There's almost no place or time in most of our lives that's beyond the reach of digital distractions, which can make it incredibly difficult to focus and get things done -- and to carve out quiet time for ourselves.
At work, we can go for hours without stepping away from the computer, instead grazing on work, email and social media or cyber-loafing throughout the day. Despite New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's belief that success hinges on taking as few bathroom breaks as possible, working in this way not only drains our energy, but also affects our ability to focus and keeps us from being our most productive.
When it comes to distraction, over-reliance on technology is a frequent culprit. But we can also use technology in ways that boost our health, well-being and focus. There are a number of apps, in particular, that can help you stay calm, mentally focused and productive.
Try these eight apps to silence your mind and turbo-charge your focus.
Neuroscientist-approved Lumosity brain games can help improve your memory, attention and other mental skills through a personalized training program tailored to fit your goals. Using the principles of neuroplasticity -- the brain's ability to reorganize and change its wiring based on experience -- the games have been demonstrated to enhance various aspects of cognition. Play it on the way to work or during a lunch break to keep you brain sharp. The app is free, and full subscriptions run from $14.99 for one month to $79.99 for one year.
"Designed by neuroscientists, a brain training approach such as Lumosity builds on breakthrough concepts such as neuroplasticity and fluid intelligence," Harvard Business Review wrote, recommending Lumosity as a "new tool for brain workouts."
Stress is one of the biggest productivity-zappers, and controlling your stress levels is step one in increasing attention and efficiency. To find a little stress relief on your smartphone, try HuffPost's very own GPS for the Soul app (free), which uses HeartMath technology to detect your stress levels and help you get back on track when you're feeling overwhelmed. The app lets you create personalized "GPS Guides," filled with calming quotes, images and music to instantly soothe the mind and body.
Research on productivity has found that the brain is easily distracted -- a typical office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes, and then takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task. But taking real breaks can be a good way to fight distractions and get things done faster.
Touted as a "scientifically proven technique to help manage your energy levels," the Pomodoro method breaks work down into 25-minute chunks ("pomodoros"), for which you set a timer. After each 25-minute chunk, a three to five minute break is taken, followed by another pomodoro. After the fourth pomodoro, a 15-30 minute chunk is taken. Sound rigid? Maybe a little, but it can be a helpful way to harness your focus and get more done. If you struggle with time management, this app is a great way to start reorganizing your day to optimize productivity.
Headspace's 10-day starter program is like meditation for dummies, and it's the perfect way to start a mindfulness practice. The app's short animated videos break down the basic principles of meditation, and recordings take beginners through brief mindfulness practices and guided meditations each day. Just find a comfortable seat, press play, and let the meditation begin. The app is free, and access to hundreds of videos and audio recordings through subscription costs less than $10 per month.
Sleek and simple, The Mindfulness App ($1.99) is a meditation timer app. It can help you start a daily meditation practice, either in silence, accompanied by bells, or with the use of a recorded guide. But it's more than just a timer: Users can track their progress by recording the date and length of each meditation, and even set reminders ("Do you want to meditate right now?") to pop up at selected times and locations -- like when you get home at the end of the day.
The Mental Workout programs can help you learn meditation, sleep better, banish stress and increase your focus. Designed by meditation teacher and psychotherapist Stephan Bodian, Mental Workout's Mindfulness Meditation app ($1.99) provides guided meditations for both beginners and more experienced mindfulness practitioners. It also features an eight-week program to help newbies learn the ropes. Use the app to play around with not just meditation, but also inspirational talks, body scans and relaxation instructions.
Are you a visual learner? You could get more done (and boost your creativity) through mind mapping, which creates a visual representation of your thoughts and illustrates an idea in a way that feels intuitive. Try the brainstorming tool MindNode, available for iPhone and iPad ($9.99). The app helps you to generate ideas by organizing projects and concepts in a colorful graphic design.
"The theory is that these large, pictorial networks mirror the way our brains work, making it easier to spot connections and insert new ideas," Forbes explains.
If you work in an office, chances are you sit in front of a computer all day and rarely pry yourself out of your chair for long enough to get up and take a break (no, scrolling through Twitter doesn't count as a break). Time Out, a free Mac and PC app from Dejal Systems, reminds you to take both regular breaks (which last for around 10 minutes, after 50 minutes of work) and "micro" breaks (10-second pauses every 10 minutes) -- away from your computer -- to keep you attentive and energized, and help you come back to work with optimum focus. For a little extra de-stressing, select calming music from your iTunes library to alert you to the start of each break.