It’s easy to get distracted. A notification comes in, and before you know it you’re down an email rabbit-hole, or have spent half a day glued to bite-sized nothingness on social networks. But also, people just aren’t programmed for long stretches of concentration.
Fortunately, focus timers can help.
A focus timer breaks the day into work sprints, separated by short breaks. During each sprint, you knuckle down on a single task, until it’s complete – at which point you move on to the next thing.
Breaks should not be skipped – they keep you refreshed and motivated, allowing you to stretch your legs, get a coffee, or check in with Twitter for a few minutes. After every four work sprints, you extend the next break, so you can grab lunch or go for a walk. Using this system, you should make efficient progress in your daily tasks.
Work with Bear Focus Timer
Although physical timers exist, apps are a better bet. They provide flexibility and ensure a major source of distraction – your smartphone – becomes dedicated to helping you be more efficient.
Bear Focus Timer is a straightforward timer with a twist. Tap the cog button at the bottom-left of the screen and you can adjust timings – although the defaults are solid. They have the focus length as 25 minutes, short breaks as five, and long breaks as 20. Should you initially find 25-minute stretches too onerous, reduce the sprints to 15 or ten, and gradually increase them over a period of days.
The app includes the option to have white noise play while the timer runs, and offers various alert noises. But the moment of genius comes when you return to the main screen and start the timer – to do this, you must place your smartphone face down.
This is a clever psychological trick, making your device feel out of reach and off-limits. Any possible screen-based distractions are hidden – and that includes the timer itself. (Focus timers, after all, aren’t about clock-watching, but working intensely until an alarm sounds.)
Avoid temptation and you get a little picture of a happy bear. Cheat and the bear growls at you – although offers no further ‘punishments’. If you need a bit more stick than carrot, though, there is another option…
Transform focus into virtual trees
The concept of Forest is similar to that of Bear Focus Timer, although the timer is simpler. Here, there is no built-in work/break cycle – just a single timer you drag to define its duration (25 minutes being the default) each time you use it.
When it starts, you’ll see a sapling, which slowly starts to grow. Once your session’s over, it’s planted in a virtual woodland. However, leave the app when a timer is running and it immediately warns you to return. Ignore it and your plant is unceremoniously zapped, leaving you with a sad little stick. As you use the app over days and months, your tiny forest grows, providing an ongoing visual reminder of your achievements.
These systems might seem a bit silly. After all, you’re being urged toward efficiency by a growling cartoon bear or gradually growing a virtual forest. Naturally, there are also more conventional timers out there. But the mechanics of Bear Focus Timer and Forest do cleverly grab hold, in the way a basic countdown timer does not, through stoking your own inner reward mechanism.
So despite looking a little frivolous, these smart apps cunningly transform your phone into a force for motivation and focus instead of distraction. And besides: who says you can’t have a little fun in your work day, even when using apps designed to make you more efficient?