Autopause when you're away from your desk

Tim 8 years ago updated 8 years ago 13

I always lock my computer when I'm away from it (Win+ L). Would this be able to detect that?

It's useful to still have Focus mode on when I'm not using Chrome otherwise though (I mostly work in Excel).


There's an 'idle' API in chrome that I can detect either when nobody has touched the computer at all, over a given period, or when the computer is locked. That's probably the way to go. With that Build Focus will pause automatically and immediately if you lock the machine, or if you just don't touch anything at all for some period.

Any thoughts from people on what duration they think should pass without any input to count as them being away? Too short and it'll happen if you just don't touch the mouse while you're thinking, but too long defeats the purpose. How about 2 minutes without touching your mouse or keyboard = you're away, does that sound reasonable?

According to the Pomodoro technique (which I'm assuming you are imitating), you don't get any partial credit for any incomplete focus sessions, you just have to start a new focus session.

The last thing we would want in a productivity app is an interruption to ask "Are you still there?". Perhaps an alternative would be just a question in the notification at the end of the session to ask "Were you focused, or were you distracted, or were you interrupted?"


Hmm, interesting. I'm starting this now, and pause/lock detecting is indeed pretty easy, but how resuming should work has lots of open questions.

Use cases

I think there's a few main cases to think about here, all with different most-reasonable outcomes:

  • Paused because I got distracted elsewhere - should fail & lose a building
  • Paused because I was doing work elsewhere - should count as focused time
  • Paused because I'm not working right now (the end of the day, or lunchtime) - shouldn't count for anything either way


Auto-pause after 2 minutes of total inaction, or instantly if you lock your computer.

When you resume (when you next do something, or unlock your computer):

If it's more than 15 minutes later, everything should be cancelled & reset. Notification appears to tell you that happened and ask if you want to try again.

For any time less than 15 minutes later, Build Focus could either:

  1. Automatically silently resume from where you left off (so don't count the time when you were away, but don't punish you).
  2. Prompt you to ask whether you were working elsewhere or distracted. If distracted, you fail immediately. If working elsewhere, time is counted as focusing (which may well mean you instantly finish focusing and get a new building).

First option is easier to use and much lower friction, but can ignore potential distractions. 2nd doesn't do that, but does mean you'll get nagged when you return to your computer later.

Which option would work best for you?


Okeydokey, this is done and released, should be updating on your computers imminently. I played with a whole range of options, but in the end I've gone for the simplest possible choice.

After 1:30 of complete inaction on your computer, or instantly if you lock it, Build Focus will now automatically pause.

The Build Focus page shows 'Paused' pretty clearly, time stops ticking down, and the Build Focus icon fades from red to pink and becomes a small Pause symbol (looks like ).

As soon as you touch anything (or unlock it), it'll instantly resume from where you left off.

Remain inactive for a full 15 minutes, and your focusing will reset entirely, as if you hadn't started at all. You won't lose any buildings, or gain anything either.

Give it a go, enjoy, let me know if you'd prefer it tweaked or changed somehow. Thanks for your input everybody!


I have a few issues with the pause thing - it works well when I get distracted and start staring into space, but I have occasionally used BuildFocus to force myself away from my computer to do the washing up, and this feature completely obliterates that function. Obviously, that's probably just me because I'm very lazy with the washing up, but is there a way to tell it you're working away from your computer? There's also times when I'm reading physical textbooks and don't want to be distracted by checking twitter, and again this function makes BuildFocus less useful.

I wish there was a way to turn off Auto-Pause too. Sometimes I have it on to help me focus on reading something and taking notes by hand and its annoying to have to jog the mouse every minute just to keep it going


Ok, sounds like lots of enthusiasm for being able to disable this. I'll add a Pause-on-idle-or-lock/pause-on-lock/never-pause option in for now. I might tweak this further later, but that'll do to start with.

Under review

Ah, interesting, that's a use case I hadn't looked at.

Presumably what you're looking for here is an option to disable autopausing? Or is it that sometimes you want it to pause if you wander off, and sometimes not, so you need a different mechanism for that? Maybe a different way of starting focusing which means "start focusing, but off the computer" (design of how you'd do that nicely TBC, but let's worry about that separately).

Happy to look at any ideas for tweaks and changes that'd make this work better for those cases.


There's now an option to configure exactly how this works on the settings page.

Should be on your computers shortly, when they next autoupdate (normally within a day or so, restarting Chrome might help). Let me know if this does help, or not, if you've got thoughts on how else it should work.

This'll probably evolve further in future (I'd rather not add extra settings for every single feature), but I'll wait and see how people use it, and have a bit more of a think in the meantime.

Thanks - ill use this a bit more and see what my behaviour is with it.

If nothing changes though, I'm thinking I'd like the option to destroy on idle by not on lock? My personal usecases here:
On lock - sometimes I have to do other things away from the computer that are still work, wouldnt like a destroy for this (plus its friction to have to go in the tab and pause it before leaving)

On timeout - primarily the reason for me timing out is being distracted by something else (e.g. my mobile)

But I can see how this doesnt fit other's usecases so maybe having the behaviour (pause or destroy) configurable?

That's really interesting, it's very helpful to be able to hear your use cases. The long-term plan for this is full mobile support: if you get distracted by your phone, you'll fail Build Focus on your phone (...details TBC). Would that solve this for you?

I'd rather not try and make the chrome extension try and be too clever about things. It's probably always going to be wrong for somebody's use case, and I think it's better to try and keep it simple rather than adding too many extra options and rules.

One other thing that might help is http://buildfocus.userecho.com/topics/5-add-a-i-failed-to-focus-button-to-handle-distractions-outside-of-chrome/# - adding an 'I failed' button, so you can manually track when you've got distracted outside the extension. That's still to come, but shouldn't take very long once I actually find time for it.