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The Best Deep Work Apps For Focus And Productivity

Kelsey Lessard

Marketing Specialist - 04 Dec, 2020

We’ve been talking a lot about deep work here at Shift lately. While it may seem like just another buzzword, it’s actually a concrete and tactical tool that you and your team can use today to help increase productivity and make work a whole lot more enjoyable.

What is deep work?

Deep work is a phrase that was originally coined by Cal Newport. It refers to the ability to work in a state of pure focus, or flow, on a task that requires all of your attention, without getting distracted by anything else. Easy? Definitely not. Achieving this state of pure focus can help you boost your productivity to new heights, but it’s quite the tall order. Thankfully, tools exist that can help you find your way to pure, distraction-free focus and happily engage in deep work. Keep reading to find out who made the list the best apps for deep work.

How can apps help with deep work?

While it may seem counterintuitive at first to add a bunch of new tools to your toolkit for the purpose of blocking out the world to focus on work, these apps actually make cutting down on distractions a breeze. From providing distraction-free background noise, to wrangling an unruly inbox, to simply showing your whole team when you’re not available (because you’re engaging in deep work!), these apps will make achieving a state of pure focus not only possible, but actually easy.

Noisli

Noisli helps you to focus during blocks of deep work by providing inspiring background noises as well as a timer Noisli works more effectively than other sources of background noise, like a TV, radio, or podcast, because Noisli doesn’t try to grab your attention or contain spikes in the noise level. This is a great tool to use if you find that working from home is sometimes just too quiet and you’re craving a little more background noise, without getting distracted. Noisli also has an integrated time which is useful if you like the Pomodoro technique or simply want to break up your blocks of deep work into smaller, more manageable chunks. Plus, there’s also a minimal and distraction-free Text Editor that you can use if you want to get in the flow and simply write.

Noisli

Twist

Twist is a team communication app that is built to work around blocks of deep work. That’s because Twist is designed for teams who use asynchronous communication methods, rather than real-time synchronous communication. Implementing Twist will take commitment from your entire team, and some people may find it a huge change that’s hard to swallow at first. But, if your current team chat app is a big source of distraction for people (which you can find out with an app like RescueTime by conducting an app audit), then you might want to consider making the switch. Who knows, you might find that using asynchronous communication is the ultimate method for making deep work a part of your team’s workflow. Sanebox Email can sometimes feel like the true enemy to deep work. If you’re stuck managing an inbox full of useless emails all day, then freeing up a period of time to simply focus and work can feel impossible. Sanebox can eliminate this problem by automatically managing your email for you. Sanebox works by creating folders in your inbox across every device that you use for email. You can also set your inbox to Do Not Disturb mode, unsubscribe from annoying emails with just a single click, and hit snooze for emails that you want to get to later. Say goodbye to your inbox being the source of all distractions.

Twist

RescueTime

RescueTime is the ultimate app for conducting an app audit on both yourself and your team. This is a great tool to use both for setting up an effective deep work practice, and for monitoring your commitment to deep work throughout the process. RescueTime lets you track all of the different apps that you use throughout the work day. This is critical information to know as many of those apps are likely just a source of distraction, rather than being conducive to deep work. First, audit your apps and delete the ones that are a distraction. Then, use RescueTime to track your app use through the day. If you find yourself checking apps that you shouldn’t be during blocks of deep work, try different strategies to avoid getting distracted. For example, you could use notification muting in Shift to avoid getting pinged by those apps when you want to be engaged in deep work.

RescueTime

Woven

Woven syncs all of your different calendars and allows you to share your availability with other people. This is critical for making sure that blocks of deep work that are in your calendar are respected as periods of time when you can’t be interrupted. Woven also analyzes how you spend your time, which means you can see how much time you spend in meetings versus doing administrative work versus being engaged in deep work. Finally, Woven helps you schedule meetings that are actually necessary a whole lot faster, which also magically cuts down on your admin time and frees up more space for deep work. Voila!

Woven

Notion

There are a lot of different ways that you can use Notion to support deep work in your life. You can use Notion to keep track of tasks and projects in a minimal, distraction-free interface. Another great way to use Notion is by using it as a distraction journal. A distraction journal is simply a place to write down all of the ideas, questions, and things you want to look up online while you’re supposed to be focused and working. So, if deep work sessions are constantly being interrupted by ideas popping into your head, try keeping a distraction journal in Notion so you can note the idea down (and not forget it) and then go back to it later when you aren’t in the middle of a deep work session.

Notion

MindMeister

Deep work doesn’t have to mean crushing out code or writing like the wind all the time. Deep thinking is a critical component for making sure blocks of deep work mean that you’re ready and able to work. This is where MindMeister comes in. MindMeister is a mind mapping and brainstorming app that can help to provide some structure to deep thinking sessions. You can even collaborate with other team members on shared mind maps which can be a useful tool for team deep thinking sessions. If you haven’t tried separating out deep thinking and deep work, then this could be the trick you need to finally make deep work, well, work for you.

MindMeister

Forest

If you’re the type of person who just can’t seem to stay off their phone during the day, and is ruining their productivity with that bad habit, then Forest is the app for you. Forest is a mobile app with one goal—to keep you away from your phone. It works by helping you focus on your work by encouraging you to leave your phone alone by growing your very own forest. While you’re working (and not on your phone) your tree will continue to thrive and grow. However, exiting out of the Forest app to use your phone will sadly cause your tree to die. And you wouldn’t want that to happen, would you? By repeatedly allowing your trees to thrive, leaving your phone alone, and focusing on your work, over time you can grow an entire forest. As an added bonus, Forest actually grows real trees, so by staying focused you’re also saving the planet. It’s a win-win!

Forest

Deep work and Shift

Shift is the best place to house all of the apps you use for deep work. But, it’s more than just a toolbox for all of your tools. Shift even has a feature that lets you mute all notifications across every single app that you use in Shift. To enable notification muting in Shift follow these steps:

  1. Go to the ‘Options’ menu in Shift in the bottom left corner (the three dots) and click the notification bell icon.
  2. Set how long you’d like to mute notifications for, and you’re ready to crush out your next project during a deep work block!

Another great option is to create a deep work Workspace in Shift that you use to house all of your deep work apps. Creating a separate Workspace will signal to your brain that it’s time to focus and engage in deep work, rather than time to check emails or schedule meetings.

Bringing it all together

You don’t need to use every single one of these apps to make deep work a reality in your workday. But, if you find that there are hurdles in your way to achieving a state of pure focus, then you might find it helpful to try a few of the tools we’ve talked about here. If you think that Shift might help make you more productive and maybe even set you on the path to mastering deep work, then you can download Shift here right now.