Multitasking, single-tasking or, now, simultasking. It seems like ‘tasking’ changes with the seasons, just like fashion.
But behind the buzzword, there lies a simple truth: we all need to get stuff done, overcome distraction and motivate ourselves. Here are ten tools that will help you do just that.
- Now Do This. This is an extremely simplified to-do list, aimed at helping you focus day by day. You enter your list of to-do’s for the day and it proceeds to bring up one at a time with a big ‘Done’ button. Press it and it shows you the next task until you reach the satisfying ‘All Done’ ending. Hat tip to Zen Habits for this one, which I am trying out for this afternoon’s work.
- Concentration timer. You can set this tool for anything up to 50 minutes. It times your work and chimes every five minutes to remind you to stay focused: it’s good if you are finding your mind wandering as it limits just how far it can go.
- Self Control (Mac) or Freedom. These both work on the same principle: you know you have a task to do, it will take you a set number of hours and you do not need the internet. These allow you to self-block the internet for a set amount of time. Freedom will allow you access if you reboot, Self Control is a little stricter – if you set it, you stick to it.
- Track Time (Mac) or Rescue Time. These provide motivation through shame. Whilst Rescue Time does allow you to block sites with its paid version, the main idea behind these tools is to force you to face the reality of how much you are being distracted. They monitor what windows you have open or are active, and what sites you visit and then provides you with a graph detailing your day, week, month etc. Careful though, they can be an addictive time-waster in themselves.
- Write Room (Mac) or Dark Room (PC). A lot of tasks involve writing. These are full-screen, distraction-free word processors. All you see is what you type.
- Focus Me (PC) or Concentrate (Mac). One step beyond your basic internet-blocking tools, these allow you to create specific types of task and set controls for allowed sites, apps or programs. For example, for writing you might only allow Word, but for budgets you allow email, Google and calculator.
- News.me. The internet is often so distracting because it has genuinely interesting things to say and share. News.me gathers together the most shared and talked about stories from amongst your friends on Twitter and Facebook and emails you the top five. A way to filter and focus.
- Nudgemail. This lets you postpone dealing with emails until they are relevant to the task at hand. For example, forward a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and that email will come back to you on that date. You can also email yourself in the same way with reminders or include Nudgemail with other recipients so that you get a ping back to remind you to check for responses.
- Flowformer. Simple but effective. This website lets you focus on just one thing you want to do, or specifically not do, during a 24-hour period. No matter how many times you refresh the site during the day, your agreed statement of intent is what you will see. Helpful for maintaining a one-track mind.
- Deadlines. Nothing to download or click. Just the cold, hard reality that if you don’t get it done, you don’t get paid. You may find this the most effective of all.