15 Mac Apps to Help You Focus and Work Productively

The moment you boot up your Mac, a variety of things pry for your attention. Email, social networks, reminders, and all sorts of distractions eventually trap you in the middle of a tug-of-war, making it almost impossible to focus on a single activity.

As a result, you lose track of what you’re supposed to do. You might just find yourself looking up, wondering where the sun went all of the sudden.

Here’s the good news though: there are apps that can help you solve this productivity problem. In this round-up, I’ll share 15 Mac apps that help you focus, whether it’s dimming the screen, blocking social networking sites, closing inactive applications, or working in time bursts. You can use one or mix a couple of these apps to fit the way you work.

Focus, Focus

Concentrate

Concentrate

Concentrate is a utility designed to help you focus by getting rid of distraction and temptation. To avoid distraction, it allows you to block apps that you don’t need for a specific activity while automatically launching the apps necessary for the task. To overcome the temptation to waste time, you can block websites like Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks while you work.

Price: $29
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 or later
Developer: Rocket

Quiet

Quiet

Quiet aims to achieve focus and concentration by blurring your desktop with only your active applications up front. It silences notifications, changes your status on Adium or Skype to “Busy” or “Do Not Disturb,” and hides inactive or unrelated windows and apps (including Finder).

Price: $1.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Wireload, LLC

Isolator

Isolator

Isolator is an open source menu bar application that helps you focus by dimming your desktop with only the active windows visible to you. You can easily customize the app’s preferences to fit your needs, such as the level of opaqueness, filter type, fade speed, and others. Lastly, it allows you to hide your dock to keep you from opening apps that could distract you from work.

The testing version (4.9beta) works on OS X 10.7.3, but you can download the older, more stable versions as well.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5, 10.6, 10.7
Developer: Willmore.eu

Focus Mask

Focus Mask

Focus Mask is another Mac application designed to get rid of distractions while you work. But more than just putting the active windows on stage with the rest behind the curtain, Focus Mask allows you to selectively choose which window to bring to the front and to isolate a part of a window through easy shortcuts. You can do this either through pattern detection or by manually highlighting the chosen portion by dragging and clicking the selection.

Price: $0.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: TenTrip, LLC

Think

Think

Think is another great open source Mac application for distraction-free work. You can choose which applications to use by using a transparent control panel that hovers while you work. If you find that the control panel gets in the way, the developer has added a tabbed section of the Think homepage with instructions on how advanced users can customize Think’s hidden preferences.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later
Developer: Freeverse

Spirited Away

Spirited Away

Spirited Away is a menu bar Mac application that checks the activity levels of the apps currently in use. The app then hides those apps that have been idle for a period of time, freeing your desktop of clutter and distraction.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later
Developer: Drikin

Houdini

Houdini

Houdini is another menu bar utility app that hides inactive applications to help you stay focused. The app sports a simple interface and allows you to configure the settings for each hidden application. It’s inspired by Spirited Away and is free to download from the Mac App Store.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Nial Giacomelli, UglyApps

Anti-Social

Anti-Social

Anti-Social takes on a different approach as it only blocks off the “social parts” of the Internet. This means that you and your favorite social networking services are at the mercy of Anti-Social. Simply set the amount of time you wish to block these social sites and focus. The only way you’ll be able to get out of Anti-Social is to reboot your computer, which I think is a great motivator to keep you focused.

Price: $15
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later
Developer: Fred Stutzman

Time Bursts and Breaks in Between

Pomodoro

Pomodoro

Distraction leads to procrastination, which is what Pomodoro aims to eradicate once and for all. Using the famous Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo, this app offers several features besides setting you to work in 25-minute time bursts. Some of these include Things/Omnifocus integration, exporting Pomodoro activity statistics, keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to create Applescripts to customize how the app works through an in-app editor.

Price: $4.99 on the Mac App Store
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: iUgol

My Little Pomodoro

My Little Pomodoro

Here’s another Pomodoro Mac app if you prefer a cheaper alternative and a simpler implementation of the Pomodoro Technique. While in the menu bar, it records your timed activities, allows you to customize the time lengths, integrates with iChat/Adium/Skype, and logs your Pomodoro activities/breaks by day, week, or month.

Price: $3.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Voltage Software LLC

Focus Booster

Focus Booster

Built in Adobe Air, Focus Booster is another beautiful Pomodoro app for those who work according to the Pomodoro technique. Available on the web and for PC or Mac users, Focus Booster aims to help you get things done through unobtrusive design and simple but effective functionality.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4, v10.5 or v10.6, Adobe Air, Intel Core™ Duo or faster processor, 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
Developer: Focus Booster

breaktime

BreakTime

BreakTime

BreakTime encourages you to take breaks in between bursts of productivity. Spending too much time sitting and staring at your computer screen can cause health problems for you, so BreakTime makes sure that you stand up and move away from your desk by disabling your dock and dimming the screen. For those who need to be stricter with themselves can activate “enforce” mode, which disables the ability to skip breaks.

Price: $4.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: excited pixel

Time Out

Time Out

Time Out is another application that encourages you to take breaks in between work hours. By default, regular breaks are 50 minutes of work, 10 minutes for breaks with 15-second “micro breaks” in between. Once it’s time for a break, it slowly fades over your desktop and disables your dock to prevent you from doing anything but rest. The minute you launch the app, it begins to time your breaks.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 or later
Developer: Dejal

Vitamin R

Vitamin R

Vitamin R is a more powerful and feature-rich application for those who want to fully recapture their focus and fully motivate themselves to concentrate. It slices your tasks through short time bursts of between 10 to 30 minutes, while giving you full control over the way you work. This way, you free yourself of unproductive/incompatible productivity methods, procrastination, and the stress of getting things done.

Price: $19.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Publicspace.net

timesink-logo

Time Sink

Time Sink

I end this round-up with a simple but useful application called Time Sink. It keeps track of how you spend your time on your Mac by automatically logging opened windows and applications and recording the amount of time spent on these. At the end of the day, you can take a look at how you spend your time through detailed graphs. You can read our full review of Time Sink to learn more.

Price: $4.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: Many Tricks

Conclusion

Depending on how you work, you can use a combination of these apps to achieve the ideal work balance. For instance, you can use Isolator to dim your desktop and focus, while using FocusBooster to work in time bursts. You can also use Time Out or BreakTime to push yourself to take breaks in between work to avoid feeling burnt out.

Give yourself a few days to test these apps out and see which combo works best for you. We hope your productivity levels and focus improve with the help of this round-up.

What other apps do you use to stay focused? Do you work in time bursts or by simply blocking applications and distracting websites?


  • James Kubecki

    Nothing for white noise?

  • Ryan

    Pomodoro is no longer in the app store.

    • http://stefgonzaga.com/ Stef Gonzaga

      Thanks for the heads-up! I find it strange though, as I’m able to see Pomodoro’s page while writing the article.

      Here’s the link to the app: http://pomodoro.ugolandini.com/

      • http://about.me/jelpern Jordan

        I can click through but there’s no download link. Looks like it’s not being maintained – last post was three years ago.

  • Brian

    no mention of AntiRSI?

  • http://getnumi.info Dmitry Nikolaev

    I work for the last two years with pomodoro. I Try concentrate (old old unsupported), but seems pomodoro and little discipline is just enough for me.

    Here is resource on how to start pomodoro: http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/

    PS.

    Apps for one active window. Who need them ? :-)

    PPS

    Guys, how add avatar to comment ? :-)

    • JD

      Seems like you already now about Gravatar! ;-)

    • http://stefgonzaga.com/ Stef Gonzaga

      Pomodoro’s an awesome productivity strategy. I’ve been using it for work for two years as well, although I tend to shift to different durations once in a while.

      And yes, you do have an avatar thanks to Gravatar. :)

  • Jason

    I keep seeing all these so-called “productivity” apps that are designed to help you focus on your work. But I wonder, is it really an issue? Do people actually sit at their computers and FORGET to do their work? Is your feeble brain that much of a sieve that you can’t redirect your mind to the task at hand instead of looking at pictures of your high school friend’s kids halloween costume on Facebook? Or cat videos on Youtube? Seems pretty stupid to me. If you’re at your desk and you forget to do your work then you don’t deserve to have a job and should be fired… because you’re a MORON.

    • Greg

      Well said, Jason!

    • Ansatz

      And more to the point, if you really can’t bring yourself to do your work without getting distracted by Facebook or online games, then what’s to stop that same person with no self control from just shutting off the app and going back to Facebook? The only way these apps would be any more useful than just exercising willpower is if the apps refuse to let you turn them off.

    • Michael

      Yes. I’m that moron. Sorry.

    • Max

      So everyone that isn’t you is a moron? Maybe others are in a different situation to yourself? Maybe you’re a douche?

      I work for myself, so any distractions from what I need to get done cost me time. Alerts, unread badges etc. totally distract me from my work – I put what I’m doing down and check the thing that wants my attention, then I have to go back and pick everything back up again. It ruins my flow and when the alerts are there I really can’t help it. So an app that shuts those things up for a period will make me much more efficient.

    • Andrew

      Jason, I dare say that what some people here lack in attention span, you lack in other areas. Not sure you’ll find an app for that though…

    • Pat

      The Pomodoro technique and productivity apps help ADHD sufferers. You might want to think about commenting so fast.

    • yuri ahs

      Or… you have ADD. I own and run a corporation but find it hard sometimes to not get distracted on my computer, so these apps help me. Booly for your self rightous ass that you do not need them, it makes you so much cooler then the rest of us.

  • http://www.linuz90.com/ Fabrizio Rinaldi

    Great post, but you didn’t mention one app that I think is the best and is also free, SelfControl http://visitsteve.com/made/selfcontrol/ I must admit I couldn’t be as productive as I am without it.

    • http://stefgonzaga.com/ Stef Gonzaga

      Thanks for the suggestion! I believe Concentrate also offers a similar feature to that of Self-control. But I’ll include the latter the next time a similar round-up will be written in the future.

  • http://rtcamp.com/rtpanel/ Rakshit Thakker

    I am big fan of Awareness App (http://iamfutureproof.com/tools/awareness/)

    • http://stefgonzaga.com/ Stef Gonzaga

      This is the first time I’ve heard of Awareness. Looks promising!

  • Amy

    I’m looking for something like this (none of these quite fit the bill) for my son who has autism. When he’s typing a document using ipad & keyboard, I want everything else blocked; otherwise, he’s too easily distracted by all the other fun stuff on there. He uses ipad in school. Any other suggestions?

    • marie

      set up guided access in the settings of the ipad

  • Pingback: How to Beat Distractions and Stay Focused at Work | Greatist

  • http://indtvserials.wordpress.com/ Ind Tv Serials

    The moment you boot up your Mac, a variety of things pry for your attention. Email, social networks, reminders, and all sorts of distractions eventually trap you in the middle of a tug-of-war, making it almost impossible to focus on a single activity.

  • bharat

    I was looking for an app which highlights the border of active window, i guess it’s not in this list

  • Andrew

    I use Freedom, as it blocks your network connection (just internet or lan too). It’s the only one that really works for me, because you set the amount of ‘freedom’ time you want, but have to reboot to get your connection back early. I find it genuinely useful at times.

    http://macfreedom.com/

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