You sit down at your computer, ready to tackle your day. And then it happens.
A notification pops up – you’ve got three new emails. Before you can open them, there’s an instant message on the bottom of your screen.
Then you hear your phone ping and think, “Is that the sound of a calendar reminder or just a reply on my social media post? I’d better check before I start working…” And so it goes.
In today’s notification-obsessed world, it’s harder than ever to focus. Distractions like these can really add up.
Not only do you lose time reacting, but it also takes time to refocus. In fact, according to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being interrupted.
Fortunately, technology doesn’t always have to be a distraction– it can also be a tool to help you focus. We’ve gathered 10 of the best mindfulness-based tools that put the power back in your hands.
These technologies will help you focus by blocking interruptions, removing distractions, getting you in the zone, and reminding you to take short breaks for better productivity. Ready to have a more mindful work day?
Let’s take a look!
Tools to Block Interruptions
Our culture often feels the need to respond to everything the moment it arrives, but it’s really not necessary.
Tools like these allow you to pause the continuous stream of information for a period of time, so you can concentrate without interruption. You decide when to check emails, texts, and instant messages– not the person sending them to you.
If you feel anxious about not checking emails immediately, you can set up an auto-responder to let people know when you check messages and how they can reach you in case of an emergency.
Inbox Pause is part of an email productivity tool called Boomerang, which is available through Google, Outlook, and iPhone. They have a free plan that includes the inbox pause feature.
Regardless of whether you use Windows or a Mac, you can pause notifications on your computer. Microsoft calls it Focus Assist in Windows 10 (known as Quiet Hours in earlier versions).
On your mac, it’s called Do Not Disturb. These tools work for desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. Take time to get familiar with the options, rather than letting the default setting disrupt your day.
Just like the tools above, you can pause notifications on your phone, both Android and iPhone. Many of us are juggling multiple devices – you may have a laptop open, the phone next to you, and tablet across the room.
Make sure you check out all the do not disturb settings available. Otherwise, you might find yourself reacting to whatever technology is making a noise!
Tools to Avoid Procrastination
We’ve all fallen into that black hole of social media. Whether you love reading about the latest Game of Thrones episode, watching cat videos, or commenting on politics, we’ve all been there.
Two of these tools let you limit access to certain websites or apps for periods of time. The third tool is geared toward writers who want a distraction-free interface to avoid any temptation to stray from their work.
Freedom is a website and app blocker. This tool has some great customization features to make it work for you. You can block only certain sites, the entire internet, or everything except the sites you need.
Freedom also allows you to schedule your blocks in advance – you can even save frequently used blocks so you don’t have to set it up every time. Think you can be sneaky and check your phone to access a blocked site? Freedom can sync blocks across all of your devices.
They offer a seven-day free trial. After that, you can pay $6.99 per month, $29 per year or $129 for lifetime access.
FocusMe offers a similar service to Freedom. Like Freedom, you can block specified websites and apps using a scheduler or as needed.
However, it doesn’t sync across devices (yet). It works with Mac, Windows, and Android – iOS is coming soon.
FocusMe has some additional features like break reminders and a built-in Pomodoro timer.
This is a popular productivity technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. FocusMe is a nice all-in-one tool if you’re trying to be more mindful and productive.
At the moment, their Android version is free. For Mac and Windows, it’s $6.99 per month, $30 per year, or $119.99 for lifetime access.
FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free writing environment. No icons, no toolbars, no notifications – nothing to take away from your writing.
To access additional features of FocusWriter, you can move your mouse to the edges of the screen. Then you can use spell check, choose a theme, set up timers or alarms, and even assign writing goals.
This program is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X for a voluntary donation.
Tools to Help You Get in the Zone
Although the jury is still out on the connection between music and focus, many people report that music (and certain sounds in general) enhance their focus.
These tools offer two ways to use music for greater concentration.
Focus@Will is a unique music streaming service. They offer specially curated and produced music tracks designed to improve your focus.
They claim, “Scientists have discovered that depending on your personality type, there is a specific type of music that when engineered just right, puts your brain into a flow state making you hyperfocused and exponentially more productive.”
Based on their research, they assign types of music based on a questionnaire you answer when signing up. However, you can listen to any of the music in their collections. Focus@Will offers a two-week trial, then it’s $89.95 per year.
For some people, music can be distracting in and of itself. You might prefer a little background noise instead.
Noisli is a site that allows you to create your own set of background sounds by combining clips from rain, water, wind, and more.
As one user says, “Perfect for working to — enough background noise to help me concentrate but not distracting enough to prevent me from being able to read or write. I love being able to layer the sounds and change the volume simultaneously as well!”
Noisli is available for $1.99 on Google Play and the App Store. It’s also free on the Chrome Web Store.
Tools that Remind You to Take a Break
We’ve talked a lot about staying focused on your work, but taking short breaks is also important to maintain overall productivity.
Instead of mindlessly taking a social media break, try these two tools to pause, take a deep breath, and recenter yourself.
Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is brilliantly simple. It displays a countdown timer for two minutes on top of a peaceful nature scene. If you move your mouse or touch the keyboard, it will start again. Available for free on any browser.
Time Out promotes a similar idea – that you need to pause throughout the day. However, it has more features.
The default settings offer a “Normal” break (typically for 10 minutes every hour) and a “Micro” break (a brief pause of typically 15 seconds every 15 minutes). This helps you remember not to tense up too much for long periods. You can change or remove either kind of break, or add new ones.
Available on the App Store for free or you can make a donation.
You don’t have to be a victim of constant interruptions.
We expect to see many more mindfulness-based tools enter the marketplace in the coming years.
Are there any others you’ve found that help you reduce distractions and improve your focus? Let us know in the comments!