Welcome to the last post in our “focus” series where we get to talk focus tools. We spent the last two posts discussing the power of focus. We started with Part 1: why you have so much trouble focusing then moved on to Part 2: key strategies for increasing and strengthening your focus.

If you remember, the 6 key strategies are:

  • Stop multitasking
  • Prioritize your tasks
  • Create the right environment
  • Take breaks to recharge
  • Stay fueled
  • Completely unplug for a short time

Now it’s time to put our knowledge and strategies into action. Thankfully, there are focus tools, which can 2x your productivity.

In this post, I going list out my favorite tools for powerfully increasing your focus. Each of these tools fits into one of the key focus strategies.

Test these focus tools out to determine which work best for you.

Focus Tools To Help You Stop Multitasking

Multitasking can actually feel good, but it will absolutely kill your focus. Sometimes you need tools to force you to stop multitasking. I find that using the Pomodoro technique helps me to focus on a single task for a set amount of time and then take a break when that session is over.  It feels great to see results after a few sessions of deep focus.

Focus tools to stop multi-tasking

Pomodoro is a great technique, so I’m sure you can find a tool that works best for you:

Focus Tools To Prioritize Your Tasks

One of my first suggestions in the previous post was to organize and prioritize your tasks. Sounds simple, but I also know the lure of jumping right in and how much unproductive time results.  This simple but important step helps ensure you don’t spin your wheels on useless work.

focus tools to help you prioritize

Prioritizing your tasks requires some sort of task organization tool. Some of you may prefer old-fashioned pen and paper, but many of you will prefer a digital task organizer. If that’s your weapon of choice, a few popular and powerful focus tools are:

These organizers allow you to create projects, tasks, and subtasks and then organize them.  Don’t get lost in these tools.  Just take a few minutes each morning (or night before) to determine what your 3-5 most important tasks (MIT) of the day. Check the list throughout the day as these tasks are your formula for success.

Focus Tools For Creating The Right Environment

Another strategy I recommended in the previous post was creating the perfect environment for focus. This often requires playing some form of ambient background noise to drown out distracting sounds in the environment. By minimizing the assault on your ear gates and eye gates, you can focus on what matters.

Many tools help create the perfect focus environment.

Software Tools

Freedom

Focus tools to create the right environment

Freedom is a multipurpose website blocker for both desktop and mobile. You install it on your device and then select which websites you need to stay away from and when you want to block them.

You should be focusing on your most important tasks first thing in the morning. With Freedom, you can block sites like Facebook from 8:00-11:00 AM. During those crucial hours, you literally cannot access the sites you have blacklisted. This is perfect for when you want to do a deep dive focus session.  Remember, guard your most productive times with vigilance.

If you really struggle with self-control, you can put Freedom into “Locked Mode”. This prevents you from changing settings in the middle of your session.

Self-Control

Self-Control is another web blocker that is free for both Windows and Mac. You can create a set of both blacklisted and whitelisted websites, which allows you to set your internet access for a given period of time.

Here’s the thing about Self-Control. Once you activate it, you have to wait until the timer if up to access the blocked sites. You can’t stop it mid-session.

But isn’t that the point? To keep you from accessing those stupid websites.

Stay Focused/LeechBlock

Focus tools to set the mood

Stay Focused and LeechBlock are web blockers for Chrome and Firefox. One advantage of Stay Focused is that it lets you set a total amount of time for yourself on time wasting sites. If you want to limit yourself to one hour total on brain candy sites like Buzzfeed, you can do that. It also has a “Nuclear Option” which blocks every site on your blacklist and will not let you deactivate it.  Since much of my wasted time is in Chrome, this works for me as I also believe in a bit of brain candy to keep my creativity flowing.

If you’re a Firefox user, LeechBlock should be your browser-based blocker. It has some unique advantages, such as allowing you to set timers for particular sites. If you want to limit yourself to 5 minutes on Twitter, you can do that. You can also set up redirects for time-suck sites, meaning that if you go to Facebook you can have it redirect you automatically to another site.

Rescue Time

Focus tools to track your progress

RescueTime does everything. Not only does it block specified websites, it also tracks exactly how you use your time. It begins by monitoring all the websites you visit and applications you use. After analyzing your time usage, it sends you detailed reports so you can evaluate and possibly alter your patterns.

It also allows you to set goals, such as using the first hour of each day productively.  Use this detail if it helps, but don’t get lost in the software.

Zero Willpower / Focus Lock

Zero Willpower and Focus Lock are website blockers for iOS and Android. Zero Willpower has the standard blacklist features and timers, while Focus Lock has the additional feature of letting you block apps that you find distracting.

Given that most people can’t seem to pick their heads up from their phones, mobile versions of your focus tools are likely crucial.

Smart Noise

Brain.fm

"Mood" Music actually works to keep focus

Brain.fm creates unique ambient soundtracks for you based upon your activity (focusing, relaxing, sleeping, etc.). These soundtracks are rooted in scientific research and are specifically designed to improve your focus. This is perfect if you work in a loud environment and need to overcome some significant environmental noise.  I’ve been using this technique with a custom Pandora station, but Brain.fm and the next tool are light-years ahead, so definitely check them out.

Focus @ Will

Focus @ Will creates optimized sound tracks to help you create intense focus. This tool is incredibly useful if you work in an open office or around noisy coworkers. Including 50 different types of sounds and thousands of hours, it’s pretty simple to find a track that helps you lock into a flow state. It has apps for all mobile devices, making it easily portable as well.

Non-Tech Tools

Sometimes you need a manual solution to a digital problem. Keeping your goals posted in a prominent place can help you remember the great things you’re trying to accomplish. It can also keep you from wasting time on trivial distractions. Hanging photos of your family can remind you of why you’re working so hard to maintain focus – to do great things for those who matter most.

These types of tools don’t just address the practical side of focus, they also foster deep internal motivation.

Focus Tools To Help You Take Breaks

Your brain is like a muscle, and like any muscle, it requires breaks. To work constantly without any rest will lead to burnout and exhaustion. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to remember to take breaks. You may feel like you’re breaking a rhythm, but those prolonged periods produce fewer results than periods of intense focus followed by breaks. Some tools that can help are:

Pomodoro Apps

The Pomodoro technique is built upon the concept of intense work sessions followed by breaks. If you use one of the Pomodoro apps, you’ll inevitably find yourself taking breaks every 30 minutes or so, which allows your mental stamina to recharge.

Meditation Apps

Focus tools for the mediation newbie

Meditation breaks allow you to completely rest your brain. Remember, you brain is the ultimate focus tool and if it’s tired, you’re productivity is busted.  There are numerous apps available that will guide you through meditation sessions, including:

Apps To Get You Moving

Sitting at a desk all day is terrible for your health. Frequent movement breaks not only get your blood moving and muscles stretching but also allows your brain to relax and recharge. Some helpful apps to get you moving are:

Focus Tools To Help You Stay Fueled

Food is definitely a focus tool

Without proper fuel, your brain (and body)  simply can’t keep going. Your mental functions will slip, your focus will plummet, and you’ll find yourself completely unproductive. As a wannabe athlete, it is always frustrating when your mind goes before your legs give out.  Creating some simple refueling habits can significantly boost your focus. Consider:

  • Purchasing a water bottle that reminds you to rehydrate.
  • Keeping healthy snacks around that stay fresh, such as almonds, dried fruit, or chia seeds. Debbie Meyer green boxes work great to keep things fresh.  I practically live on almonds and seasonal fruit during my “power sessions.”

Focus Tools To Help You Completely Unplug

While these aren’t exactly tools, they are physical methods to help you completely unplug when you need to. Consider:

  • Putting your smartphone in a drawer or in another room. Sometimes the act of cutting yourself off from the source of distraction can be very helpful.
  • Shutting off your internet. If your task doesn’t require an internet connection, shutting everything down can help you focus.
  • Use a power strip to shut off your computer completely. Sometimes you need to shut everything down and simply think.
  • If possible, get some sun, trees or water in front of you.  For many, nature speeds the calming of the mind.

Conclusion

Enhancing focus requires three things: knowledge, strategy, and tools. Once you know why you lose focus you can devise strategies for fighting distraction and deepening your attention. When you’ve developed those strategies, you can adopt particular focus tools to help you put the strategies into practice.

Denis Waitley said, “Goals provide the energy source that powers our lives. One of the best ways we can get the most from the energy we have is to focus it.”

By acquiring knowledge, developing strategies, and utilizing tools, you can harness your energy to achieve great things.

Let me know what you do to stay focused at @troychristmas or @taskclone.