Get Focused: 8 iPhone Apps for Staying on Task

Do you have trouble staying focused? Yeah, me too. In fact, while researching this article, I found myself drifting off to other tasks that definitely needed to be done right away (plot twist; they did not, in fact, need to be done right away). It’s hard to say how much time we waste just worrying about how much time we waste. If, like me, telling yourself, “I have to focus!” feels more abusive than it does helpful, you’re probably dealing with an interruption to one of your executive functions. And while your smartphone use can be a symptom of an attention problem, it can also become part of the solution.

Related: Best Productivity Apps: Top Picks from the iPhone Life Team

Our executive functions govern all our task management skills, from deciding what we need to do next to staying focused on that task until completion. Everyone has executive dysfunctions sometimes (although some of us, like people who live with ADHD, deal with more persistent distractions). The urge to check our smartphones quickly becomes part of our executive functioning loop. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying our friends, whether in meat-space or cyber-space, but when these social cues get mixed into our daily tasks, it can feel like we’re trying to solve advanced calculus in a crowded cafeteria.

The good news is that there are ways you can retrain your brain, or at least redirect your focus to limit how often those social urges disturb your ability to stay on task. The magic sauce for staying focused involves a mix of reviewing how you’ve been spending your time (without judging yourself), deciding how you’d rather spend your time, and creating the time and mental space for you to accomplish your priorities. If this sounds too simplistic, think of decluttering your brain like decluttering your house; first, you have to sort through everything, then decide what you need to get rid of, and finally organize what you’ve kept in a way that promotes your desired daily flow.

With all that in mind, I’ve tested three different categories of apps for you: Time Allocation, Task Prioritization, and Focus Maintenance. Any mix of the three should help you promote a more sustainable mental flow that will lead to greater periods of focus. I’ve even included an awesome app that combines all three categories so that you don’t have to jump from one app to another while trying to stay on task! So, let’s dive into some low-stress solutions to the high-stress problem of getting focused.

Time Allocation Apps

Toggl (30-day free trial; $10.99/month)

If you’ve ever used a time-sheet app, then this will sound familiar; Toggl tracks how much time you spend on daily tasks. What sets Toggl apart from other time-sheet apps is the Siri and Calendar integration. You don’t have to stop working to switch tasks; just tell Siri to switch for you, and Toggl starts a new timer. Your Calendar sends schedule reminders through Toggl so that you can stay focused until it’s time to leave. There’s even a browser extension that monitors your web use, syncing it all to the same account.


RescueTime (Free, $9/month for Premium) 

How often do you pick up your phone and how do you use it once it’s on? Can you say for sure how much time you spend browsing cute cat videos when you’re on the clock? RescueTime monitors your iOS usage for free and provides daily reports of when, where, and how you used your device. If you upgrade to the premium plan, you’ll be able to track your browser use on your desktop computer and block distracting sites that don’t belong in your workflow.

Task Prioritization Apps

Upper - HabitTracker (Free, $2.99/month for Premium)

What’s the most important thing you must do every workday? Do you have your priorities straight? Upper helps you stay on target with checklists of daily tasks. The basic plan allows for a six-item checklist; the premium plan gives you unlimited items. You’ll receive customizable daily reminders telling you when to begin and end the next item on your list. As you complete your tasks, check the items off in the app for the satisfaction of acknowledging a job well done! Focus


Focus KeeperPro ($1.99)

This simple timer, which is based on the Pomodoro Technique of dividing the workday into 25-minute increments with 5-minute breaks, is great if you want help focusing but don’t need to track how you spend your time. Just press start when you’re ready to begin work and go until the timer tells you to stop. You can set goals each day of how many work sessions you plan to accomplish and receive weekly reports on how often you paused the timer or skipped a work session.


Be Focused –Focus Timer (Free)

This app also uses the Pomodoro Technique, but Be Focused takes things a step further. At the start of your day, make a list of tasks and select which task you want to start your first timer with. If at any point you need to switch tasks, it’s as simple as swiping left or right to another job on your list. The daily report shows how often you switched mid-task, how long it took to finish a given task, and how many breaks you took that day.

Focus Maintenance Apps

Freedom - Block Distractions (Free for first 7 sessions, $6.99/month)

Do you need to check your phone for work, but find yourself getting distracted by social media notifications or the urge to capture a nearby Pokémon? Freedom gives you the power to restrict your app usage during the work day so that you can stay on target. Just open Freedom and select the apps you want to block to begin your session. When the session is finished, close Freedom to restore full access to all your favorite leisure apps.


Focus@will ($11.99/month)

This app is great for anyone who gets distracted by office noises or by a lack of noise. Focus@will is a curated collection of audio tracks to promote attention on a given task. Whether you are working on a creative projector advanced calculus, there’s an audio channel to support the brain activity required to reach peak performance on your task. While other music apps have some playlists curated by users, focus@will has playlists curated by science. Listen on either your iPhone or from a web browser on any desktop.

Focus Booster (Free limited plan, $2.99/month for Premium)

This app lets you monitor your iPhone and browser usage, use task management tools to stay focused, and set a variety of alarms to zone in while you work. The free version is great for a trial, but I like the individual plan of $2.99 per month. The individual plan will track your hours, keep an eye on your device usage, and maintain your focus all from a single app. For a couple dollars more, the corporate plan includes revenue and expenditure tracking.​


This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of iPhone Life magazine.

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              Tamlin Day's picture

              Tamlin Day is a feature web writer for iPhone Life and a regular contributor to iPhone Life magazine. A prolific writer of tips, reviews, and in-depth guides, Tamlin has written hundreds of articles for iPhone Life. From iPhone settings to recommendations for the best iPhone-compatible gear to the latest Apple news, Tamlin's expertise covers a broad spectrum. 

              Before joining iPhone Life, Tamlin received his BFA in Media & Communications as well as a BA in Graphic Design from Maharishi International University (MIU), where he edited MIU's literary journal, Meta-fore. With a passion for teaching, Tamlin has instructed young adults, college students, and adult learners on topics ranging from spoken word poetry to taking the perfect group selfie. Tamlin's first computer, a Radioshack Color Computer III, was given to him by his father. At 13, Tamlin built his first PC from spare parts. He is proud to put his passion for teaching and tech into practice as a writer and educator at iPhone Life.