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Focused job review: Continue the task in the midst of growing distractions

Working from home is not for everyone. Many of us have been challenged by the loss of structure that an office or other public workspace provides. Not only that, but home often provides more distractions than a dedicated workspace. As a result, I expect more people than ever to need assistive devices to help them do focused, productive work.

A new app from developer Michael Tigas aims to help. Focused work is a simple but valuable tool for creating timed focus sessions with productivity. While this may sound like just a Pomodoro timer app, what I appreciate about Focused Work is that while it works can used with the Pomodoro technique, it is much more flexible than that because it allows you to create timers or sequences of timers that best meet your own needs and suit the way you work.

I have never personally used the Pomodoro technique, but I find that I regularly set self-imposed estimates throughout the day over how long a particular task should take me. For example, if I start writing a column for our Club MacStories newsletter at 9:30 a.m., I might have in mind that I should be done by 1

1.30. Keeping this internalized deadline in mind will help me work more productively than I would if my task were separated from a schedule. Without healthy boundaries for a project, the work will undoubtedly take longer than it needs. I am also more likely to be distracted regularly if I do not have a specific end time in mind to stay focused.

Focused work makes it possible to set timers for different tasks that you can easily run to stay on track with getting things done. Timers can be pulled together in larger focus sessions where each timer represents a different step in the work session. One of the pre-installed Focus Sessions, for example, has a 45-minute hours of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break of hours, then another 45 minutes of focused work. Another included session starts with a 5-minute planning period before the focused work begins. You can create your own focus sessions in several steps or simpler one-step sessions consisting of a single timer. This flexibility is well suited to the work needs of a number of different users.

Personally, I find that planning multiple stages of focused work is more complicated than I usually need. More often than not, I prefer to have a one-step session that simply defines the task I need to perform. Despite the lack of multiple stages in such an example, the value to me is that I make a deliberate decision to only do this one thing in X time. Kicking off a focus session reinforces my good intention and serves to turn a switch in the brain that helps me be more uniquely focused.

After selecting one of your focus sessions, you will see exactly when the session is scheduled to end (a great addition to the way I approach tasks) and a play button to get things started. If you press that button, you will be asked what you want to focus on during the session – for example, I may have a Focus Session labeled Writing, and say I will focus on my Club MacStories column. After naming your focus for the session, press the Start button the actual timer.

During a focus session, a timer remains on the screen, and you will also see what stage of the session you are in, and a reminder of your focus for the session. Alerts notify you when each step is complete, and when a session is complete, you are asked to rate how productive you used a smart emoji scale. You also get the opportunity to write notes that you can review later to see which practices usually help or hurt your productivity. For example, if your session was not very productive, you could write down the specific reasons for identifying trends over time. Finally, after a session, you will see the latest progress status of your daily goals, which can be customized from the app’s productivity tab.

Focused hourly tool is simple: it provides customized sets of timers marked for different things you want to focus on. What makes the app stand out, however, is the ace execution. The design feels modern and playful, with nice use of colors, rounded rectangles and emoji. It supports features like dark mode, iCloud syncing, iPad multitasking and alternate app icons, statistics to track your productivity, and even Toggl integration, so your Focused Work timers can automatically update your Toggl account.

I use Toggl to track my working hours, so without Toggl integration I might be able to familiarize myself with two separate project timers: one in Focused Work and the other in Toggl. Such an obstacle would have made it difficult to apply Focused Work, since it would only feel like an extra step in my workflow. But with Toggl integration, that is not the case at all. After approving your Toggl account in the settings, all you have to do is select, as part of the process of starting a Focus Session, whether you want to log the steps for that session via Toggl. If you choose to do so, the app will give your saved projects and codes from Toggl to choose from for the timer to be created.

Focused work started strongly with 1.0, but I am also excited about the potential for the app to continue. Michael Tigas has stated that a Mac version and support for shortcuts are in the cards in the near future, which will provide fantastic additions. I could anticipate creating a shortcut that would start a Focus Session, enable Do Not Disturb, launch an audio image from an ambient noise app like Portal, and open my selected app, Ulysses. In addition to the next two features, I also expect widgets in iOS 14 to fit the app perfectly, as a widget could potentially show the status of your current Focus Session timer and eliminate the need to open the entire app as often.

All the changes this year have made the introduction of new working methods a necessity for many. While the prospect of using focused work in the beginning may feel like another adjustment to make in your working life, it may well prove to be a valuable change not only for 2020, but even when work becomes more normal again.

Focused Work is a free download on the App Store, with options for either an annual subscription or lifetime purchase in the app to unlock the Pro features.

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