Open source tools and tips for staying focused |

Open source tools and tips for staying focused

Work sprints and work buddies can keep you accountable and focused on the task at hand.

Team checklist

Subscribe now

Get the highlights in your inbox every week.

In prior years, this annual series covered individual apps. This year, we are looking at all-in-one solutions in addition to strategies to help in 2021. Welcome to day 19 of 21 Days of Productivity in 2021.

Maintaining focus for a long period of time is difficult. And yet, we often find ourselves in situations where we have to work on a project for hours, or days, or even weeks at a time.


Vague list of steps that do not represent a project plan

Not a real project plan (Kevin Sonney, CC BY-SA 4.0)

I know I've struggled with trying to keep my attention focused day after day on something. There are two techniques that have helped me stay on task and get those longer projects done.

The first is to do work sprints. Not a "Sprint" in the sense of Scrum or Agile, but short periods of time, like 30 minutes or an hour, dedicated to one thing. Maybe a piece of code, maybe reading emails. The important thing is that, like time boxes, this is a dedicated time, almost like a box inside the box. And when the time is up, I take a break.


Timer interface in Mater program

Mater (Kevin Sonney, CC BY-SA 4.0)

There is a productivity methodology based on this sprint concept called the Pomodoro Technique, and there are many open source web services and desktop apps to help. One of my favorites is Mater, a minimalist taskbar app that is a 25-minute timer. Tell it to start, work for 25 minutes, and then take a break.

The second thing I like to do is have a "work buddy" to help keep me accountable. The idea here is to have someone who will call me out if I make excuses and celebrate when I complete something. Sometimes it is a person I work with, sometimes it is my wife. It doesn't matter who it is, as long as they hold you to the promise that "I will work on this thing for this period of time" and that you do the same for them. While this is similar to pair programming (and pair writing), you will both be working on different things, and not looking over each other's shoulders.

Doing sprints and having a partner helps quite a bit in keeping me focused. Give it a try!

Ceramic mug of tea or coffee with flowers and a book in front of a window

Super Productivity empowers its users to adopt a healthy work-life balance so they can get more done.


About the author

Kevin Sonney - Kevin Sonney is a technology professional, media producer, and podcaster. A Linux Sysadmin and Open Source advocate, Kevin has over 25 years in the IT industry, with over 15 years in Open Source. He currently works as an SRE at elastic. Kevin hosts the weekly Productivity Alchemy Podcast. He and his wife, author and illustrator Ursula Vernon, co-host the weekly podcast...