro Technique-a time-management method developed in the 1990s by productivity consultant Francesco Cirillo. The technique encourages users to work for 25 minutes, then take five-minute breaks in between.
Focus for Macs and FocusBooster for both Mac and PC encourage users toward those goals by letting them see how much time they have left before the next break. Focus helps out by displaying inspirational quotes, while FocusBooster double as a productivity tracker by aggregating usage data into handy graphs and pie charts.
Single-user Focus licenses are available for a one-time fee of $19 (U.S.), with discounts for multiple users. Brad Jasper, the app’s creator, says the app is currently geared toward individual users, but he is also working on new team-oriented features, to be released soon.
FocusBooster is free, with paid versions that include data-tracking features starting at $3 (U.S.) a month. Creator Alice Coleman is also working on a team view function that will display results for multiple employees. “The Pomodoro Technique and FocusBooster are very effective for individuals and their increased productivity will have an overall benefit on a company,” she says.
On the mobile side, both Android and Apple phones tout little-known do-not-disturb modes that can block all incoming communications or notifications. They’re better than simple silent or vibrate modes, since they completely eliminate potential interruptions, rather than simply making them less obtrusive. The features are also customizable, so that certain callers or alarms can be marked as “priority” and let through. They can also be programmed on a schedule so that they kick in at the same time each day – like when you get to the office.
These do-not-disturb modes can transport you back to a simpler time, when the only interruptions we had to worry about were our overly-talkative cubicle mates. Unfortunately, there’s no app to help with chatty colleagues—yet.
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