With tons of desktop real estate and the processing power to run practically as many apps as you can open, it can be challenging to stay focused on a single task while using your PC. Luckily, in recent years a number of new tools have been developed to help you create a distraction-free workspace at home or in the office. These apps and tools hide unused windows and menus to help you focus on what's important and be more productive.
Without the distraction of extraneous apps, windows and annoying notifications you'll be able to work more productively and with less interruption than you could otherwise. Whether you're weak-willed or just a consummate multi-tasker in need of a little productivity boost, we've rounded up some great tools that'll let you write, work, and even browse the Web while keeping distractions to a minimum.
Distraction-Free Word Processors
The distraction-free tool movement started with word processors, and it's not hard to see why: writing is a focused task that takes a lot of mental energy, and it's easy to let your attention drift to the other windows and apps open on your PC. Demand for a distraction-free writing tool is high, which means you've got a number of tools to choose from. I've taken the liberty of compiling a few of my favorites below, but you might also want to take a deep dive into the settings of your favorite word processor to see if it offers an option to shut out extraneous notifications and toolbars. Many modern writing apps include a distraction-free full-screen mode as an optional feature, a simple setting that saves you time and ensures you can keep using your editor of choice.
If that's not an option, Windows users should take a look at Writemonkey for a clean, simple writing tool that's also free. Writemonkey is great for getting work done, but I also use Q10 when working on a Windows PC. It's mostly a matter of personal preference; both apps have their strengths, but I find Q10's timer feature invaluable when trying to write on a strict deadline or when using the Pomodoro method.
Mac users also have a number of distraction-free writing apps to choose from. The granddaddy of distraction free writing tools is a handy app called WriteRoom that creates a full screen word-processor that hides all menus until you need them later. While WriteRoom has updated over the years with a lot of exciting features (there's an iOS version now that syncs well with the desktop app) it's also $9.99 in a field where almost all of the competitors are free.
I prefer OmmWriter for my distraction-free writing in Mac OS X; not only does it help me focus and be more productive, it also has a few customizable themes (with more available in a premium version of the software) along with some soft ambient noise tracks to drown out any distracting outside audio.
Last (but certainly not least), Linux users and any Windows or Mac users unsatisfied by other offerings should take a look at the cross-platform FocusWriter, a great little full-screen text editor that supports themes and tabbed document browsing in addition to the usual hidden menus and keyboard shortcuts.
Distraction-Free Desktop Apps
There's no reason to limiting the distraction free philosophy to just your writing tools however. There are also plenty of great tools to eliminate distractions from your PC desktop and stay more productive.
Mac users know that lots of Mac OS apps commandeer the entire screen while running in full-screen mode in the newest iteration of Mac OS, Lion. The support for full-screen apps has made many of the Mac's most popular applications (Final Cut, Photoshop and other video/music/image editors) distraction-proof by default. If you've got Lion installed, make sure check for a new Full-Screen App icon in the upper right corner of your application window. If you can, hit that button to turn your favorite app into a distraction-free zone.
Of course not all apps will have full-screen support and for some situations you'll still need to run multiple windows at once. If that's the case you can still minimize distractions from other apps with the help of Backdrop, a handy little app that will let you hide not just other applications but also your computer's desktop when you're trying to get work done in an application.
Windows users may be interested in Ghoster, a free utility which dims all your windows except for the currently active one to help you stay focused. It won't actively block notifications from programs like AIM or TweetDeck, but you can probably shut those down on your own if you need to get some serious work done.
Distraction-Free Web Browsers
Of course the chief cause of distractions and a decline in general productivity is the Web browser. The moment you open your browser you're just a new tab away from hours of distraction; worse, most of us need to stay connected and have a Web browser open for at least a few sites (email, server management, CMS access etc.) for a large part of the day.
Luckily, you can download Google Chrome and use it to turn any Website you need to use into a distraction-free standalone app, making it easy to keep an eye on the Websites you need for work without letting you get distracted for hours searching random articles on Wikipedia. Google Chrome's Application Shortcut feature creates a Website-specific browser that will open and run only the single site you tell it to; all you need to do to is select Create Application Shortcut from the Google Chrome Tools menu, which appears when you click on the wrench icon in the upper-right corner of your Chrome browser. Next, select where you want Chrome to create the application shortcut and you'll get a standalone app that will run only that one site.
Unfortunately, this feature only works for Chrome users running Windows and Linux on their PC. Mac OS X devotees looking for a site-specific Web browser will need to take a look at Fluid, a free app built for Macs that lets you create dedicated shortcuts for specific Websites. Pay for the full version ($5) and unlock a few more productivity features, including the ability to add Fluid links to your toolbar so you can have a dedicated Wikipedia or GMail application.
It can be galling to admit how much time we waste during the workday, but with these productivity tools at your disposal (and a little bit of willpower) you should easily be able to make any computer-related task the focus of your attention.