- The developer behind the Engross app describes it as a combination of a pomodoro-inspired timer with a to-do list and a day planner.
Like most, I am always working to improve my effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. One way to do that is by implementing time management techniques. Ultimately, implementing good time management enables you to work smarter— not harder—with the goal that you get more (and better quality) work done in less time, especially when time is tight and the pressure is high. As a result, I am always looking for apps that can assist with my time management skill development and increase my productivity.
Recently, I started using Engross: Focus Timer & To-Do— an app inspired by the pomodoro technique. The developer behind the Engross app describes it as a combination of a pomodoro-inspired timer with a to-do list and a day planner. Since I am a big fan of the pomodoro technique, this combination of features seemed appealing enough to test out the app.
If you have never tried the pomodoro technique, I highly suggest trying it. This time management method was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Cirillo named the technique after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer—“pomodoro” is Italian for tomato—he used as a university student to focus on his studies and complete his assignments. The idea behind the technique is simple: You set a timer for 25 minutes—a pomodoro—and work on the task at hand for the full duration of time. When the timer rings, you reward yourself with a short break. This technique is designed to encourage you to devote your complete focus and attention to one task, while taking short breaks to avoid mental fatigue.
So what does this look like in practice for lawyers? Rather than working on a brief until it is “done,” with all the interruptions and distractions we often face throughout our day, you work on the brief with 100% focus until your 25-minute pomodoro is up. When the time is up, you get up and stretch, check your email or whatever else you like to do on a break for five minutes. Once your break is over, you go back to working on the brief for another 25 minutes, and so on, until you complete four 25-minute segments—four pomodoros. After completing four pomodoros, you take a longer 20- to 30-minute break.
Utilizing a timer for your pomodoros, as you might expect, is key to staying on track with this technique. Within the Engross app, the timer is customizable, so if you want or need to set the timer for more or less time than a traditional pomodoro, you can do that. You can also label your sessions to reflect what you are working on during each pomodoro session. Additionally, there are both timer and stopwatch modes, and you can even set a timer for your breaks. When your timer goes off—whether it is set for a pomodoro or a break—there is a notification. You can also allow for notification warnings when sessions and breaks are almost over.
The key to working in 25-minute pomodoro sessions is to truly focus on the task at hand and eliminate all distractions. Your goals should include avoiding falling victim to the distraction trap of bad habits like checking your phone, looking at social media or chitchatting. This is where the Engross app has a key feature: While using the timer, there is a “Hit me when you are distracted” button in the middle of the screen. You simply tap the button any time you find yourself distracted. The app tracks how many times you have tapped the screen during the 25-minute session. Later, you can review the statistics showing when you were distracted the most throughout the day. This reflection can be helpful in determining how to better focus next time. The challenge, however, is to limit the number of times you are distracted during your pomodoros going forward.
When using the pomodoro technique, your goal should be to work toward task completion to meet your daily goals. As a result, it is helpful to create a prioritized task list to determine what your workday needs to include. Since the Engross app allows the user to create a to-do list within the app, this makes the process easy to implement alongside the use of the timer for your pomodoro sessions. An additional useful feature in the to-do list is the ability to add subtasks. This allows you to break your tasks up into smaller, manageable steps to meet your goal. If you do not complete your task list for the day, you can simply swipe a task left to change the due date.
The to-do list has functions available to set reminders and track your progress on the completion of each task. Swipe right on the task when it is completed, and it is not only removed from your to-do list and pushed to your completed list, but you will see a satisfying check mark and slash through the task.
The calendar feature is rather simplistic, which some may prefer. You can enter your daily events, but only with a single reminder notification. There are, however, several reminder times to choose from. When I needed an additional reminder, I did find it easy to set a new one after receiving the initially set reminder, but this of course required me to take an additional step.
The events you have entered on the calendar are displayed in list view for the day. You can also add comments to the event entry and sync your phone calendar to the app, but you can only create reoccurring events in the premium version of the app.
Engross is available for free download on both Android and iOS, but with limited features. Depending on how interested you are in the statistics the app can keep, the free version may be suitable, since you get the basic features of the calendar, the to-do list and the timer. The downside is that you can’t launch the timer directly from an entry on the calendar or the to-do list in the free version like you can in the premium version.
Some other features you may be interested in within the premium version include the ability to write notes and comments associated with your pomodoro sessions, an app whitelist option to block all other apps, more advanced tracking of statistical data including work statistics and focus analysis, and a white noise feature that lets you select from several options of soothing sounds while working, although you do get a tick-tick sound with the free version. The premium version is an in-app one-time purchase and is listed as $11.99. After downloading the free version, however, I received an upgrade option for 50% off within the app.
When it comes to pomodoro-inspired apps, the Engross app certainly isn’t the only fish in the sea. There are several alternatives out there if you find that this app isn’t the right one for you. Some additional apps include Focus To-Do, Toggl Track, Be Focused and FocusMode, just to name a few. One thing to keep in mind, though, is whenever you are trying out a productivity app or time management technique, neither is a one-size-fits-all sort of thing. Sometimes it takes trial and error when it comes to finding the right app or technique for you.