Let’s face it, mobile phones aren’t going anywhere. They’re so integrated into our lives and we rely on them so much that the majority of the population now suffer from ‘low battery anxiety’. No matter how hard we try we somehow find ourselves mindlessly checking our phones and wasting so much of our precious time.
It’s a hard feat to be laser focused on your work or the people right in front of you when you’re constantly bombarded with notifications. If you refuse to turn on your Do Not Disturb Mode for the entire day (this changed my life when I implemented this method), then I have an alternative that might alleviate the number of times you mindlessly pick up your phone.
Recommended Reading: Take back your life with one phone setting.
An app that helps you to stay focused.
With the slogan “Stay Focused, Be Present” the Forest app attempts to lock you out of your phone and enables you to focus on the task at hand. How does it do this? By killing off a tree if you don’t do otherwise. Sounds a bit dark right? Don’t worry, you’ll only be killing off a digital tree that is grown within the app. Although the concept sounds a little bit silly, this method actually works and has helped thousands of users to stay off their phones and focus on the present moment.
Forest is simply a gamified version of the Pomodoro Technique. For those of you that are unaware of this time keeping method here’s a quick breakdown:
Step 1: Place a timer for 25 minutes and work distraction-free during that period.
Step 2: Once the timer is done take a five-minute break.
Step 3: Repeat step one.
Step 4: After the fourth 25-minute timer take a 15-minute break
Step 5: Repeat step one.
Recommended reading: What is the Pomodoro Technique?
Forest incorporates this method and adds its own little spin to it. Once the timer is set and the countdown begins, a digital seed is planted and at the end of your allotted time, a digital tree would have fully grown. If however, in that time you decide to pick up your phone and leave the Forest app to reply to a message, or watch a YouTube video or even just to return to the home screen, you’ll find upon returning to the app that the tree has withered and died.
The aim of the game is to plant as many trees throughout the day and hopefully if you’re off your phone and using that time wisely, you would have had a very productive day. The gamification element is what I find quite rewarding, especially when I’ve ended my day with up to 6 or 7 trees successfully planted, that’s when I know I’ve done a lot of focused work. Looking back at my statistics it’s nice to see a little forest has been grown through all of my focused work.
More than just an app.
If you’re having trouble focusing whilst sitting in front of your computer, Forest has also created a Chrome extension that’ll allow you to blacklist any websites that are a distraction. Whether it’s Facebook, Youtube or even your own personal website, all you have to do is click on the tree, start planting and focus on your work. Similar to the app, if you find yourself on any website that is blacklisted, your tree will wither and die.
I personally don’t use this feature as there are often times where my work or studies require me to learn from a YouTube video or reply to an email. I actually don’t have a Facebook account so I don’t struggle with the urge of checking my timeline. If you know a particular website that’s stopping you from getting any work done, you should give the Chrome extension a try.
How much do I have to pay?
Moving back to the phone, if you’re an Android user you can download the app free of charge. However, if you’re on iOS you’ll have to pay £1.99 to grant access to it, this will immediately give you access to all the premium features. Once you’ve downloaded the app you can start planting right away. For Android users, there is an option to upgrade and unlock the premium features in the app, but the basic version is more than enough to get you started on your road to staying focused in the present moment.
As I’m an Android user, I paid to upgrade to the premium because I wanted to make full use of the additional features. Below I outline what is available when you have access to the premium version.
Plant a real tree.
Planting a digital tree to help you focus is all well and good, but planting a real tree to help the environment is even better. Forest can help you with both. Trees for the Future is a charity organisation that is partnered with Forest to help plant real trees. The more digital trees planted the more virtual coins you accumulate. Users can trade in those coins with Forest and they will donate to the charity and help plant a real tree. It’s a wonderful gesture and it gives us even more of a reason to support the app.
Recommended reading: Sponsor Trees for the Future Charity
After planting so many digital trees I had lost track of how many coins I had accumulated. When I had realised I had enough to plant a real tree I jumped on the opportunity. However, I did read that due to budget restraints each user is limited to only planting 5 real trees within the Forest app. It’s strange to think that all I have to do to help the environment is to just stay off my phone.
If you find that you have to use your phone in order to do work, you have the ability to add specific apps to a white-list. This means that when you do start planting your tree and use an app that is white-listed you will not be penalised with a withered tree. Be sure to only add apps that you definitely need access to, otherwise, what’s the point of having the app in the first place?
I found this option useful as I found that there were times where I wanted to record the progress of my piano playing. When I had grabbed my phone to record myself I was immediately notified to get back to the app. Putting the camera app on the white-list sorted out that problem. I’ve kept my white-list small as I don’t want to have free reign on using my phone.
Plant with friends.
It seems that every app includes a social element and Forest doesn’t let us down either. Once you’ve upgraded to the premium app you have the ability to create rooms and invite your friends to join you. This is a great way to start study groups with your peers or even get them off their phones whilst having dinner with each other, but be warned, if one of your friends gets distracted and misuses their phone it’ll kill the tree for the entire group. I’d hate to be the person responsible for that!
Unfortunately, I don’t have many friends that share the same sentiments I have with productivity, so I’ve not had a chance to experience planting a digital tree with a friend. If you want to give it a go, send me a message and I’ll be happy to try it out with you.
The tagging system.
If you’re like me and you want to have everything organised, you’ll appreciate the availability of tags on the premium version. Tags essentially allow you to categorise each tree according to what you are working on. If you use the tags correctly, you’ll be able to see a visual breakdown of what you’ve been using your focused time on.
I like to review my tags at the end of the day and analyse what I’m spending my time on the most. If I can see that I’m not spending my focused time wisely I can make changes according to the data. It’s always good to have as much data as possible as you might be able to find patterns that you weren’t aware of.
Other premium features.
On top of everything that I’ve mentioned earlier, the premium feature also includes:
Syncing to multiple devices
Unlocking more achievements
I didn’t go into much detail with these because they’re self-explanatory.
Forest’s ultimate aim is to get you off your phone and appreciate the present moment. Whether you use that time to work with no distractions or spend time with your friends and family, it’s important to understand that constantly checking your phone is not a healthy way to live. If you struggle to put down the phone, give Forest a go and see if planting a digital tree can help motivate you to stay off your phone and live in the present moment.
Recommended App: Forest
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