Technology

Hands-on: ‘Focus’ Chrome extension can help you put an end to aimless web-wandering

(Source: 9to5google.com)

It’s really easy, especially if you work at home, to get entirely off task and wander around the web aimlessly for hours. We’ve all been there —  in the midst of doing something for work, only to find that 2 hours passed after a “short” Reddit tangent. We’ve covered other similar productivity apps before, but this time I wanted to see what Chrome extensions might be out there to help with this. After trying a few that didn’t help me, I settled on one that’s easily my favorite.

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The Chrome extension I found is called Focus, and it’s very straightforward extension with a modern design that actually helps me get things done without being too in-the-way and complicated. After you install it, the app actually hijacks your Chrome “New tab” page and replaces it with the Focus home page, which lets you start a focus session, monitor your current to-do progress, and choose your blocked sites list.

(I have to add, here, that some might hate that it hijacks the “New tab” page. I will admit that it was a bit jarring at first when I realized how much I actually use the shortcuts on the New tab page. But I also realized that I usually use those for distractions, so this was actually an added benefit for me personally.)

Once you’ve started your session (the default is 25 minutes, but you can customize it to your liking), you can do a few things. If you want, you can just go about whatever it was you were doing, and the extension will block any sites on your blocked sites list. When you try to navigate to a blocked site, a plain-jane white page with a countdown timer will show up to show you how much longer you need to focus.

Here’s what that page looks like. As I said, really simple:

But if you want to make this extension just a little more useful, that newly-hijacked “New tab” page also gives you the option to quickly add things to a to-do list to get done while you’re in focus mode. This page that shows up when you try to get off task also tells you about the things on your to-do list that still need to be done in the allotted time. For me, it’s a powerful combo: a reminder of what I need to do, and a time limit on doing it.

Not everyone is like this, but I work best under pressure. So if I’m spending my whole day working without a practical list of things that need to get done, my mind will wander to whatever source of dopamine it can find instead of working; Twitter and Facebook are the usual culprits. But when I have a timer telling me that I need to get things done by a certain time or else I shall face failure, I’m a bit more motivated.

If you head over to the settings page from the main “New tab” page, you’ll find the ability to change the focus time (as I mentioned), settings for notification sound, and settings for a ticking sound during the timer. If you’re like me and you’re motivated by that pressure, you’re going to love the ticking sound option. You can also modify your blocked list from here, and you can turn on or off night mode. 

If you’re finding yourself getting around your own blocking and spending time on a site that should be blocked, all you have to do is click on the Focus icon in Chrome, and click “Block this site.”

There’s no power user features here, really. If you need an app that will block a domain (like reddit.com, for instance) while whitelisting a directory within that domain (like reddit.com/r/android), you’re not going to be able to find that here. Unfortunately, in the name of simplicity, it looks like the app developers opted to stick with an all-or-nothing approach that just blocks sites entirely.

Overall, I was just pleasantly surprised with the balance of functionality and simplicity with this app. Going into this today, I didn’t want some comprehensive web filtering software that was going to take an hour or two to configure (and then more time later to keep it working as my needs change). I wanted something simple that could help motivate me to focus and keep me off my distractions, and this works perfectly.

You can grab the Focus Chrome extension for free at the Chrome web store.

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