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Divide up your day into work and play – and do more with both

Focus Mode is a feature baked deep into the heart of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15. It’s designed to help you reduce distractions. Your device will turn a focus on automatically, in context, when it senses you need one (for example, if you start playing a game) or they can be triggered manually.

The system can be tweaked and configured in the Settings app. For each focus type, you define which people and apps can break through the notification barrier. Focus types can be scheduled, and you can even define which Home pages are available when a specific focus is active.

All this flexibility is to be applauded. Focus is smarter and more granular than the relatively brute-force Do Not Disturb. But it only goes so far – and there are times when you’ll need to get your head down and take things further.

It’s about time

When you need to get things done and the Focus feature isn’t quite enough, consider using a focus timer. Various options exist, but they all work in broadly the same manner, breaking up the day into short work sprints separated by breaks – a.k.a. the Pomodoro method.

Focus timers like BeFocused divide your day into work sprints and breaks

The idea is you dedicate each work sprint – usually 25 minutes, although most timers allow you to adjust this value – to a single specific task. That might be dealing with an email inbox, working on a paper, or digging into research. Regardless, for that period, you should not do anything else. The exception is if you complete a task within a work sprint – at which point, review what you’ve done or start on the next.

Because people tend to focus best in short bursts, this system mandates you take a short break (five minutes is recommended) at the end of every work sprint – and a longer one after every four.

No time to waste

The system can feel limiting and restrictive at first, especially if you’re used to juggling jobs and multitasking. But it’s effective. Once ingrained into your routine, focus timers instill a sense of urgency. They stop you procrastinating and wasting time, and also force you to take breaks – useful, given that sitting in a chair for several hours straight isn’t any good for you either.

However, it’s important to note that focus timers are there to reduce interruptions on focus and flow, not to increase stress. So if you do use one, adjust the lengths of sprints and breaks to suit your own personal preferences, and don’t sit there watching a countdown timer and fretting about how long you have left in a sprint. Instead, work with a focus timer that uses sound or haptics to alert you to the end of sessions.

App to it

The App Store has many focus timers to choose from. These are our favorites.

Focused Work lets you create a range of bespoke timers

BeFocused (free) is a generous free timer that enables you to assign timers to specific projects and track ongoing goals.

Bear Focus Timer ($1.99/£1.79) only works when your phone is face-down, putting it psychologically out of reach. And it features bears.

Forest ($1.99/£1.79) has you grow virtual trees during sessions – which the app mercilessly kills should you cheat.

Focused Work (free + IAP) offers flexible timers, bespoke structures and even automations for different tasks.

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