March 3, 2017

5 Tools to Stay Focused

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This week I’m assembling the best tools to help me stay on track as I push toward the finish line on Book #4.

*****Help me stay focused… What tools can you add to this list?****

  1. Pomodoro Timer
    Hands down this is the very best tool in my focus toolbox. The Pomodoro Technique was created by an Italian guy with a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (“pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato”). He’d set the timer for 25 minutes and focus on ONE TASK… just ONE… for the entire 25 minutes. He’d block out calls, emails, dings, dongs and dancing babies. When the timer went off, he’d take a 5-minute break to catch up on other things, then dive back into another 25-minute stretch.The cool thing about the Pomodoro Technique is that you can do it with a kitchen timer, a fancy app or just the stopwatch on your phone. I have a couple of timers on my Mac, including one cleverly called PomodoroApp. On my phone, I like FocusDots, which counts the number of focus sessions you have in a day. It’s pretty — calming, almost — and helps you visualize all the tasks you’ve accomplished. But you don’t have to use my recommendations. There are TONS of these apps. Just search Pomodoro.
  2. RescueTime
    If you’re constantly wondering, “Where did today go?”, you might be ready for RescueTime. This software runs on your computer and keeps track of every second you spend on your device and every place you spend it. You’ll see time reports for how long it took you to finish a document in Microsoft Word and how many minutes you spent surfing cool cupcake pictures on Pinterest. The free version is quite robust.
  3. StayFocusd
    This simple Chrome browser plugin that lets you set rules to restrict yourself from going to time-sucking sites like Facebook, Facebook and Facebook. And the news. If you want a tool that works on multiple devices, try Freedom.
  4. Noisli
    I have a very tough time working in complete silence — something has to be on in the background. These days I usually have a small tablet tuned to reruns of “Matlock,” but if you don’t have that option, just pull up the Noisli site for sounds that will help you get stuff down. You can click on some pre-programmed Productivity button to hear birds chirping and a gentle creek flowing, or you can fine-tune the sounds by clicking around the icons. I like the sounds of a coffee shop mixed with the rain.
  5. Microsoft Word Outline View
    This technique is not necessarily going to make you personally more productive, but it’s a key part of the way I stay organized and on track. In a nutshell, I use Microsoft Word’s Outline View to manage long documents. I can’t believe how easy it is to move sections around and fill in the blanks when I can see the bare bones of a document and add in longer sections as I need to view them.Watch this short video for the full trick.


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  • Question on focus tools – my answer from a small office of five folks.

    Microsoft Outlook is pretty robust, and if we all share a Master calendar, we won’t overbook, schedule on top of things, or miss appointments. With the color-coding option for each calendar event, we can see classes, meetings, luncheons, vacations, outside meetings, show what room it will be in, and all the details of it for everybody to know. Then the Meetings function allows you to send the upcoming meeting and agenda in one email to the whole group, attach it to the members’ calendars and (hopefully) have a clean attendance list for planning. With five folks and 1600+ members, any little no-cost option that works is stellar!

  • Strict Workflow is another neat Chrome Plugin that does the Pomodoro timer thing, plus blocking sites.

    Freedom was great to help me achieve my 2016 goal to give up social media (and I lived to tell the tale), and again for this year’s goal of not reading the news. I also have it set to turn my Nokia-ise my phone after 8pm (it can only call and text).

    I do something similar in Word for the Outline, but I like to keep it open all the time, so I create a table of contents and then Window > New Window (Mac Word 2016). Then I keep this on a second monitor. Your way is better for moving sections of text though – thanks!

    My favourite pomodoro-style iOS app is Forest. It grows a tree, and if you leave the app before your 25 minutes is up, the tree dies. Who wants to be an unproductive tree killer? You can see all your productivity for the day adding up into a Forest and earn points. The points can be used for different “trees”, or to donate towards planting read trees.

  • I play music in the background either from Pandora, a USB drive, or music on my computer. It helps me focus. It is usually instrumental music. When the day is really bad, there is a version of “Silent Night” that really relaxes and focuses me!

  • I discovered “Get It Done” it is simple and extremely easy to use task program – I am an Admin Assistant and I needed a program to jot stuff in but would still be easy to move around to waiting folders – this program does it for me! It keeps me focused on whats important at the moment but also keeps me aware of things coming up!

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