It’s never been easier to get distrac – sorry, just saw a video of this dog stealing a GoPro. Anyway, with our lives largely governed by smartphones, social media and busy jobs, it can be hard to stay focused.
But looking to align your focus back onto the tasks that matter is Foci (pronounced 'folk-i'), a clip-on wearable that’s able to track the user’s breathing habits and harness them to detect how they're feeling.
Essential reading: Tinylogics CEO tells us the inspiration behind Foci
Is this a wearable that can really help keep you locked in, and just how does it all really work? Well, I’ve been living with Foci in order to find out. If you can manage not to get pulled away by a group chat, read on to see how I fared living with the device.
How does it all work?
The irony of adding another device to my daily wear in order to help remain focused isn’t lost on me, but the upside is that this is a wearable that's as discreet as it gets, with very little interaction required. The 44.3 x 20.7 x 12.8mm clip weighs just 10g; it's small enough to sit hugging your waist for most of the day without getting in the way.
The device will know when you’re in motion and won’t be looking out for your cognitive state if you are. When you're settled — say, when you're sat at your desk at work — Foci tracks your diaphragmatic breathing and crosses it against its artificial intelligence algorithm, giving you a light buzz if it thinks you’re not in focus.
Meanwhile, the accompanying smartphone app will also show you in real-time whether your mind is zeroed in or whether it's drifting away. Obviously, you won't be given the 'Not In Focus' tag the literal second you take a glance away from your focus. So looking away every now and then at the app, or just resting it in your eyesight, won't kill your streak, for example.
Inspired by the ‘Core Memories’ from Pixar’s Inside Out, Foci uses a similar premise to denote these different states. Through the fluid orb within the app, shown above, users can get a clear indication of their current mindset – red indicates stress, blue equals calmness and yellow shows when the user is focused. It will go light grey when you get distracted, while a deeper yellow appears when you’re found to be in a significant streak of focus, called a ‘flow’. All these states and their changes are recorded, so at the end of the day you can see a picture of how well you've managed to retain focus.
When setting up Foci, gender, height, weight and age are needed in order to gauge the pattern of breathing more effectively, with tracking beginning within a few hours of clipping on the device. And though Tinylogics, the company behind Foci, indicates that the battery life should only last around seven days, it still has over 80% of juice left after over a week of wear. The Focus can be charged with a simple microUSB cable, so no proprietary nonsense. The device is also waterproof – although I haven’t taken it swimming to test this.
Killing distractions with Foci
Foci promises a lot on paper, and no wearable before it has ever looked to harness a user’s breathing to make them more aware of their mental state. But, as with any new concept, whether it actually works in practice is another matter.
And throughout our time with the clip-on, I’ve been looking at two things: whether the technology itself is accurate, and whether the concept itself is actually effective at training me to be more mindful of my focus.
In the latter respect, this was very reminiscent of using a posture tracker – one that buzzes when it detects you’re slipping into a slouch and can show you in real-time just where you need to be in order to correct yourself. Foci is very similar, in terms of the live experience and the buzzing when you need to change your behaviour. And, just as it is with posture trackers that employ this background tracking technique, it’s very effective.
Read next: Can a wearable really make you calmer?
I’ve had the Foci app set up in front of me throughout the working day, with the orb floating below my eyesight as I drift between a main computer screen and a second screen with Twitter and WhatsApp Web open. An easy way to test it is to see whether it’s able to pick up when I inevitably move away from the main, business screen – which involves primary tasks, such as writing copy, emailing, photoshopping and checking in on Slack – and drift into a Twitter thread or a group chat. After one or two minutes of having my eyes set across to the second screen, I’d almost always get a buzz on my hip, or the orb would turn from a glowing yellow to a colour I quickly grew to hate – the vacuous grey.
It wasn’t just with the screen test I’d see it accurately pick up on my behaviour, either. If I turned around and got distracted by a colleague, it picked up on this almost instantly, too.
Even less obvious distractions it helped train us to avoid. I’ve always worked to music, whether it’s the radio or something from my library, and though I already knew I could easily get distracted by talking on the radio, Foci’s indications hinted I would routinely drift in and out of a streak even with headphones on. To trial this further, I’ve been working without music, and found that this helped keep me in tune with whatever task I've been working on, instead of miming along to music.
But it's not perfect. After all, this is still a device that's in beta testing ahead of a full rollout to Kickstarter backers later this year. While it’s been generally pretty accurate, and we’ve been perhaps a little surprised at just how effective the tracking and training is, there are also times when it’s a little off. You can sometimes spot the orb turning to grey in the corner just as you’re in the middle of a task – which, in itself, is distracting – and we’ve had more than a couple of occasions where a slight readjustment in our sitting has led to an apparent distracted sate. Conversely, there’s also been times when we’ve relaxed and spent 5-10 minutes idling through a group chat and Foci wasn’t able to pick it up.
Motion detection, too, is a bit of an issue. While it makes complete sense for this to be sensitive, in order for the device’s breathing tracking to be effective, it does often feel overly so. You can literally push yourself further back into your chair and you’ll see the yellow orb switch to the neutral ‘In Motion’ and then your streak being snapped.
Essential reading: Wearables that can help you beat stress
And while we’ve spent plenty of time getting to know what makes us distracted and how long we’ve spent in each flow, we’ve yet to really experience the different types of focus. A couple of occasions (like the image above) shows us the blue, ‘Fatigue’ state, but these have been very rare during our testing – it’s mainly been a binary case of being focused or not focused. The graph could also do with more context and insight.
While the feedback has lacked slightly in this regard, the overall experience is bolstered by some re-centring techniques. When Foci spots a trend in your behaviour, it will offer you an optional coaching strategy to help train you. ‘Spotlight’ training, for example, is a quick way for you to interact with the app and get some guidance on how to refocus.
In this particular type of training (though there are more coaching techniques that pop up if you're consistently struggling to stay in focus), you'll be asked to pick a task (i.e. complete 'X' within the next hour) and then be coached on how to treat your focus like a beam of light, and not to let it drift away onto anything but your main task.
It's mindful, and while we do think the app could stand to add a bit more feedback, it's small bits of training like this that complement the actual wearable element handily.
So, did it make a difference?
These kinds of problems aren't uncommon for a new device, and, for the most part, Foci doesn't feel half-baked. It’s also why it’s important to take into account the wider concept here – even if the technology can do what it says, and it largely can, does it actually help?
Based on my time with Foci, the answer is yes. Despite the odd anomaly, this is a wearable that makes you more conscious of your ability to stay focused, or not, and remain mindful of different areas of distraction. You very quickly find yourself trying to appease the angelic orb and prove your focus – so, in this sense, the wider concept is a success.
I’ve no doubt that some will find the app experience a bit of a distraction within itself (there have been times when I’ve had to lock my phone screen in order to not have Foci’s judgement in my view all the time), but generally its tricks are able to help keep you on track.
There are issues to work on, as we've pointed out, but the concept is novel, and Tinylogics appears to have created a wearable that does convincingly help you tackle distractions. If you're committed to following the orb, and you want to try and remain focused during work or study time, this is certainly worth exploring.
How we test