Apps Music Productivity & Work

The best music to help you focus

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Music is a performance-enhancement drug. There’s a reason athletes listen to songs on repeat to pump them up before games. But music’s effect on studying, writing, or doing office work is equally profound.

Music is known to increase your productivity by sharpening your focus and putting your brain into a flow state. However, it takes the right type of sound to help get concentrate on your studies and work.

Always do your best work

Focus@Will offers over 20 channels and thousands of hours of music that are scientifically optimized to help you focus and get stuff done.

Seriously, the app has some serious studies to prove it.

“We ask our users to rate their productivity during each session, and we’ve found that the average productivity in a one-hour focus@will session is 75% – this is far above the productivity most people report in an hour without focus@will.”

I use the Uptempo channel at work when I need to filter out distractions and help push me through reading hundreds of emails. However, I turn on the Ambient playlist with medium intensity when I want to get into a contemplative state to journal or blog.

You’ll be amazed at how a little hum of music can make you more productive. I’m listening to the Cafe Focus channel now as I type this post!

Pick your focus channel to hear a sample

Music = neurological focus power

“Music is part of being human,” Oliver Sacks wrote in Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. And the right music, customized to supercharge your happy work creativity, can make a huge difference in your workday!

I recommend that you give Focus@Will a try on the computer first since it seems to work best when you can toggle between focus channels to find one that fits your work habits. But the complimentary app works just as well.

You can sign up to Focus@Will today and get two free weeks. If you see the increased focus you’re looking for, I suggest leveling up with the annual subscription since it’s ultimately cheaper than month-to-month.

So get stuff done while making better use of your time. Reduce your distractions. Be more creative. Always do your best work. And give your mind the boost it needs.

Get focused, today.

gif by @leonnikoo


Is flying the last escape in our constantly connected world? ✈️


Soon enough the good old days of shoddy airplane wifi will be behind us.

The airplane seems to be the only place — the antithesis of the coffee shop — where we have no choice but to disconnect. The internet is either too expensive or too slow to bother using.

And it’s within this big flying capsule that we have no choice but to do other stuff: read, draw, play games, or talk to a seatmate. Riding a plane is a blessing in disguise, showing flashes of the old world of slow media.

In the air, we can’t edit our best selves, nor carve our futures. We are stuck in parallel time, squeezed into intertia by wind and fuel. Unlike the smartphone, airplanes are still stuck in the past.

Writes the Financial Times:

The devices we use daily today are a million times more powerful than any machine from the 1970s. If air travel had improved at the same rate, then you could have left London and arrived in Sydney in less time than it took to read this sentence.

The second we land and grab on to devices, the rectangular glow erases all traces of the conscious tortoise. We are driven back into distraction by candy-colored apps.

Apps Culture Tech

Why some children struggle to hold pencils

According to doctors, you can blame tech for children’s inability to hold pencils. Apparently all that screen time is doing nothing to strengthen their thumb, index, and middle fingers which work together to form one’s basic writing technique.

How to hold a pencil correctly for writing, #tech, mobile, students today
Illustration via The Guardian

Generation thumbs

Having grown up with perpetual swiping and speaking in images and emoji, the next generation is obviously going to encounter difficulty with old ways of doing analog things. Do they even teach cursive writing in school anymore?

We speak in images. But at least early cavemen knew how to draw with their version of a stylus.

Read Children struggle to hold pencils due to too much tech, doctors say

Apps Social Media Tech

Win back your attention by turning your screen gray 📱⬜👀

The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”

We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.


After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.

Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:

I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.

Want to give your thumbs a break and regain some attention? Study the instructions on Lifehacker on how to turn your screen grayscale.

Apps Productivity & Work Psychology Social Media Tech

Don’t let social media use you


Attention is a gift that the social networks want to steal from you. Here’s a simple trick to ward off their magnetism and catch yourself: put the social apps on the fourth home screen.

That’s right: make it harder to access Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest with just a couple taps. The design hurdle allows the mind to pause before engaging into a sinkhole of distraction and emotional envy.

Take back control of your time and don’t let social media use you. Direct its intention by redirecting your attention. Let the story be about your presence.


What’s next?

What’s next? Are we over the smartphone boom and the newest social networking app already?

We live in a ‘next’ society. We need something new every couple of months. As the chips get faster, so too do our consumption habits. 

We long to get over what’s staring us in the face so we can move on to the next dopamine hit. No one wants to wait. No one wants to cope with their boredom. Phoneless, people would rather zap themselves instead.  

Facebook is in a hurry to beat out Snapchat and recreate the Prisma app. Twitter dropped Vine. We’re all treating things like we get treated at the DMV; like cogs in a queue we can’t skip, made to feel suppressed and unimportant. Next in line!

Just because we’re in the industrial revolution of computers doesn’t mean we need to speed up all behaviors. Myopia is killing long-term thinking and shortening our appreciation for what already exists. What happened to celebrating small victories and supporting the Internet of niches–or did the Internet mainstream everything (re: MIA)?

The Zeigarnik effect wants us to replace anticipation with actions we can’t even remember afterward. You accomplished XYZ, but what does it all mean?

When we slow down, do our thing, and let other do their’s, life meets us halfway. We can’t all do each other’s work, out copy each other and live each other’s lives. What’s next is sticking to the real you.

Apps Music News Social Media Tech

How the Kindle teaches you to avoid distractions

There are only two ways to read a book: own a hard copy or read books on Kindle. Reading in the Kindle app on the iPhone is not the same as reading on a standalone Kindle device. On the phone, you are a click away from checking the dopamine-hitting social media feeds, email, and text/push message disturbances.

Reading requires focus, which is why the Kindle works. The Kindle is intentionally minimalist–its magic lies within its subtraction of features rather than extra bells and whistles of a smartphone. It constrains what you do, associating the task with the device.

When Seth Godin goes to write his blog posts, he does it within Typepad. When business people want to hold important meetings, they go to the office. When athletes train, they hit the gym. People use devices or places as triggers for experiences. 

The mobile phone brings everything to your fingertips, a computer that also acts as a camera, a wallet, music player and recorder. It is one of the most innovative inventions of our time because of its convergence and ‘always on’ Internet-connectedness. But with the Kindle device, you can only do one thing well: Read.

Browsing the Internet on Kindle is a frustrating experience, on purpose. On the other hand, playing music or using credit cards at the grocery are more convenient living as consolidations in the phone. They are better for multitasking with other activities than living as single standalone devices.

Kindle means to read just as Google is synonymous with search. These tools excel at doing one thing. As more technology gets integrates into our devices, some activities like reading will be best served on a designated screen.

Apps Science Social Media Tech

Gamifying science: Discover new species through a bug-based social network

inaturalist bugs
Unidentified objects

Yesterday, I blogged about the ability to scan any color in the world using Cronzy’s app and use that exact color to draw in the real world. You can take a similar approach to help identify any of the world’s bugs. is a social network for bug lovers, connecting both the amateur photography discovering new species with the teacher who helps identify it.

In 2013, for example, a man in Colombia uploaded a photo of a bright red and black frog. A poison frog expert in Washington, D.C., spotted it and eventually determined it was a brand-new species. The pair co-authored the results in the peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa.

The perspective in most classrooms is that people use the Internet to waste time. However, when used as a tool to notice the world, the internet connects people and helps people learn.

“Because if you think about it, natural history really is a game. It’s going out there and trying to learn as much as you can about the things that you’re finding in nature.”

One of the iNaturalist’s users, Greg Lasely, has nearly 20k observations, has identified nearly 4k species, and identified almost 134k bugs.

As Seth Godin says, “produce for a micro market and market to a micro market.” iNaturalist is yet another example of the internet’s long tail — there’s a niche community for all interests in the social media age.

Creativity Productivity & Work Writing

Lightweight Apps for Writing

giphy (22)
via giphy

When you’re on the go, you want apps that are quick to open and quick to post. You want to stay away from apps that require more than three clicks. By the time you get in then, you’ll have lost your idea or train of thought.

Here are a few lightweight writing apps that are useful tools for writing on the mobile device. I’ve ranked them by the from the fastest to the slowest it takes to jot something down.

  • Drafts. It opens up a new page every time you open the app. Drafts is the Swiss Army knife of mobile note-taking. It can export in any format and to any other network. Its countless options can get complicated though.
  • Byword. It opens up into a clean, minimalist writing environment. There are less export options to share and format unless you pay an extra $5.
  • ia Writer Pro. This app is excellent for long-form distraction free writing. It offers a bunch of view and formatting options as well. It even has a syntax button so you can watch your adjectives.

You can write in Markdown in all three apps. All apps sync through Dropbox as well. The notes app on the iPhone is also an excellent free option for getting down text quickly but doesn’t offer the same exporting and formatting tools.

Lightweight apps feed the overweight apps like Evernote where information gets uploaded for archiving. You can use Evernote to take mobile notes, but it’s a bit heavier than writing on note-focused apps. It takes Evernote too long to open up a blank page.

Ideas can be ephemeral if you don’t write them down to remember them now. Start with some of the apps listed above, so you catch everything and move on.

PS: I’ll write another day about some mobile photography apps that help streamline the process, from capturing to editing to publishing.


Inventiveness, passion, and courage comes from indies, not from people who watch the bottom line.

Brent Simmons