Reclaim your productivity from distractions with Focus for Mac

By , Feb 25, 2016

Focus block distracting websites banner

If you’re like me, then you probably have a hard time focusing on what needs to be done and you often multitask with fun activities when you should be focusing on homework or work. For example, instead of writing those essays due for your next class or finishing work, you might be playing around on Facebook with your friends or watching YouTube videos.

If you’re the unproductive or procrastinating type, then a useful OS X app called Focus could be just what you need to stop getting distracted by social media and other fun websites.

Focus will help ensure that you only stick to the task at hand when you need to work or complete homework, and in this piece, we’ll show you how it works.

The idea behind Focus and how it works

Since it’s so easy to become distracted with technological nuisances constantly buzzing and pinging while you’re trying to get work done, you probably need some help not to become distracted. The urge to check the notification you just received on Facebook or in the Messages app can be so strong, and yet to continue to get work done, you must resist the urges, as hard as it is.

Focus is an app for OS X that prevents you from visiting websites and opening apps that you deem “distracting.” The app features a whitelist and a blacklist that you can configure so that you can’t access whatever is put on the blacklist; conversely, if you use the whitelist instead, you will only be able to access what you put on the whitelist and nothing else.

Focus can be configured around a specific work schedule, similarly to Do Not Disturb on your iPhone, or you can enable the feature on demand for limited bursts of time.

Whenever you try to launch a website or an app that you’ve deemed off-limits, the app will show you a quote by a famous person about how productivity is important, and it’ll coach you to stick to your important work.

Configuring Focus for your needs

After you download and install Focus, you will need to configure it to work around your schedule and needs. This means blacklisting all the apps and websites you know will be a distraction to you, or using the whitelist if you want to go that route instead.

When you launch the app, you’ll notice a new icon in your Mac’s Menu Bar that you can click on to access the app’s preferences.

focus app OS X menu bar menu 1

The preferences window is organized into several tabs: General, Menubar, Blocking, Quotes, Schedule, and Scripting. We’ll go over all of these sections below so you have a general understanding of how the app is configured.

The General tab

The first tab in the preferences for Focus is the General tab. This tab is separated into two sub-tabs: General and Advanced.

From the General sub-tab, you can configure a keyboard shortcut to quickly toggle Focus on or off, and you can also enable or disable “Hardcore mode,” which will prevent blocked items from being accessed even if you quit the Focus app to try to get around it.

From the Advanced tab, you can enable or disable desktop notifications, enable or disable sending crash reports to the developer so they can improve their app, and enable or disable allowing beta software updates.

focus preferences pane general tab

The Menubar tab

The Menubar tab allows you to choose what happens when you click on the icon from the Menu Bar. There are a few options to pick from:

focus app preferences menubar tab

Here, you’ll be able to choose what happens when you click on the Focus icon from the Menu Bar. Your options include:

  • Opening the Focus menu
  • Enabling or disabling Focus
  • Enabling or disabling Focus for a set period of time

Moreover, you can also opt to hide or show a timer in the Menu Bar whenever Focus is enabled, and you can enable or disable a grey scale icon if you’re not really into the color one and want the icon to match your others in the Menu Bar.

The Blocking tab

Arguably one of the most important tabs in the app is the Blocking tab. This is the tab where you’ll configure what apps and websites will be blocked as long as the app is enabled.

focus app blocking tab preferences

From the “Websites” sub-tab, you will configure your whitelist and blacklist. Any websites added to the blacklist cannot be visited until Focus is closed or your session ends. Any websites added to the whitelist will be the only websites you’re allowed to access, and any others will be blocked.

From the “Applications” sub-tab, you can add apps that you don’t want to allow to be opened on your Mac while Focus is active. This means blocking all those distracting apps you have installed, like video players, music apps, social networking apps, and gaming apps. These apps won’t be able to be opened again until Focus is closed or your session ends.

The Quotes tab

From the quotes tab, you’ll configure the quotes that appear each time you try to visit a website that’s on your blacklist while Focus is running. These quotes are intended to be motivational so that you’ll get back to what you’re supposed to be doing instead of slacking off.

focus OS X app quotes tab preferences

You can easily add or remove quotes from this list with the “+” and “-” buttons at the bottom right of the window.

The Schedule tab

From the Schedule tab, you’ll configure when Focus will activate automatically. You can configure the app to turn on whenever you’d like it to, and this works great for configuring the app to work around your work or school schedule. For example, if you have a full-time job, you might configure the app to run from 9 AM to 5 PM each day during the week, and this will enable the Focus app for those days at those times.

focus app review schedule tab preferences

This is the functionality that I think works a lot like Do Not Disturb. When you enter the time window, the app enables itself automatically in the background, and as you exit the time window, the app disables itself automatically in the background.

The Scripts tab

The final tab in the app’s preferences pane is the Scripts tab. This tab allows you to configure bash scripts that will run whenever Focus is enabled or disabled. This part of the app is geared more towards advanced users.

focus os x app review preferences scripts tab

How to use Focus

To use Focus, you will once again visit the Menu Bar menu, and you can either click on the “Focus” option to enable the feature until you’re ready to disable it, or you can click on any of the time periods to enable Focus for a designated amount of time:

focus app OS X menu bar menu 1

The time periods you have to choose from are 15 minutes, 25 minutes, 1 hour, and custom. If you choose custom, you’ll be able to select how long Focus will be enabled for, and it will remain enabled until you quit it.

While enabled, the Menu Bar icon changes to show you what time the scheduled session will end, and the menu changes, allowing you to disable the app, or continue to access the app’s preferences:

focus app OS X menu bar menu 2

While you have Focus enabled, if you attempt to load a web page in Safari that you have blocked from the Focus preferences pane, you’ll get shown one of the quotes that are saved in the app’s database:

focus quote in safari app os x

As we try to visit Facebook, a blocked app, we get a quote instead.

Third-party web browsers like Mozilla Firefox are also supported, but you’ll have to install the Focus extension for your web browser in order for the app to know what websites you want blocked and block them when you try to visit them.

As you try to launch apps that are blocked, they’ll appear to open by bouncing on the dock, but before the app can initialize, the app will quit and you’ll get a notification banner on your Desktop telling you that the app has been blocked:

spotify is a distracting app focus review for OS X

You’ll also get notification banners whenever Focus is enabled or disabled. The disabled banner even shows the duration of time that Focus was used for:

focus notification banners

My thoughts on Focus for OS X

Focus is a very in-depth and reliable way of handling distractions and procrastination while you try to stay productive on your Mac.

I particularly like how the app is able to block not only websites, but also certain apps from being launched while Focus is enabled. The Hardcore mode built into the app is also a great way to ensure you’re not slick and try to get around the blocks when you know you have work that needs to be done. The inspirational quotes are a nice touch to get you to want to get back to work too.

If you have kids, Focus will be a great way to ensure that they’re only doing what they’re supposed to, and aren’t fooling around on the computer. This kind of app is great for schools and institutions that also need a quick and easy way to block certain content from being accessed by students or workers.

On the flip side of things is the price. At $19.99 for a single license, $29.99 for three licenses, and $39.99 for five licenses , Focus seems like it’s got a pretty steep price tag for what it does. On the other hand, such is expected when you’re wanting quality software with excellent support, and the bundle prices will really help out for those wanting to include this software on multiple computers rather than one.

If you asked me if Focus was worth it, I’d say it depends on how serious you are about blocking distractions. If you need this kind of functionality, I think Focus is an excellent choice. If you think you have enough self control, you can probably save yourself the $19.99.

Wrapping up

Focus is a great app for keeping your distractions at bay when you have work to do, especially when they keep you occupied for so long that you don’t get any of your work done in a timely manner. This app helps you keep your priorities straight and lets you play after your work is done.

What are your thoughts on Focus? Are there any features you’d like to see added to it? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Chris Gilmore

    I need this so baddddddd

  • :D

    I use this; it works quite well. I blocked activity monitor too to stop myself from closing it even in hardcore mode. Another option is Self Control (free) although it doesn’t block apps and requires that you enter your computer password each time it’s enabled.

    All I think that’s needed now is automatic activation for when blacklisted websites are being used for too long.

  • Joshua The-Legend Wiebe

    Sorry Andrew, no offence but since Jeff moved to 9to5 Mac, it’s just not the same anymore..

    • Of course it’s not the same. Just like Apple isn’t the same with Tim Cook as CEO. Change is good. This said, like everything, there is room for improvement, and I know Andrew is working hard on that.

    • Saulo Chonay

      What is the difference Joshua
      (Other than his voice)

      • Joshua The-Legend Wiebe

        The feeling of anticipation, I can’t really describe it.. I just don’t get that satisfactory feeling with Andrew’s video. Could be the way he’s talking, or how he’s demonstrating this app.

    • Guest

      That’s not very nice. The guys here have their own styles and are doing a great job. I get that a lot of people miss Jeff but that’s not an excuse to leave comments like this under their videos. They work just as hard as Jeff did, I’m sure. You should give the others a chance instead of writing them off.
      Thank you for this article, Anthony. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  • Elxlr

    I am an undergraduate doctor, i really need it to study 10 hours. I have the only problem and that is being consistent and focused.

    Thanks Anyways.

  • nyangejr

    Thanks iDB I have received the promo codes.