Inspiration

The Pomodoro technique has become widely used for getting things done. By setting short 25-minute intervals dedicated to a task, we are incentivized to stay focused and ignore distractions like text messages and email notifications, if only until the timer ends.

However, many people have trouble sticking with the Pomodoro system. As Zoe Read-Bivens writes in her article describing her frustrations with Pomodoro, the timer has become “a tyrant”. When we are in a flow state, a timer blaring every 25 minutes or so only serves as an unnecessary interruption that can drag us off-task. When we are working on highly dreaded tasks, perhaps even 25 minutes is too much task. Lastly, not all interruptions can or even should be ignored until it is break time. Multi-tasking is a bad practice, but it is healthy to be able to switch our entire focus from one task to another when we feel our concentrating sagging. The Pomodoro technique is not flexible enough to account for these issues.

The Flow Time technique, developed by Zoe Read-Bivens, attempts to solve some of these issues. In Flow Time, we use a spreadsheet to keep track of interruptions along with work and break time. There are no loud timers to distract us. However, spreadsheets can be an inconvenient tool to use, particularly on our phones. In addition, like Pomodoro, Flow Time is not set up for seamless switching of focus between tasks.

Another common way to be better with our time is to use a time-tracking system like Toggl. However, switching between activities can be tedious to time-track and these systems are unable to handle the real-world reality of interruptions well. In addition, both Pomodoro and time-tracking techniques do not handle switching between activities during a break or work session well. Mindful.ly allows you to stay focused while maintaining flexibility.

What it does

Throughout a day, you either choose to be mindful about what you want to do or you wander with no clear sense of direction. When you find yourself browsing Slack, Reddit, Twitter, or Facebook without really considering whether this is actually what you want to spend that very moment doing, then you are acting mindlessly.

In Mindful.ly, time that is not tracked counts as mindless time spent. Whether this time is tracked as mindless work or mindless play depends on what time of day this time was untracked. You are able to set hours marking the start and end to your work day, which is when untracked time counts as mindless work. Breaks/play time is allowed during work time, but must be chosen deliberately and tracked by starting a new session. In day hours that do not fall within the work day, untracked time is counted as mindless play. Similarly, work is allowed during this time but be mindful, started by creating a new session.

Mindful.ly divides time spent during the day into four sections: mindless work, mindless play, mindful play, and mindful work. Time that is directly tracked by the timer in Mindful.ly counts as mindful time, as you have deliberately decided that you will either be working or playing for a period of time (known as a session). You are encouraged to specify an activity to work on during a session, although this is not required. In addition, unlike the Pomodoro, Flowtime, and time tracking techniques, Mindful.ly allows you to quickly shift between activities during a session while still encouraging a focus on one activity at a time.

In short, a session defines whether you are choosing to work or play, while activities are optional and allow you to define what in particular you want to be doing at the moment.

How we built it

We used Swift to write this iOS application, and Firebase as the backend storage for each user. A smattering of Javascript was used to interface with Firebase.

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