Multitasking, single-tasking or, now, 'simultasking'. It seems like 'tasking' changes with the seasons, just like fashion. But behind the buzzwords, there lies a simple truth: we all need to get stuff done, overcome distraction and motivate ourselves. It can be tricky.
To help, here are ten tools to stay focused:
1. Now Do This
This is an extremely simplified to-do list, aimed at helping you focus day by day. Now Do This lets you enter your list of to-do's for the day and it proceeds to bring them up one at a time with a big 'Done' button. Press it and it shows you the next task until you reach the satisfying 'All Done' ending.
2. Concentration Timer
You can set this tool for a range of intervals and time periods. Concentration Timer times your work and chimes every few minutes to remind you to stay focused: it's good if you're finding your mind wandering as it limits just how far it can go. Works for meditation too!
3. Self Control (Mac) or Freedom
These both work on the same principle: you know that the task that you have to do will take you a set amount of time and you do not need the internet. Self-Control and Freedom allow you to self-block the internet for that period. Freedom will let you have access if you reboot, Self Control is a little stricter - if you set it, you stick to it. Sometimes, that's what it takes to stay focused.
4. Track Time (Mac) or Rescue Time
These provide motivation through shame. Whilst Rescue Time does allow you to block sites with its paid version, the main idea behind these tools is to force you to face the reality of how much you are being distracted. Both Rescue Time and Track Time monitor what windows you have open or are active and what sites you visit. Then, they provide you with a graph detailing your day, week, month etc. Careful though, they can be an addictive time-waster in themselves!
5. Write Room (Mac) or Dark Room (PC)
6. Focus Me (PC) or Concentrate (Mac)
One step beyond your basic internet-blocking tools, Focus Me or Concentrate allow you to create specific types of task and set controls for allowed sites, apps or programs. For example, for writing you might only allow Word, but for budgets you allow email, Google and a calculator.
7. Digg Deeper
The internet is often so distracting because it has genuinely interesting things to say and share. Digg Deeper gathers together the most shared and talked about stories from your friends on Twitter and Facebook and emails you the top five. A way to filter and focus.
Nudgemail lets you postpone dealing with emails until they are relevant to the task at hand. For example, forward a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and that email will come back to you on that date. You can also email yourself in the same way with reminders or include Nudgemail with other recipients so that you get a ping back to remind you to check for responses.
Simple but effective. Flowformer is a chrome extension that lets you focus on just one thing you want to do, or specifically not do, during a 24-hour period. Helpful for maintaining a one-track mind.
Nothing to download or click here. Just the cold, hard reality that if you don't get it done, you don't get paid. Clients will help by imposing deadlines, but managing your own time by giving projects context and ordering them by priority will provide a sense of urgency, without having to panic. You may find this the most effective of all.
[Note: this blog post was originally published in February 2013 but has been updated in December 2018]