15 Tools That Will Help You Stay Focused

Photo Credit: Juliette Leufke

How can you possibly keep up with the endless barrage of news, social media, emails, meetings, big projects, and day-to-day tasks? The answer: you can’t. Everywhere you turn, there’s something grasping for your attention, but you only have so much of it to spare. There’s always time for whatever is most important to you—but that means actually knowing who and what matters most, and having the clarity and tools to say no to everything else. Not an easy feat in today’s scatterbrained world.

If you’ve ever finished a day wondering why you didn’t get as much done as you hoped, you’re not alone. Back in 2005, Harvard Business Review hit the nail on the head with an article entitled, “Why Smart People Underperform.” Basically, the article explores some of the reasons why people are having an increasingly difficult time staying organized, setting priorities, and managing their time. In short? The exploding number of demands on our time and attention. And to think that article was written in 2005.

Most of us can’t rid ourselves of all distractions completely. However, we can seek out tools and build habits that will help us stay focused and do the best work we can every day. On this list, you’ll find more than a dozen tools that have helped the Product Hunt community stay energized and productive—in spite of the crazy number of distractions we all face day-to-day. We hope something on this list inspires you to “drain the shallows,” as author Cal Newport would say, and get to the deep work that matters most. 📝 💻 📚


Escape

Track all of your unnecessary trips to distracting websites.

Escape is a simple app that tracks how many times you open your email, a social network, or other distracting websites. Each day, you’ll get a report letting you know how many times your work was interrupted by a distracting site during the day, as well as how much time lapsed in between each distraction. You can also see which apps are causing the most disturbance to your daily work flow, and adjust your usage accordingly. This is a great tool if you want to track your time better — and use it more wisely in the future.


RescueTime

Analytics on your daily habits and productivity.

RescueTime has been around for a while — and that’s because it is so genuinely useful. This app will give you an accurate picture of how you spend your time. Some of their premium features include the ability to: block distracting sites during certain parts of the day, track offline activity (like meetings and phone calls), and log your daily accomplishments. You can also set alerts (ex: when you’ve spent more than two hours on Facebook) and goals (ex: spending less time in your inbox).


Proud

All of the best productivity tools in one place.

If it seems like someone builds a new productivity app every other day, you’re probably right. But even if you’ve tried all of the others, this is still one you should check out. The idea behind Proud is to take everything people love most about other productivity apps and merge them into one. You can use the app to store all of your ideas and to-dos, remember important moments, set up triggers to stick with your habit changes, and even remind you to take breaks throughout the day. This app will also help you get organized for the days and weeks ahead with personalized goals.


Flowstate

A writing app that deletes everything if you stop typing.

Whether you’re in the middle of drafting an email, writing a blog post, or attempting to finish a book, it can sometimes be a challenge getting into flow. Flowstate nudges you into that much desired creative space by pushing you to write beyond the discomfort. The process is easy: give your writing session a name, and choose the amount of time you’d like to write for (anywhere from 1 to 180 minutes). Once your session begins, if you exit the program early or stop typing for more than five seconds, all of your progress will be lost. The only way to secure your work is by continuing to write until the full session is complete.


One Big Thing

Focus on your biggest task every day.

The One Big Thing app is super simple. Each day, just type in the one big thing you want to accomplish, and make that your focus. You can also add several secondary tasks to keep you focused if you happen to get your big task accomplished early. This is like a digital version of the sticky note, and the UX is so clean and simple that you’ll want to use it daily. You can also upgrade for extra themes and stickers to make the app uniquely yours.


f.lux

Adjusts your computer’s display to adapt to the time of day.

Staring at your phone or computer screen for too long kind of makes you want to go crazy—and it also makes it harder to fall asleep at night. Your computer screen is designed to look like the sun, which is why it’s often not bothersome in the middle of your day. However, what happens when you’re still cranking away on work at 10pm and your eyes are starting to burn? No fear: f.lux is here to make your screens (and eyes) happier. This tool will make the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day wherever you are. The rest is automatic — easy as that!


Headspace

Meditation made simple in just 10 minutes a day.

Headspace is a meditation tool to improve your stress, lack of focus, health, and more. The promise: Use this app for 10 minutes a day, and your brain will literally change, reshaping itself to become more focused, creative, and generally happier. If you’re brand new to meditation there is a 10-day guided series that will help you get used to the new habit. You can also try different sessions built around specific goals like: patience, stress, anxiety, and balance. If you’ve been curious about meditation but too intimidated to try it, Headspace takes the guesswork out of the process and actually makes meditation fun. 🤗


Time

An AI-powered time tracking app.

Time is an AI-powered time tracking app, built to help you boost your accountability and productivity. Quickly add and organize all of your tasks, tap on any one of them to start a timer, and get recommendations to boost your effectiveness over time (the app uses AI, so recommendations will get smarter as you use it). This is like an ultimate to-do list app, making it easy to track your time, rearrange your tasks throughout the day, and see how you’re spending your most valuable resource over the long-run.


Freedom

Reduce digital distraction across all of your devices.

Freedom reduces digital distraction across all of your devices. If the entire Internet is distracting you, you have the option to block the whole damn thing. You can start sessions one at a time, or plan your “distraction-free” time in advance. This easy-to-use app that will help you stay focused if you find yourself frequently distracted by social media and web browsing. Users of this app reportedly save an average of 2.5 hours of productive time each day, so we think this one is worth giving a try.


HazeOver

Focus on one app by fading out all of the background windows.

Let’s be honest: we all have a multiple tab/applications problem these days. Having a million things open on your desktop can be distracting, even for the most disciplined and focused among us. Just turn HazeOver on and it’ll darken all of the other windows on your screen except for the application you’re currently using. This is an easy hack for staying focused in a sea of open tabs, emails, and chat messages.


Brain.fm

AI generated music to improve focus, relaxation, and sleep.

One of the cool things about Brain.fm is that you can try it for a few minutes and immediately reap the benefits. This music library was created to dramatically improve the quality of your focus, relaxation, and sleep. Brain.fm “converts auditory neuroscience into personalized brainwave training programs.” In normal terms, that means turn this baby on and you’ll notice a difference within the first 15–30 minutes of using it. Listen to several sample soundtracks, and if you decide to purchase a membership, the cost averages out to $4/month. Not a bad deal given the significant results you may experience.


Forest

Put your phone down and focus on the more important things in life.

Forest helps you stay off your phone so you can get focused in any scenario. The concept is simple: Whenever you want to focus for a chunk of time, you “plant a tree.” Over the next 30 minutes, the tree will grow while you are working. But, if you leave the app, the tree dies. By the end of the week, you’ll have a visual “forest,” showing you how much focused time you had. You can use this in any scenario — whether you are doing a work sprint, having dinner with friends, or making progress on a side project. It sounds too good to be true, but no one wants a dead forest. Trust us — it works.


Go Fucking Work

Website blocker so you can get back to your work.

Go Fucking Work is not for the faint of heart. Choose a list of sites that frequently distract you from doing your best work, and block those sites for a designated period of time that you choose. If you try to visit one of those distracting websites while you’re in distraction-free mode, it will redirect you to a plain website page that says things like, “What the fuck? Go work.” or, “Remember work? Fucking do it.” We don’t recommend using this program if you can’t stand the F-bomb, but if you can tolerate a little bit of digital cussing, this extension will surely help you get your f*#&ing work done.


Deep Work

Rules for focused success in a distracted world.

Have you ever sat down to do work and then, without realizing it, ended up spending an hour (ahem, or two) unintentionally falling into a huge social media/blog/news hole? We’ve all been there. It seems like there is so much grabbing at our attention these days, it’s hard to even get in the state of mind that allows us to get our best work done. In Deep Work, author Cal Newport addresses the increasingly important topic of focus. Learning how to do deep work — the ability to focus on a cognitively demanding task without distraction — is the key to producing better results in less time. Newport offers up no-bullshit advice, suggesting that we should practice being bored and quit social media altogether (…even if you don’t, his argument is worth reading). If you’ve ever spent a workday in a haze of tweets and emails and wondered what you did all day, this book is for you.


The One Thing

The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results.

The premise of this book is surprisingly simple: remove distractions, figure out what the most important thing is, and focus on it relentlessly. The cost of countless distractions — the unlimited emails, messages, Slack threads, and meetings — is work that falls short of what you know you’re truly capable of. The One Thing is about cutting through the noise, overcoming overwhelm, and mastering what matters most to you in every area of your life (e.g. your professional, family, money, and health goals). What’s the one thing you can do next that will have the greatest impact on the quality of your life? This book will help you figure out what that one thing is — and then give you the framework you need to act on it right now.


If you want to explore other useful productivity and focus tools, check out the full collection on Product Hunt: