Serene: Your Secret Weapon for Productive Remote Work

Distraction-free work-from-home? Count us in.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.

In a pre-covid world, an app to keep you from looking at social media or other sites during your work day might have only been used by a small part of the population. But today, an app to keep your remote work day free of distractions sounds like a dream — and that dream comes in the form of Serene.

What is Serene?

Serene was created by Marcus Taylor, based in the United Kingdom, after he and his team struggled to put out their best work while working remotely. He and his team tried all of the common avenues to help them focus, including using distraction blockers, playing concentration music, working in timed intervals and even putting their phones on airplane mode. While all of these things do work in theory, it takes you a lot of steps to get there. And that’s where Serene comes in. By tying in all of these initiatives in one place, Serene blocks distractions and increases your focus all in one simple click.

Serene: The App for Laser Focus on YouTube

Here’s How It Works

Serene is an application currently available for download for macOS and will soon be compatible with Windows systems. With a simple download, Serene will change your remote work or school day for the better.

For only $4 per month, users are given all of the features Serene offers and unlimited usage for each. (Not sure if Serene is the right fit for you? Take advantage of their free trial that gives you ten free deep work hours to see how productive you can be, even when you’re not working in the office. No credit card input required!)

Once the app is downloaded, it’s time to tailor it to your needs. It will first ask you what you do and how you work. Are you a student? A researcher? An author? Do you work every day? Every other day? What hours? After that, it will ask what you are looking to achieve on that day. Serene centers your day around one goal — whether it’s completing an assignment for class or focusing on your presentation for the CEO at the end of the week. This capability keeps you from being reactive and centers your work day around your most important goal. According to the research of Locke and Latham, goals not only affect behavior as well as job performance, but they also help mobilize energy which leads to a higher effort overall. Centering your day around a single goal isn’t just a daily achievement, it will lead to more efficient work and high goal setting as you achieve more goals!

This one step — choosing a goal and sticking to it — changes everything.

— Scott Reed

Top Goal & Daily Tasks on Serene

After setting your top goal to achieve that day, it’s time to input your tasks on your to-do list. You can rank these tasks by importance, when the task clock will start, and for how long it will run until moving onto your next task. What’s really great about this is that it not only sets small goals for the amount of time a task should take you, but it also helps you get organized and plan your day. You could also put in daily takes such as your lunch break or time to walk you dog to map out your entire day, not just your work day.

After mapping out your tasks for the day and allotting their times accordingly, it’s time to start the day! By simply pressing the ‘Go Serene’ button, your first task will appear along with the your time clock will start ticking.

Now I know what you’re thinking — so, it’s a glorified timer? The answer to your question is simply no. Once you start your day with Serene, concentration music will play as the task clock runs. Now you can mute the music if you would like, but this built-in addition allows you to skip the step of going to Spotify or YouTube and searching for the best music to help keep you focused. Even though this seems like a small detail, not having to search for your own music saves you time, and we all know that ever second counts in a busy day in the (remote) office.

Distraction Blocker on Serene

The biggest plus this application will bring to your productivity is the limiting of distractions. Just as you input you daily tasks, you can also input the websites and apps that will be blocked while you are in your Serene focus session. By working with Chrome Extension or Firefox Add-ons, Serene has access to what can be searched on the browser. Serene will already have organized sections of common distractions including Social Media — more specifically Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest — Adult, and Gambling, but you can also type in your own websites as well. Common Sense interviewed more than 1,100 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 and found that more than half — 57 percent — said social media distracts them from doing homework. For me, online shopping can be a big distraction, so blocking my favorite clothing stores would be beneficial. I have coworkers that get pulled from their work tasks because a sports game is on, or their friends are texting them about their fantasy football league. Now Serene won’t block their phone (yet that is) but, they could block sites like ESPN or NFL’s fantasy football website on their laptop or computer to help keep sports at the very back of their mind, and work at the forefront. Since Serene is an app downloaded to your Mac, it also has the capability to block other apps on your device as well. This can include your Photos, FaceTime, even your Mail app.

Did you complete your task? on Serene.

With the music made for concentration and distractions blockers set for all of your favorite websites, you have completed your first task of the day with thirty minutes to spare. For situations like this, Serene gives you the ability to end a task at anytime. While ending the task, the app will ask you the question “Did you complete your task?” and give the response Done, Half-Done, and Not-Done. If you were to respond Half-Done or Not-Done, Serene will ask you if you’d like to set a task at a different time or day to complete the task. This feature is great for times where an unplanned meeting pops up and you have to stop what you are doing to join. With a few simple clicks, you can schedule a task later in the day, elevating the risk of forgetting about it, and pick up right where you left off. If you choose to not reschedule a Half-Done or Not-Done task, your daily report at the end of the day will show you that it was not completed — a green check mark will mean completed, a red dash will mean incomplete, and a half-filled yellow circle will signify half-done.

Task completion signifiers on Serene

After ending each task, Serene will also ask you if any distractions arose as you were working. It will give the examples of Mobile, Website, and Doorbell, while giving you a text box to submit your own answer. All of these questions are asked for a reason — the app will keep track of your responses and put them in the Reporting section of the app. This section will be broken down into multiple parts: distractions, productivity, goal status and times of sessions. It will also list your Most Serene Day, the amount of time you have spent using Serene for that day, the week, and the month, and the Top 3 Distractions to Remove based on your answers. This reporting section can show you on a single page how your work week looked based on how you interacted with the application.

At the end of your work day, you can check Serene to see if you have accomplished the main goal you have set with yourself, see your task completions all in one spot, and survey your day. Your day is almost done and you have one final question to answer. How productive were you today? To this questions, you have four different options to respond with: 🙈 (see-no-evil monkey emoji), 👍 (thumbs up emoji), 💪 (muscle emoji) or 🎉 (party popper emoji).

Why Use It?

Based on what you have learned about Serene, is it something you see yourself using? Maybe just for a week, or even a day? Do you see the benefits of using it? If not, see a starter (or TLDR) list below.

  1. It keeps you organized. With the ability to map out not only your day, but your entire week with timed tasks, Serene puts a more interactive, and time-sensitive, calendar at you fingertips.
  2. It keeps you focused. With the built-in concentration music feature and distraction blockers for website and apps, Serene does the most it can do on your device to keep you from straying from your work.
  3. It keeps you motivated. Serene has you start your day with a main goal and has you set time goals to complete tasks throughout the day. By keeping yourself accountable, and having something keep track of your progress for you, your motivation to get work done well and efficiently will grow. (And who doesn’t want to stamp an emoji on a long day’s work?!)

What could you achieve if you were twice as productive? Download Serene, get your focus back, and see for yourself.

References:

Knutson, Jeff. (2019, September 27). What new research on teens and social media means for teachers. Common Sense Media. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/what-new-research-on-teens-and-social-media-means-for-teachers

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1991). A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance. The Academy of Management Review. 16. 10.2307/258875.

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