Neat Mac apps that help you concentrate


I’ve found a couple apps recently that help you focus by removing your desktop clutter using various techniques. I’ve used Backdrop forever (and also for my screenshots) but there are some newcomers.

One is $15 Zazen, which sits in the menubar and helps you to “concentrate” on the foremost app by dimming the others. Doodim does pretty much the same thing, albeit less elegantly but for free.

WriteRoom offers “distraction free writing” and comes pretty close — closing off all other distractions and situating you in a black room where you can write Matrix letters to yourself. The autosave and autosession-restore really do make this one feel well thought out and don’t forget to participate in their user-powered software development methodology.

In the neat category is Italian-born Afloat — similar to Doodim in a sense, but in reverse. Rather than dimming everything else, Afloat lets you dim the current foremost window or set it to always be on top. Looks like the developer is looking for localization help, so if you’re game, drop him a note.

Finally, if you’re looking to take a power nap when your fingers are tired and your head ist kaput, check out the pricey (but worth it) Pzizz. They’ve added iPod integration lately, but the idea is simple: create an audio track to accompany you on your naps. Sounds fluffy but it’s not. I downloaded the demo, tried their 20 minute power-nap and literally was out for 20 solid minutes — resuscitated when the announcer dude mystically awoke me from me sleep. It was actually a little freaky. But it worked.

Oh, and the image for this post really has nothing to do with concentrating, but it was a great distraction earlier this week. Using the application Todos, I took a screenshot of my apps, uploaded it and something like 6 hours later there were already 200+ notes on the thing. How’s that for community collaboration? Anyway, I created a group for folks to do the same thing and to share the apps they use.

I’m sure there are more and I’ve barely begun to fill out my I Use This profile, so let me know — which ones do you use that I missed? Linux/Windows folks? Got suggestions?

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

41 thoughts on “Neat Mac apps that help you concentrate”

  1. Cool apps! I’m lately finding a lot of “top 10 apps” type posts, which i relish, and this one is another for discovering helpful and cool apps for OSX. Thanks!
    That was one seriously long chat, too.

  2. They don’t really help you to “concentrate” on your work/tasks, they just keep the mess you made away from you. They’re really apps to improve your productivity. A nice list, anyway.

  3. None of those apps sounds appealing. Thanks for wasting my time. But the icons image was kinda cool.

  4. My experiences with QuickSilver have left me feeling I could not use a mac without it. It’s a must-have.

  5. Thanks for the article. I was already using Todos, great program. I just tried out WriteRoom and love it, distraction free word processing is awesome. Thanks for sharing these wonderful apps.

  6. Hi there

    Really glad you enjoyed using pzizz – sorry you thought it was a bit expensive – perhaps I can help?

    Your readers can now get the sleep module for FREE when buying the software by entering the promotional code:


    This is effectively a $20 discount on the $60 package… Hope this helps? 😉

    Best wishes, and happy pzizzing!


  7. Cool! I hadn’t actually heard of quite a few of those before! Thanks for the links and the rundown.

  8. I can’t find the Pzizz Demo anywhere on their site, only the option to pay. Am I to understand they want 65$ for a product I can’t even test? Really? It’s nice of Edward to offer that promotional code to your readers, but I see the same offer is being given on the website. Also – their forum is literally 100% full of spam. I could not find a single post from an actual bona fide user. It’s all a little fishy.

  9. Virtual desktops… its the only way to truely concentrate. Oh and no internet connection.

  10. I meant to add – “WriteRoom” is very cool. 🙂

  11. @anonymous

    There is a input box at the bottom which requires you to enter your name and e-mail. Once you do that, they’ll send you a link to where you can download the demos for Pzizz.

  12. @ anonymous co-ward…

    Not sure what you mean about not being able to demo the software – it’s available via the software tab…

    Also not sure what you mean about the spam on our forum – we don’t HAVE a forum!

    pzizz IS bona fide – check out the reviews!

    If anyone wants to talk to me, you can contact me at edward



  13. Hmm … Linux … neat apps …

    Can’t think of many.

    One thing Linux does really well is Ctrl+Shift+F5 (KDE), expanding the app to full screen view, for distraction free anything. Once you do full screen view, it’s hard to switch back.

    I use it for editing text in plain vanilla editor, and writing documents (when I need style, not just words), in the terminal, for checking e-mails and reading feeds (F11 in Firefox).

    And although I was forced to switch, I ended up liking Amarok much better than iTunes. Once I figured out how to use it. And Konqueror does more than Explorer or Finder.

    And that pretty much sums up my list. There’s Kompose (poor man’s Expose) and Katapult (dead man’s QuickSilver), but Linux has a long long way before it can actually impress. And nothing like TextMate or VoodooPad.

  14. Looks like a few good lifehack apps i have to catch up w/, thanks for tips.

    And someone already mentioned Quicksilver but I have to give another shout for it. I can’t live without Quicksilver.

    It’s sort of the opposite of Todos- w/ quicksilver you basically NEVER look at the menubar or its icons

  15. Maybe I need a nap. 🙂 I couldn’t find the forum this time. I swear there was one before. 😛 As for the download, I say again it takes you directly to a page that asks you to pay AU$64.95 for the software, no demo download link. If you could make that a little clearer on your homepage, you might get more sales. I simply will not pay that much for a piece of software I cannot try out first.

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  17. Am an avid mac user and found that the expose features coupled with Insanity’s Windowshade do nicely. Am posting mostly though because I agree with the concept behind Pzizz…but am a little frightened of the algorithm. Not normally an alarmist but honestly, doesn’t it seem to be the perfect tool for mass subliminal messaging?!! Eep!!!!

  18. Can’t leave out SpiritedAway (sadly, their website is down, working d/l link here). SpiritedAway automatically hides any application you haven’t touched for 60 seconds (or any other interval you specify). *very* useful! I couldn’t live without it!

  19. @anonymous coward

    My mistake – I didn’t realise you were in Australia / New Zealand…

    The pzizz distributors do things differently over there!

    Contact me if you want help!


    All the best


  20. You mention pzizz, It’s nice but I really don’t think it’s worth the price. It’s just a basic binaural beats generator, with a creepy guy on it. I think ya’ll should save some money and check out

    Sbagen or

    Same idea, basic stuff, but free and open source. Oh and it doesn’t have that creepy guy.

  21. Pzizz was definitely worth the price for me…. i’d often take medication for sleeping, but didn’t like to do that, and those other applications simply just didn’t work. If those other apps work for you, you probably don’t need any app… but if you genuinely need help sleeping, pzizz is truly worth the price.

  22. Wawie… pzizz.
    I checked that out about a year ago, and forgot all about it…
    Definitely something I should be reviewing at the NLMA podcast.

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