This post is really a followup to Brian’s 6 Ways to Avoid Letting Your Computer Distract You. In the comments on that post, peril noted that he uses Rocket’s Concentrate [Mac only] to help minimize distractions while working. I’ve given the application a try, and I’m impressed so far.
Concentrate allows you to create a range of different “activities” and pre-define what should happen when you start “concentrating” on each one. Here you can see the four primary activities I’ve defined in the few days I’ve been working with Concentrate: work on my web project, Diss Writing, Grading, and work on ProfHacker posts.
[Click on any screenshot to open a high-resolution version]
I’ve defined a set of actions that Concentrate automatically performs when I click “Concentrate” next to each activity (you can start “concentrating” from the application itself, by right-clicking its icon in the dock, or through its menubar icon). The program can can launch applications, close applications, open documents, open websites, block websites, set my chat status, and more. So, when I click “Concentrate” before writing a ProfHacker post, a variety of things happen.
Three programs launch automatically: Firefox, Espresso, and LittleSnapper. I use Espresso to write my posts, LittleSnapper to capture the screenshots I use in posts, and Firefox to get the images and text online. Chrome, my preferred day-to-day browser, closes automatically when I start concentrating. This is because the ProfHacker administrative site prefers Firefox to Chrome, and I always forget to switch browsers if left to my own devices (I make a similar switch when I move from casual browsing to researching—I open Firefox so I can save my research results in Zotero). Concentrate switches browsers for me.
Concentrate can also open certain websites (in whatever browser you set) while blocking others. When I start writing a ProfHacker post, Concentrate automatically opens the sites we use for storing images, scheduling articles, and posting content, while closing and blocking social networking sites. In addition to opening or blocking individual programs or websites, Concentrate allows you to define groups of related programs or sites that can be added to an action en masse. Concentrate comes pre-loaded with a website “group” called “Social Networks,” for instance, that includes most of the major social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. If you block this group of websites for a particular activity, then Concentrate will prevent you from distracting yourself with them while working on that activity. In my “Diss Writing” activity, I’ve taken this feature one step further. I’ve blocked not only my most frequented social websites, but also my favorite desktop twitter applications, such as Tweetie and Echofon. Concentrate allows you to define your own groups of applications and websites—so you could, for example, group all of your graphic design applications together and tell Concentrate to open them all when you started working on processing archival scans (Activity: Scan Processing——>Concentrate), and to close them all when you finished.
I’ve only touched on a few of Concentrate’s features here. Honestly, I’ve used it for a few hours and have yet to try all the possible actions that can be assigned to activities. Overall, though, I’m impressed. Concentrate does more than simply block distractions (though that feature is helpful). It also automates the series of tasks that inevitably accompany switching modes on the computer. I can see Concentrate being very useful throughout the semester as I switch between researching and grading, between grading and writing, and so on. Concentrate’s interface is intuitive; I understood immediately how to configure a range of actions for each activity.
The standard price tag—$29—feels a little steep for a program with such a specific function. I asked the designers (via twitter) about academic pricing, and they told me that they will send a coupon for 50% off to anyone who emails them from a .edu address. That brings the cost for most ProfHacker readers down to $14.50, and if Concentrate provides anything close to “77% More Focus!” (the promise on the program’s icon), it will likely be worth that price.