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10 apps to increase your focus

July 9th, 2010 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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Here is the promised list of productivity applications that aim to get you focussed during a writing session. It took a little longer than expected because I wanted to represent Windows users as well as I could (productivity tools seem to be a much healthier sub-culture on Macs for some reason). So behold a great list below of tools to focus for both Mac and Windows writers!

Pomodoro technique (Mac, Win)

The Pomodoro TechniqueThis is here because there are a couple if applications available to help you with the technique. Here is a quick rundown of what Pomodoro is:

  • It is a well recognised fact that us humans have difficulty concentrating on anything for more than 20-30 minutes. We suck at focussing. This technique aims to help with this.
  • It advocates you work in 25 minute chunks, each followed by a 5 minute break.
  • These 25 minutes must be disciplined, focused work, and the breaks genuine breaks.

The pomodoro website explains more (though really, what needs explaining?), and there is a downloadable PDF, too. And here is a Pomodoro app for Macs, which has more features than is strictly necessary, and is definitely worth a look.

Focus BoosterFocus booster is usually mentioned alongside the Pomodoro app. It allows you to set 25 minute intervals andshows a bar that counts down. Personally though, I don’t like clock watching and think it rather spoils the point if having an application to do it for you. But, it’s built on Adobe Air, so can be used on Windows or Mac.

Spirited away (Mac)

Spirited AwayI have recently started using this app at work, where I can have upwards of five programs open at once. If an open app is not used for a set interval it gets automatically hidden, removing clutter without you having to think about it. You can exclude programs from being hidden with an easy icon in your top bar. Simple and very effective.

MinimOther (Win)

The Windows equivalent of Spirited Away, MinimOther minimises every window save for the one that currently has focus. It does this immediately rather than on a timed basis, so as soon as one window is selected, the others are gone! I recommend using the tab key to move to any other windows you might need rather than fiddling with your mouse (ooh-er).

Think (Mac)

ThinkThink is well known in the Mac productivity community, and has a similar agenda to Spirited Away and MinimOther in that it aims to let you focus on only the applications you need and hide the others. Think’s approach is to darken the rest of the screen, leaving only one app highlighted. There are lots of options and you can bring other apps to the fore temporarily if you need to.

Ghoster (Win)

Does the same, but for windows. It blacks out everything else, including the taskbar, which on Windiws 7 is all shiny and flashy and animated and distracting!

Writeroom (Mac)

When all you want to do is write, having a load of other programs hanging around can be distracting. Even the operating systems menus and widgets and doodas can be distracting. Even the buttons and menus if the word processor are unnecessary clutter!

Writeroom gets rid of all of that by just displaying the text. All else fades neatly away until you move to another program or quit the application. The only feature is a very useful word count, which only appears when you mouse over the bottom of the screen. Writeroom doesn’t sound like it should be as useful as it is, but once you start using it, it soon feels necessary, then essential.

You might argue that for such a simple tool it’s rather expensive, and I would not disagree. Still, for thosepeople who were not lucky enough to get Writeroom for free in a MacHeist bundle, there is another alternative called JDarkroom, which is set up as a free version of Darkroom (below), and is Java-based, making it cross-platform.

Darkroom (Win)

DarkroomDoes pretty much the same as Writeroom, but for Windows. I’m sure the green writing is only there to appeal to geeks and retrophiles, but it can be changed to black and white.

Freemind (Java-based)

I’ve blogged about this before, so follow this link for more on how you can use this excellent free mindmapping software. In some ways this is an anti-focus tool, as it allows your mind to wander freely over the “page”, but that’s just what you need when what you’re focussing on is generating ideas!

And there you have it. I’m sure there are many more tools out there, so I’d love to know what tools you’ve found that help you focus on your writing.