Smartphones have given us immediate access to more information than any human could hope to take in during several lifetimes. Fortunately for humans, they’re not that bothered, because smartphones have also obliterated attention spans through distracting us with notifications and the lure of social media. Bear Focus Timer wants to change all that by training you to put your phone out of reach.
The app is based around the scheduling aspect of the Pomodoro Technique. In short, it breaks down your day into periods of work sprints (25 minutes each, by default). When the timer’s running, the idea is you should properly focus and not be distracted.
At the end of each work session, you get a short break for faffing. After a user-defined number of work/break cycles, you get a longer rest period, where you can brag to anyone within earshot that you’ve actually done 100 minutes of solid work over the past two hours. Go you.
Really, this kind of app is nothing new – dozens do much the same thing. However, they don’t do it as well as Bear Focus Timer. This becomes obvious when you first start the timer, which requires you put your phone face down on the table.
It’s a clever psychological trick. Turning your phone over means something, and feels like you’re deliberately making the decision that you won’t touch it. This physical interaction beats prodding a start/stop button.
Also, there’s the bear. This star of the show scowls at you should you dare pick up the phone before the timer goes ding. And it can’t be tricked either – the bear continues to fume if you try to drag your phone over a desk edge.
Fortunately, the bear’s much happier when you summon up some willpower and do what you’re supposed to. During your breaks, you get encouraging slogans and an illustration of the bear in nature. Start your break and the bear goes fishing – while you spend time fishing for compliments about your new-found productivity.
The bear necessities
Beyond that, there’s little else in an app that is – appropriately enough – very focussed. You can adjust the timings for the sessions and breaks, and get to choose from several optional white noise sounds that burble away while your phone’s face down, further helping you concentrate by masking out surrounding hubbub.
For some people, the limitations perhaps won’t click. There’s no means to glance at the timer to see how long a session has to run (although that perhaps misses the point – you’re meant to work until you’re told to stop). Also, there’s no tracking within the app to see how well you’re doing over a period of days and weeks.
But BFT’s elegance is part of the charm. This is a simple, no-fuss, affordable timer that anyone can use. More to the point, the intuitive way in which it works ensures BFT is effective, encouraging you to use your phone a little less when you should be working a little more.