I like my orange juice freshly squeezed, but there are some good things that come from Concentrate. From the new app, that is, not the distilled juice essence. Concentrate is a new program that seems perfectly designed for aspiring singletaskers. It aims to reduce distraction and boost productivity by doing the work of various other separate applications, united under one well-designed roof. While the smart-looking launch page might have you thinking this is a web app, it’s actually a downloadable native OS X app program; Windows users will have to look elsewhere for help silencing the static.
What Concentrate provides is different than most apps, though, in that it takes as its core philosophy reduction, rather than addition or enhancement. It’s basically like a task scheduler that works similarly to Automator actions in order to provide you with efficiency-boosting shortcuts to setup programs, block web sites, and run and kill apps, all of which lets you focus on the task at hand.
What Do You Want to Do?
That’s the question that drives Concentrate.The idea is that you set up “Activities,” each of which is comprised of a number of individual processes or sub-actions. An Activity could be something like, say, “Work on Novel,” in which case your the sub-actions could be to kill your Twitter client, block Facebook, set your iChat status to Do Not Disturb, and open WriteRoom. You can do that for an indefinite period of time, or if you like to set aside two hours a day for novel writing, you can add a timer to the Concentrate activity that will automatically remove the restrictions on what sites you can use when your chosen amount of time expires.
In practice, Concentrate works as I expected it to, and also performs some unexpected handy tricks, like hiding all open apps not directly mentioned in any of the sub-actions associated with the activity that’s running. It also has some preset categories of web sites to block, including a social networking group that probably eliminates 75 percent of the causes of my procrastination. Unfortunately, when it kills applications, you can always just reopen them. It’d be nice if you could actually block an app from opening at all, but I’m not even sure if OS X would allow that.
It’s The Little Things
Concentrate not only provides OS X users with an extra jolt of willpower, it does so with style. Little features, like being able to play a sound to signal the start or end of an activity, or continually throughout (a ticking sound in the example activity), or the option to customize the icon for each activity, really make me feel like Concentrate is something worth paying for. You might be able to duplicate most of the app’s functionality by creating your own Automator actions, but you couldn’t do it nearly as elegantly or with as much efficiency.
You can also integrate your own Automator actions directly in Concentrate, in case there are things the program can’t do on its own. A convenient menu bar icon allows you quick access to all of your activities, without having to access the main window, and Application Groups allow you to kill multiple apps at once, the same way you can with web sites.
Concentrate is free to try for 60 hours, which should give you plenty of time to determine whether or not you enjoy taking your marching orders from a piece of software. After that initial period, it’ll cost you a $29 one-time fee for a license, which comes complete with a money back guarantee according to their site. It might be a small price to pay if you’re having a hard time blocking out distractions on your own.
Do you use software to achieve singletasking nirvana, or do you rely on willpower alone?