“Laser Mode” on your Mac — make your workspace distraction-free with a simple keystroke.
I love the feeling of doing deep focused work. Chipping away on a meaningful project for an hour or two can feel magical. It’s empowering, rewarding and calming all at the same time.
But the rareness with which we experience deep work masks a nasty truth: We spend most of our time reacting to priorities of others, sacrificing what’s important to us. To make things worse, our devices are not designed to protect us from doing it. They make it easier to stay up to date in the constant stream of information, rather than focus for an extended period of time. And so we spend our time in reaction-mode.
What we need is more space — to create, breathe, think. And to create space, in any area, you have to take things away, until there’s enough room.
There are plenty great books and methods on how to create space for your own priorities. Here are a few. This post isn’t about that. It’s about what I haven’t yet found. A simple, effective method to create a distraction-free space on my Mac.
Because I can have a solid system and know the principles, but as soon as I see a shiny dock icon with the unread badge suggesting there’s someone waiting on me, or even the browser icon waiting to be clicked, I get distracted. I chase it.
And so I set out to find freedom, or at least some independence, from my attention span. First, I tried all existing apps that aim to give you space to create. But like most software, they come with settings, limitations and bugs. They didn’t stick.
Then I started doing my own thing, rough and simple. I’ve created a simple tool that I’ve been using for months and I’m sharing it so it can be useful to others.
I call it “Laser Mode”
It’s a simple-as-hell Mac App made in Automator that does the following when you run it:
- Hides your Dock
- Hides your Menu Bar
- Sets Do Not Disturb mode to disable all notifications
- Hides Sticky Notes app, if it’s running
- Hides Desktop icons (optional)
- Turns off Wi-Fi (optional)
The easiest way to run Laser Mode is via Spotlight with shortcut ⌘+Space, typing ‘laser’ and pressing Return. To get out of Laser Mode run the app again and everything goes back to where it was. That’s it. No settings, no background activity, no thinking needed. Plus, maybe it’s just me, but I find typing less distracting than looking for an icon and clicking it.
It comes in a two flavours tailored to the level of focus you want to achieve:
- Laser Mode — my default, with everything mentioned above
- Focus Mode — everything in Laser, but does not toggle Desktop icons or WiFi. Good for working with files or doing research.
Download it here and read on for Installation instructions.
I also included these two simple apps for common actions, to save finding buttons and going through menus (especially when they’re hidden):
- WiFi — toggles WiFi
- Sleep — puts your computer to sleep
Installation & Usage
Now, installation is simple but a bit finicky. Here’s a step-by-step rundown:
Move the files somewhere cosy, where they won’t get lost. I keep them in the ‘Automator’ folder in my iCloud Drive.
To make toggling ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode work correctly, you’ll need to set a keyboard shortcut for it to Cmd+Opt+Ctrl+Shift+D. The ‘laser’ script relies on running that shortcut. Note: If you already use this shortcut you can edit the script to match your preferences.
Run the ‘laser’ script via Spotlight.
You’ll likely get a popup that’ll prevent the application from running correctly, like this:
To fix that go to [Apple]→[System Preferences]→[Security & Privacy]→[Privacy tab] and allow the ‘focus’ or ‘laser’ apps in both ‘Accessibility’ and ‘Automation’ options.
Now when you run the app, it should work just fine!
Usage is why this method sticks for me. Spotlight is fast and keyboard-only. It takes a second or less and I don’t ever hesitate or get distracted when doing it. Cat brain kept safely at bay.
Keep one thing in mind. This app is pretty bossy. If you normally keep your dock or menubar hidden, this shortcut will override your preferences. I simply assume the default that comes with the system. If you don’t like that, you can customise it, following the tips below.
OK, there’s another thing. I only tested it on a few Macs, on the latest version of macOS. It worked for me on macOS 10.13 High Sierra. It probably won’t work on Macs running 10.11 or older.
Make your own
Since Laser Mode is created in the Automator app (it comes with your Mac), you can open it in Automator any time to see the logic and customise it. You can easily extend it to hide specific apps by following the code used for ‘Sticky Notes’.
And that’s it! If you have strong feelings about this method, one way or another, let me know in the comments or on Twitter!