A number of things jockey for your attention at any given time: A new email, a text message or even the news. It’s all a distraction: Suddenly the hours pass and none of the work is done. And if you procrastinate as well, you’re getting even fewer things accomplished.
The human tendency to procrastinate has been studied for decades. Scientists used to think putting off tasks had to do with time management skills, but recent research suggests that emotion and self doubt play a big part as well. And now we know digital devices may be making it worse: Data published in the journal Computers In Human Behavior connects procrastination and internet use with the inability to create flow, or the absorption of the work in front of you.
So how can you sit down and be productive when you want to procrastinate, and the tools we use to work are actually built to distract you?
Thankfully, there are a few tools to save the day and your workload. We rounded up several apps and products that were created for the sole purpose of helping you focus on your work. Pick the ones you think might be for you and watch your accomplishments soar:
This procrastination-busting app, which is compatible for the iPhone and iPad, prompts you with a question to get to the root of why you’re putting off a task.
Users are given options like, “My task is too big,” “I don’t know where to start,” or “I’ve made a mistake,” and the app gives advice based on the answer. So if you chose “I don’t know where to start” as the reason you need help, the app will prompt you to break down the project and guide you to completion in an encouraging way.
Once you’re in the rhythm of using the app, you can check statistics for your personal productivity over time, which may provide motivation to get into the zone in the weeks that follow.
If you want to type away on a computer screen free of distractions (think of all those open tabs!) then Focuswriter might be the program for you. It’s much like a regular word document program, except with a better ambiance and built-in timers, alarms and daily goals so you can check on your progress. The program works for Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems.
Writeroom, which works for Mac, is another great option for writers who seek to type without a computer screen’s extra clutter.
Psychologists refer to the study of human behavior and their environment “environmental psychology.” And anecdotally, sometimes getting in the zone requires a change of scenery. Enter StandStand, a portable standing desk.
The gadget was produced after the owner came up with the idea while meditating. The stand costs between $50 and $90, depending on the finish and type of wood you choose, weighs fewer than two pounds and folds up to the size of a laptop. You can take it to work and find a new favorite spot in the office, or use at home or in a coffee shop.
SelfControl, Freedom and HeyFocus
Are you obsessed with checking your social media feeds? The SelfControl app will ask for your most time-sucking distractions, like Twitter and email, and block them for a period of time.
While you can still surf other areas of the web, SelfControl is not kidding around: If you feel compelled to check the sites you blocked, the app won’t let you ― even if you delete it. You’ll just have to keep working until the set time runs out. The program works best on the Safari internet browser.
The Freedom app, compatible on Mac, Windows, the iPhone and iPad, also helps you get in the zone by blocking sites and apps you might waste time on. However, it ups the ante by blocking access to those programs on all your other devices as well. No distractions here.
HeyFocus similarly blocks sites, apps and distractions, such as instant messages, by employing a method that was designed specifically to help with productivity.
Francesco Cirillo, a researcher and developer, created the technique in the 1980s when he was a college student struggling to study for exams. Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to track his productivity in 25 minute increments with subsequent five minute breaks. Each productive set of time was called a “pomodoro,” in honor of the timer.
A core function of HeyFocus is its ability to simultaneously block sites and begin a Pomodoro session. You can also go into “hardcore” mode, which won’t let you disable the app even if you quit. And for every site you block, you’ll get a motivational quote as a reward. The program works for Mac users.
The world of noise-canceling headphones is vast and expensive overall. However, if you really value silence and noise reduction, a pair of Bose headphones might be worth the investment. This particular wireless set costs $347, and muffles voices and ambient sound.
The AKG noise canceling set is a bit cheaper at $240, and the Monoprice Hi-Fi Active noise-canceling headphone costs around $80, which is considered the best mix of product and price, according to the tech product review site Lifewire.
There are other less expensive options on the market, but do your research: Tech experts say that true noise-canceling technology is tough to create in an inexpensive way, so be sure you’re investing in something that works if that’s the route you want to take.
Simple Noise and Noisli
Some people find music to be distracting; others find the right type of background noise to be beneficial. Research shows that certain types of sound may work: Listening to classical or instrumental music can help students study or employees find flow and concentration, according to a 2014 study.
If classical music isn’t your thing, get a pair of comfortable headphones and plug into Simple Noise. You can listen to say, a babbling brook or falling rain, which are soundtracks meant to prompt focus, according to the app. The programs can be downloaded from both the Apple app store and Google Play. Noisli is a similar app that works on Safari and Google Chrome. It provides background noise you can mix yourself to help you concentrate.
Strict Workflow brings the Pomodoro technique to your computer, with a digital clock to track work time and breaks. Cirillo recommends taking 15 to 30 minute breaks in order to really optimize productivity.
“The 15-30 minute break is the ideal opportunity to tidy up your desk, take a trip to the coffee machine, listen to voice mail, check incoming emails, or simply rest and do breathing exercises or take a quick walk,” he wrote in a research paper about his technique.
“The important thing is not to do anything complex, otherwise your mind won’t be able to reorganize and integrate what you’ve learned, and as a result you won’t be able to give the next Pomodoro your best effort,” he continued. The app is compatible for Google Chrome.
You are now armed with the tools to help you bust that procrastination habit and eliminate distractions. It’s officially time to get to work.