Increase your productivity with this distraction-free laptop set up

I show you how to quickly set up your laptop with these 3 simple elements to get more focussed.

Dylan Mouthaan
8 min readFeb 9, 2020


Is this useful for you?

Have you had any difficulties getting in focus mode? And when you are focused on working, are you easily distracted?

When you’re working on your laptop, how often do you get distracted by a notification? Or by a cluttered desktop space? Distractions are messing up your focus.

I experienced that I’m not the only one who is facing this challenge. I have several reasons why I started working on becoming more productive. These 4 are the ones I appreciate the most:

  • Finishing my most important task before the end of the workday
  • Find a healthy balance between working and relaxing
  • Maintain a high energy level during the day
  • Declutter my foggy brain and feel less stressed

This is the start of a series on how to increase your productivity. I start with cleaning up your laptop so it helps you achieve the most out of your focus time. I will show you my methods and apps to be better organized.

This guide focus on Mac users. In this article I recommended a number of apps that helps me be more productive. I provide some Windows alternatives. The links for the apps are included.

Why I changed my set up and you should too

I’m easily distracted so I started eliminating distractions.

Especially on your most precious device. So, in my opinion, we went too far with the use and number of notifications. Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the number of notifications has been growing and growing. In 2019 The average US smartphone user receives 46 app push notifications per day (reference).

This is just an example of one kind of distractions you and I have in our (digital) life. I felt rushed and lost control over my day. Also, Harvard’s research from 2018 confirms this impact. And it is also the case for your laptop. How often do you get distracted while writing an article or creating a presentation?

I drastically took actions to control my notifications stream and other distractions. Setting up a system so you are in control of your distractions. This will give you more time to focus and will increase your productivity.

Clean up these 3 items on your laptop

Cleaning up your workspace on your laptop can be a quick fix or you need some time to get there. I show you how I set up my desktop, dock and menu bar.

#1: Desktop

My policy is simple. A desktop needs to be a clean desktop. It is just like a real desk. Remove any distractions. Every file or folder that is not having any value anymore, trash or archive it.

If this, in the beginning, is taking too much effort, I recommend the free app Hidden Me (Mac App store). The app hides your files on your desktop.

#2: Dock

My personal preference is to automatically hide the dock. It allows you to have more space to work. Especially in full-screen mode. That is another added 5% screen height. And it’s another eliminated distraction. Exceptionally suited for developers, writers, and designers. Read this how-to to hide your dock automatically.

And I know what your first thought is: Hell no Dylan, you’re insane. This dock is very useful to me. Don’t take that away from me. Ok, stop and have a moment to think about this. In your current situation, your dock is visible all the time and. And for example, while you are halfway finishing a to-do, your eyes go downwards. You see the dock, and specifically the mail app. Damn, you forgot to reply to the mail from your boss or client. Focus = gone. And you need to rebuild it again.

It takes some time to get used to it. I know. Every minor or big change adds some instant friction. But think about the benefit of being focused longer by getting less distracted.

And in case you need to open one of the most-used applications, move your mouse to the bottom to let the dock appear. Please adapt to my religion. Go #hidethedock

Besides the dock, I use Spotlight search (command ⌘ + space to open) more frequently as an alternative for quickly opening an app. Learn more about this handy Mac feature. I used Alfred before Mac added (copied Alfred) it to OS X Yosemite in 2014.

Still heavy Alfred users here?

Up to the next element for a distract free workspace, your menu bar. And this made the biggest impact on increasing my focus.

#3: Menu bar

I’m a big believer in showing only the apps you frequently use. Your menu bar shouldn’t be a place full of apps you installed in the last couple of years. Only limited yourself to the apps use daily.

Example of a Menu Bar without Bartender

Do you need 25 app icons in your menu bar? I’ve got 5.

My current Menu Bar including Bartender set up

Limited the number of apps
To also limited your number of apps, I use the following method. Start with the app Bartender. I have been using the app since 2012, and it became one of the favourite productivity apps. Bartender lets you decide to keep showing apps, completely hide apps or place them in a hidden menu bar. The hidden apps are only shown if you open it.

How Bartender works
By using Bartender, I limited the number of shown apps to 5. Next to the extra bartender menu with the hidden apps and the Notification center of macOS.

An alternative for the paid Bartender app is Vanilla (Free available. Pro for $4.99)

My frequently used menu bar apps are

So these are my limited number of apps and functions I do use on a daily base. I included the pricing information and a download link. Also for the Mac App Store and/or Setapp. Windows alternatives are included.

  • Itsycal (Mac) | Free
    Mini calendar. Easy to see your upcoming appointments, and you can add new ones. A quick alternative to see your calendar.
  • Pomodoro (Mac App Store | iOS ) | Free and Pro for $4.99 ($1.99 for iOS)
    My trusty 25-minute focus booster. This free version hasn’t got any annoying limitations just ads.
    The app is running right now while I’m editing this article in the draft phase. I’m also working on an article about the Pomodoro technique which I will share later as a separate article.
    Available on Setapp
  • Trickster (Mac App Store) | $9.99
    Shows your recent files. Fully customizable. Handy to get quickly to your recent downloads and files.
    Available on Setapp
  • Bartender menu (Mac) | €14. 4 weeks trial available
    Hide menu bar apps.
    Available on Setapp
  • Time
    Don’t need to explain ;) Based on your travel habits you can also use the free Clocker or Hour World Clock for different time-zones.
  • Bluetooth
    To quickly connect my Logitech mouse, keyboard and headphone.
  • Notification center
    Use to check my calendar, weather, and notifications. And easy to quickly turn on the function do not disturb mode. Scroll up to see this function.

Hidden and on occasion used apps

  • Aware (Mac App Store) | Free
    Shows your active time on your laptop. Will reset automatically after not being active for a few minutes. A back-up if you don’t use your Pomodoro timer actively. It helps you remind to not spend too many hours behind your laptop.
  • Caffeine (Mac | Windows) | Free
    Keep your screen on all the time. Say no to screensavers. I found it useful for meetings. Always have it running on the background.
  • TripMode (Mac | Windows) | €8. 7-day trial available
    Useful for remote workers working in a cafe or airport with crappy internet. I use my iPhone personal hotspot to at least have some decent internet. With limited data plans, TripMode helps you select which app can use internet data. This helps you to stay within your data plan.
    Available on Setapp
  • SizeUp (Mac | Windows) | $12.99. 7-day trial available
    Change how apps will be arranged on your screen. I prefer this one, but there are a ton of alternatives. I use Cinch ($6.99) on the side for a quick drag of the window to get it full screen or on aside. There are tons of apps that will do the same.
    I’m using the app, but currently not showed
  • HazeOver (Mac App store) | $12.99. 7-day trial available
    Improves your focus while working in one app. It darkens background apps. Handy for large (external) display screens. I recently started using it and I love it.
    Available on Setapp
    I’m using the app, but currently not showed
  • F.lux (Mac | Windows | iOS jailbreak only| Android) | Free
    Adjust your screen brightness, yellow and blue tones in the early morning and late evenings for a calming effect on your eyes. For the late workers and people who like a good night’s sleep after working at the laptop the entire evening. Not recommended for creative people like designers because it will influence the colours of your screen.
    I’m using the app, but currently not showed
    A quick tip: iPhone and MacBook have a similar feature with
    Night Shift only less effective.
  • Wifi
    Nowadays, wifi connects automatically. So don’t need to see it all the time. If you travelling a lot and move from cafe to cafe I recommend to have it shown.
  • Battery
    I choose to have this hidden. Most of the time it’s been charging so I don’t need to see it continually.

Get even more out of your Menu bar

And just like the Dock, I automatically hide the menu bar. Again it gives you more screen size, which is most effective in full-screen mode. And another eliminated distraction. Here is a quick and easy how to do it yourself.

More about how to personalize your menu bar read the complete menu bar guide.

Do you want to be more productive?

After following this clean set up for my MacBook, I noticed a huge difference in productivity. Combing this with using my Pomodoro timer I was less distracted than before. No more unwanted notifications or other distractions. Just purely focusing on one task. I’m completing my tasks faster and finishing more than before.

This resulted in a satisfying feeling completing my most important tasks of that day. To also achieve this you only change these 3 elements:

1) Maintaining a clean desktop clean policy.

2) Have a full-screen space with an automatically hidden dock and menu bar.

3) Limited the number of apps in my menu bar.

This helped me to become so much more focused and productive today. So now it’s your turn to increase your productivity.

I’m gonna continue this series with topics like “Limiting your Facebook and Instagram time” and “How to handle your mailbox so you won’t lose valuable time” and many more. If you have a specific area you are struggling with, please share it in the comments.

#productivity #focus #distractions



Dylan Mouthaan

Productivity nerd and Digital Marketing freelancer with a focus on increasing conversions.