2020 has been a rough year for most of us. The concept of routine became inane and it became tough to stay laser-focused at getting things done. As we hopefully enter 2021 – a new year, it is essential to make a difference in lifestyle to stay productive. If you often find yourself procrastinating at work or during your study sessions, here’s a list of apps that could help you regain focus and concentrate on tasks that matter the most at the moment.
Best Apps for Focusing on Your Work in 2021
We’ve compiled the list focusing on both mobile platforms and desktop platforms. In addition, the article includes a few practical tips that may come in handy when you’re trying to stay productive. You can use the table of contents button below to easily navigate between sections.
What exactly is a focus app?
A focus app is an app that helps you eliminate distractions. It serves as a tool to help you prioritize tasks so that you get work done instead of mindlessly scrolling through the internet. Based on the name, one must not confuse focus apps with meditation apps or habit tracking apps. While a meditation app is to deal with mental health issues and relax your body & mind, a focus app is for those times when the situation demands a burst of productivity.
Apps for Focusing on Android and iPhone
Forest is a great app that guilts your way to productivity, especially if you’re someone who cares about nature and the environment. In the app, you’re supposed to plant a tree and make sure it doesn’t die. The tree dies if you switch to another app and you will get a warning screen urging you to switch back when you enter a distracting app.
You can grow different species of trees and set focus time ranging from 10 minutes to 120 minutes. Moreover, with the app’s pro subscription, you can plant real trees, get detailed statistics, whitelist useful apps, unlock an ad-free experience, and more.
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases on Android, $1.99 with in-app purchases on iOS
Engross is a productivity app inspired by Francesco Cirillo’s pomodoro technique. The app lets you set work timers and break timers, manage a to-do list, and create/manage events with its built-in planner. You even have the option to break down work and break times into sessions for better management. One unique aspect of Engross is in the way it handles accountability.
Whenever you’re going off track, you can tap on the ‘Hit me when you are distracted’ button to keep track of the number of times you got distracted during a work session and jump right back in. Combined with the premium subscription, you get detailed statistics, app whitelist, white noise, the option to write comments or notes on sessions, and more timer themes.
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases on Android and iOS
3. Focus To-Do
Focus To-Do is another app that helps you with task management. With Focus To-Do, you can set focus timers starting from 1 minute to 480 minutes. The app has built-in white noises such as tic-tac, countdown, wind with crickets, rain, cage, library, to name a few.
What I liked the most about Focus To-Do is how it blocks apps. Instead of entirely locking you out of a distracting app, Focus To-Do vibrates your phone to warn you. The app’s premium subscription unlocks cloud backup, detailed statistics, new white noise sounds, and more.
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases on Android and iOS
4. Focus Keeper
If you want a simple Pomodoro app with the sole purpose of increasing your work productivity with work and break sessions, Focus Keeper is what you should be looking at. It has a satisfying clock ticking sound during your work session and you are treated with a bell sound to indicate that the work time has ended.
However, you can disable the sound by swiping to the left from the bottom area of the app. While this app won’t block other apps, it is useful to keep track of your time. You can view your usage pattern as charts for the last 14 days or 30 days.
5. Focus Mode and Screen Time
Focus mode and Screen time are two underrated features on both iPhones and Android devices. While these are not apps that you download from Play Store or App Store, these built-in digital wellbeing features offer the basics of what all the other apps are capable of. You can set daily app timers to lock yourself out once you exhaust the time limit. Moreover, you can view a visual representation of the apps you use the most and track your usage habits.
Coming to focus mode, you can use the feature to block distracting apps during a specific time of the day. I personally use Android’s Digital wellbeing feature to disable social media apps during my work hours. You can access digital wellness features from Settings -> Screen Time on your iPhone running iOS 12 or newer. Similarly, you can access Android’s Digital wellbeing from Settings -> Digital Wellbeing & parental controls. You can also try out these Digital wellbeing apps from Google.
Apps for Focusing on Windows and Mac
Freedom is a must-have productivity app on your Mac and Windows machine. You can use Freedom to play ambient sound, block websites, apps, or even block internet access with the click of a button. You can also set blocklists of select websites and apps or add exceptions to useful websites. With Freedom’s premium feature – advanced scheduling, you can schedule a future session that starts automatically. There’s an option to create recurring sessions too. Thanks to the cross-platform nature of Freedom, you can use the app across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and ChromeOS (via browser extension).
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases
Serene is a visually pleasing app to avoid distractions. The macOS app can block websites and apps. You also get additional features such as a day planner, to-do list, and focus music. Although the app is exclusive to macOS, the developers have revealed that a Windows app is on its way. Meanwhile, you can utilize Serene’s browser extensions available for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox to block distracting websites.
Pricing: Free with in-app purchases
8. Mindful Browsing
Mindful Browsing is a simple yet useful browser extension to stay away from distracting websites. Unlike Serene that takes a stern approach, Mindful Browsing asks if you really want to visit a distracting website. You can either choose to use the website for 10 minutes or close it. In addition, you can add a productive task to get reminded of it. You should check this out if you want a gentle reminder to focus on your work.
Download Mindful Browsing (Chrome extension)
LeechBlock is yet another browser extension to block websites, but it is highly customizable. You can define a total of six sets of blocked websites and choose when to block them. Interestingly, there’s an option to apply a filter (blur, grayscale, invert, sepia) to make the page less appealing instead of entirely locking it. The developers have also added a setting to close the tab instead of blocking the page.
10. Pomodoro Timer Web App
Last, but certainly not least, we have Pomodoro Timer, a web app offering from Francesco Cirillo, the creator of Pomodoro technique. All you have to do is create a new activity along with its description on the website and click on the Wind Up button. Once you have completed a session, you can take 2, 5, 15, or 30-minute breaks.
Use Pomodoro Timer (Web App)
Tips for Focusing Without Apps
Now that you know all these apps, let’s discuss a few tips to stay focused even without apps. One habit I personally found to be effective is to log out after you use an addictive platform. The idea is to increase friction in the process so that you will have to put in that extra effort to use it. By introducing an additional step, you’re less likely to jump right back in. While you’re at it, I would highly recommend you set up two-factor authentication for the platform. This not only makes the login process lengthy but also offers an additional layer of security to your account.
If you have the budget, a great way to stay focused is to invest in a decent pair of noise-canceling headphones. This blocks out external noise, which in turn results in fewer distractions. You can then play ambient music, lo-fi chill beats, or anything that helps you calm your mind. You’ll find dedicated study/work playlists on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and other leading music streaming services.
Lastly, one aspect most of us often tend to overlook is setting the right mood. What I mean by this is to have a clean desk or work environment. It doesn’t have to be an expensive dream desk setup that you see in one of those YouTube videos. A minimalistic and functional table with proper cable management goes a long way in staying productive.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why is my mind so distracted?
Your mind tends to get distracted when it is preoccupied with thoughts. You can take a step back and analyze your behavior and actions to regain control. If you’re preparing for an exam, you can follow evidence-based techniques such as spaced repetition, Mnemonic peg system, or Feynman technique to prepare better.
Q. What causes lack of focus at work?
One may lose focus at work if the task in question is either boring or has too much workload/pressure. An overwhelmed mind may end up skipping all the assigned tasks. If the issue is out of control, a prolonged lack of focus can be a symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Q. How does anxiety affect concentration?
People suffering from anxiety disorders usually have trouble staying concentrated. The best ways to deal with anxiety issues are seeking professional help and making positive lifestyle changes.
Q. How can I read without losing focus?
Thanks to social media and easy access to smartphones, the average attention span has dropped significantly over the years. You can read without losing focus by cutting down distractions, picking a topic that interests you, and taking occasional breaks.
Q. How do you block yourself from using an app?
You can use apps like Forest and Freedom to lock yourself out of distracting apps.
Q. How can I be more productive at work?
You can become more productive at work by prioritizing tasks based on urgency using techniques like Eisenhower Matrix, eliminating distractions, and following the Pareto principle (80/20 rule).
Stay Focused at Work and Beat Procrastination
That marks the end of our app picks that would help you boost your productivity. We hope this list helped you make meaningful changes to your routine and increase time spent on useful activities. If you’re using a focus app that isn’t mentioned here, do not hesitate to let us know in the comments and we will take a look and consider adding them in the future.