Two Weeks of Concentration

Originally planned as “a week with Concentrate.app”, but one week appeared not to be enough time for a deep enough impression on the use of the application.

Meta stuff aside, just over two weeks back I started using Concentrate.app as another small step towards a more productive day. As some of you might know I am extremely easily distracted. Enter Concentrate, an application by the lovely folks at Rocket, which allows you to manage a profile of applications and settings (called “activities”) that keeps you from procrastinating and makes you concentrate on the task at hand.

A few functions the application offers are the ability to launch certain applications, the ability to quit certain applications, and keep them from opening, as well as blocking certain domains. Last, but not least, for the hardcore folks among us, Concentrate allows you to run scripts on launch.

Using Concentrate

I have found two distinct types of activities one can build; really rigorous restrictive activities and targeted loose activities.

Restrictive Activities

Restrictive activities are the ones that are aimed at very specific tasks, with a narrow application set. These activities consist of blocking large parts of your internet access, as well as much of your applications.

These tasks are taken on by closing access to all distracting websites (Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Engadget etc.), as well as shutting down all applications except a specific few. The applications I waste most of my time with are then blocked. Only a few get a wild-card in this situation and are allowed to open, one of them being iTunes.

The problem with these restrictive activities is that they can be complex to set up, whilst you might not use them much. But I highly recommend thinking over one of your processes and having a go at a single activity.

A few examples of activities I have in use:

  1. Writing
    This activity shuts down all apps and blocks a few of them, like IM and e-mail. Then the application launches Camouflage.app (which hides desktop icons) and WriteRoom. Access to the internet is restricted to my blog and Google. The sites I use the most are blocked.
  2. Google Docs
    Much the same as writing, except that this one allows access to YouTube (which is apparently needed for Google Docs.
  3. Processing Photographs
    This one shuts down and blocks just about all of my frequently used applications, including browsers. It then opens the applications I use for selecting and processing photos.

Loose Activities

These activities are the inversion of the restrictive activities, focusing more on what you are not allowed to use than what you are allowed. The one I use the most is called “Be Productive.” and shuts down e-mail, as well as a lot of social networking sites and blogs. With this, you are still able to run a bunch of applications, but you will not accidentally be enabled into procrastination – something I am personally very susceptible to.

The User Experience

Whilst the app offers a really specific set of functions, I do think some of the core functionality could do with a better user experience. This critique is mostly based on the lack of transitions in the creation and editing of the activities. Adding a transition to the adding of a certain task to an activity, could give the user a better insight into what happened, instead of just letting it snap into place.

“But does it work?”

In short, I think so. But it is hard to measure exactly, because there are also external distractions (at the office, for example). The way I found out it worked was because I found myself bumping into a 404 page – disallowing access to twitter – less and less over the past 14 days. My automatism to open twitter is not fully gone yet, but it has declined rapidly.

The beauty is with e-mail though. Whilst I try to steer clear from my inbox for most of the work day, I always fall prey to false click or muscle memory. Concentrate won’t allow this – and I hardly ever notice.

Deliberate.

The beauty of Concentrate is that it makes all your non-productive actions more deliberate. You have to choose to procrastinate. You have to choose to put a higher priority on something (probably) less important.

It’s someone looking over your digital shoulder to make sure you are doing what you should be doing. Because if you love what you do, and you’re a creative person, it is hard to stay on point from time to time. Harder than when you hate your job and run out of the office as fast as you can. Side-tracking is just too easy, especially on the web.

At the end of the day, you’ll have to want to be productive and concentrated. If you do not want to be productive, using this app won’t work. Your body will create a muscle memory disabling the app whenever you need your Twitter fix. But if you do, Concentrate is the best way to keep your eye on the ball. I have kept the app off on two work days during the past two weeks, just because I had to catch up with communication and what was going in the land of bits and buts.

If you’re only a tiny bit interested, get it from the Concentrate website. They have an awesome 60 hour trial, which only counts down the actual time you have an activity turned on.