Forest – how growing virtual trees can help you focus and help save the planet at the same time

A productivity app to bring your focus back on the here and now

A few weeks back, I looked at a program called Kind Words – sort of half game, half experience where you were encouraged to say nice things to strangers on the Internet – I know right, crazy concept. 

It seemed to fit with the moment right at the start of the pandemic, where people were seeing anxiety levels rise through the roof.

In truth, it seems like an age ago. We have all been locked in our homes, hunkering down out of the way of an invisible enemy and, at the same time, trying to be productive.

One of the problems with working from home for some people is the temptation to be easily distracted. We all do, we are busy, and for seemingly no reason, we stop, pick up our phones, and start reading Twitter or something like that. At this point, we lose our train of thought and our flow, and this brings everything crashing back to a halt.

Enter Forest – an app for the iPhone and Android that brings your focus sharply back to your work at hand, and it’s very, very clever.

Forest sets you the task of planting virtual trees that grow in front of your very eyes and earn your coins to spend on more exotic virtual plantlife. The catch, if you quit the app to check your emails or Facebook notifications, or, well, anything, your gorgeous sporting tree withers and dies in front of you. Harsh!

As time goes on, you will slowly plant your own forest and watch it grow, all the while collecting coins to get better stuff. When you have accumulated 2,500 coins, you can spend them on planting a real tree – the developers have teamed up with Trees for the Future who will plant an actual tree. So far, there have been 765,000 trees planted by users of the app, which is kind of magical.

Where Forest works though, is that it helps to refocus you on your work. Leave your phone on your desk while you are working and when you automatically reach for it, you see your sprouting tree and the prospect of killing it off, so you refocus back on what you were doing. It’s remarkably simple.

Forest have also released a Chrome extension last week that does the same thing for your browser. Start browsing websites and it is bye-bye tree.

The concept proves that people get distracted automatically and without thinking, and the second something, however silly, is put in front of them that makes them stop and think, the distraction goes away.

The music that plays in the background is pretty soothing also.

Anything that can reduce smartphone and internet addiction is undoubtedly a good thing, especially with our mental health being potentially more fragile because of the COVID-19 situation. Forest allows you to stop, refocus, and just bring your mind back to the task in hand.

Who would have thought that a little animated tree could change the way you work? I tell you what though, it does.

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Been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision. Spent over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title. Has written tech content for GamePro, Official Australian Playstation Magazine, PlayStation Pro, Amiga Action, Mega Action, ST Action, GQ, Loaded, and the Daily Mirror. Twitter: @iampaulmcnally

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