The right tools for… focusing on work

The Infocrush is packed with distractions that sabotage your abilities to get work done. But the right combination of tools can create a space where distractions melt into the background, and your mind can be gently attentive to the task at hand.

Do Not Disturb mode

When I need to work, everything that could possibly distract me is on silent.

On the computer, this means turning on “Do Not Disturb” to silence all desktop notifications, and hard-quitting (not minimizing) out of every non-essential application.

The phone is in Airplane mode and flipped over. I don’t want to see the screen.

Freedom App

I’m in love with the Freedom app and have it running literally 24/7. It lets you set up “blocklists” of sites and apps, and then disable access to them for a set amount of time.

Besides putting a 24/7 block on election news and other undesirable sites, I also have a nuke blocklist that entirely disables the internet. I can still make phone calls and send texts, but no websites or apps will work.

For situations where you HAVE to get it done, use the “Block All Websites” feature for an hour or so and give yourself some breathing room.

BrainFM/Focus@Will

Audio is a MUST for me. I’m not only easily distracted by environmental noise, but it helps drown out my thoughts as well and allows me to focus on what I’m looking at.

What audio works for you is a matter of experimentation. I’ve found, however, that for serious focus, I can’t use Spotify/Pandora because I get distracted by the songs. I’ll jump in and start messing around with my playlist, skipping tracks etc.

BrainFM and Focus@Will are two excellent services that provide a constant feed of audio that you don’t have to think about or manage. They both claim neuroscience benefits as well, but just the background audio is enough for me.

BrainFM is more of an ambient, procedurally generated soundtrack, whereas Focus@Will recycles tons of generic tracks from unknown artists. Both services have multiple “flavors” — for relaxing, focusing etc.

Be sure to check out the “Labs” section of Focus@Will, which has stuff like high-speed tribal drumming overlaid on top of binaural tones — perfect for when the caffeine hits and you’re typing like a madman!

These noise-cancelling headphones

These earbuds sound excellent, completely block out environmental noise, and fit comfortably in my ears for hours — and they’re less than $9. I have several pairs for working, commuting and working out.

Click here if you want the version with an inline mic ($14, but way worth it).

Tomato Timer / Pomodoro intervals

This is the only thing on this list that I’m not 100% on, but many of my friends LOVE Pomodoros, so I’ll include it.

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Franceso Cirillo (“pomodoro” is Italian for tomato, and he first used a kitchen tomato timer!). It’s a technique where you divide work into blocks of 25 minutes on / 5 minutes off. Your 25 minutes are ON — no pausing or switching tasks. It’s single-minded focus to the end. Your reward is 5 minutes of stretching, relaxation etc. Every four blocks, you take a longer break. There’s a good writeup with more detail here.

Tomato-Timer.com is a very simple, clean website with pre-built pomodoro functions. You can just click the interval you want, and it will run silently in the background until it dings to notify you that the interval is over.

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