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Focus: Productivity Through Tasks and Time

When examining apps such as Wunderlist or even 2Do, you'll see software that takes in tasks and inserts them into collections – ones that can span projects, weeks, and interests. Undoubtedly, entering in your todos is an important part of getting things done; however, working through these tasks in a productive way can prove difficult.

Enter Focus, a task manager fused with a work timer. By setting a timer for you to take on certain tasks, developer Laser Focused aims to make you just that – laser focused. And, in an interesting way, it succeeds.

Getting Stuff Done

With Focus' basic task collection, you can list things you need to work on at the moment. In contrast with more complex apps, Focus doesn't allow for projects or folders – just a list with optional notes. While some might say that won't work for them as a full task manager, I'd argue that Focus isn't trying to be that; rather, Focus is prompting you to put in your most straightforward todos.

Once you create your list, sliding right on a task will start a 25-minute "Focus Session". During this time, a large timer can be seen counting down in the "Session" tab. From here, it's simple: it will count down to 0 before giving you a 5 minute break. If you are in the groove, you can tap "Extend" at the top right and add some more time. And if you complete the task, there's a way to skip straight to a break. From there, starting up a new session will ask you to work on another task and the process repeats itself. Just want to start a focus session without a task? Tap on the timer and tap Done at the top right of the screen.

On some occasions, it may be that 25 minute work sessions aren't quite long enough. Similarly, taking shorter or longer breaks may aid you in working better. In the Settings section of Focus, you can easily customize your ideal time by changing the focus session length, normal break length, long break length, and sessions until long break. Essentially, this works to give the best personal environment for completing your tasks. You can also have the app auto-reset every day and set daily task and session goals. If you're looking for the app to vibrate on alert after you've completed a session, you can switch that on here.

In the Activity tab, Focus provides a list of your completed sessions and tasks for the current and previous days. I put a little less importance in seeing the number of sessions I've completed, so I tended to look at what tasks I'd completed and how long it took me to do so.

I found that this works surprising well in motivating me to get what I need done. As someone who has a problem with taking unnecessary breaks, being able to look at the timer and know that I'll get a deserved break after some time is comforting. And with the action extension, getting access to activity, the timer, and tasks makes starting a productivity session easier. Tapping "Show Activity" takes you to your sessions and tasks completed, while "Start Focus Session" will put you into the 25 minute timer. Of course, "Add Task" is a quick shortcut to the task management system.

Be Productive Anywhere

Focus is both an iOS and Mac app, meaning that you can set goals and work through the timer on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Using iCloud sync, it keeps your tasks lined up on every device. But there's one other thing: the app also syncs your timer, so you can get an accurate representation of how much time you have left until you can take a break. From my experience, this works just as it should – I can start a session on my iPhone and the Focus iPad app has the timer and task perfectly matched. It can sometimes take a few seconds to catch up, though, so be patient.

There's an Apple Watch app as well, which displays the focus session timer and the amount of sessions you've completed. A deep press on the timer provides an option to reset the timer, skip to the break or next session, or add some more time; tapping the timer will pause and continue the clock when necessary. Additionally, pressing deeply on the sessions completed lets you change your daily session goal. In some instances, I found that the Apple Watch app has some slow loading times – occasionally around ten seconds before you can start up your timer again. Although this is annoying, it's not deal-breaking for me.

Focus also supports complications, displaying the total time left in a session on your Watch face. From my testing, starting the timer from my iPad affected the complication on the Watch, which is really impressive. It counts down, so you don't have to continuously head back to the app to see how much time you have left. Along with the complication, Laser Focused built a glance that shows the amount of focus sessions completed.

Focus Comes at a Price

To prevent you from staring wide-eyed at the price of the iOS or Mac apps when I write it at the end, I'll show it here: $6.99 and $19.99 respectively. Truthfully, these prices are steep, especially when you can find apps that do task management and timing well for cheaper. But the draw of Focus is that it does both things well together – and for me, the seamlessness between the two is well worth the price. With the solid syncing that keeps your tasks and time, there's no doubt that you'll get what you pay for.

Even though Focus is a great app, some of its issues are evident. Timer syncing sometimes takes a little bit to get it right; although this may not be the fault of the developers, it can cause some occasional eye-rolling. The Watch app can stutter to get the timer going, so don't expect it to be immediately ready to go.

But through these things, what stands is a tool that can genuinely make people more productive. That's not to say it is guaranteed to make you productive, but using its system certainly does the trick for me. By procrastinating my tasks until later using long breaks that I couldn't afford, I struggled getting anything done. By using Focus to see what I need to get done and how long I have until I can take a reasonable break, I was more motivated to work in the moment.

If you're interested in trying Focus, you can find it on the iOS App Store for $6.99 as a Universal app or the Mac App Store for $19.99.

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