I am someone who often struggles to focus at work, and who has particular difficulty with maintaining an even work schedule. Of all the (many, many) sites, apps and productivity aids I’ve tried, these three have been some of the most helpful. They are time-savers, procrastination-busters, and focus-enhancers. Best of all, they are all free, though I’d strongly encourage anyone who can afford to to make a donation if you find them as useful as I have!
I installed this brilliantly simple app on my phone last year, and I would recommend that every freelancer does the same. It’s a straightforward punch-in, punch-out time logger that allows you to keep track of your working hours. You can keep separate time logs for different jobs, and get reports of the hours you’ve worked by day, week and month. I translate these reports into graphs on MS Excel that help me to visualise how my working hours have changed over time. It’s a really effective way to motivate myself to work harder and smarter, helping me to figure out when my most productive days are, and my preferred working patterns. It’s available on the Google Play store.
This website-blocking app from the Chrome Web Store helps me to limit the amount of time I spend in procrastination traps (scrolling through my Facebook news feed, binging on Twitter, browsing the back catalogue on SMBC.com, etc.). You can add sites on which you waste time to a list of blocked sites. Then, you set a daily time limit for those sites. As long as you’re on any of the sites on the list, a time counter ticks down. When it reaches zero, you’re blocked from using all of those sites for the rest of the day. There’s also a nuclear option, which allows you to block all the sites on your list outright for a time limit that you set. I use a 24-hour nuclear option for days when I’m really busy, and limit myself to an hour’s procrastination on the web per day otherwise.
What I love most about StayFocusd is that it’s very customisable: you get to decide which sites you want to block, and for how long. You can even determine how difficult you’d like it to be to unblock the sites you’ve added to your banned list. For those with ultra-low willpower, there’s a security setting in which you must pass a fiendishly difficult typing test before you can unblock any of your banned sites. Be warned, though: this really is incredibly difficult, so if you ever do need to unblock a site for any reason (if you get a job managing social media and need to spend 7 hours a day on Twitter, for example), it may take you a while!
If you have trouble blocking out background noise while you’re working, these two websites are a godsend. They provide adjustable and customisable white noise to help you focus. If rain storms are your thing, SimplyRain provides the sound of rain, accompanied by optional thunder sounds at three different intensity settings. SimplyNoise has three different ‘colours’ of white noise: grey, pink and brown. Both sites allow you to set the noise to oscillate, like the sound of waves; they also have timer options if you’d like to use them to help you sleep or meditate. My favourite combination is to use SimplyRain with some quiet background music—I normally use the Minecraft soundtrack. Both are immensely helpful at tuning out conversations and other background sounds, and you can experiment until you find the volume, intensity and type of noise that works best for you.