Plant Your Focus and Grow A Tree with Forest

Are you that type of person who gets “squirreled” by your phone easily? That is, you can’t stay focused for more than 5 minutes before remembering a Wunderlist task you have to add, or you have to update your Facebook status, or you have to read an iMessage that just alerted your phone. Me too, and is why I splurged the 99 cents for Forest, an app (and browser extension) with a promise to help you put your phone and modern-tech aside while rewarding your focus-time with virtual trees.

According to digital analytics firm Flurr, smartphone and tablet users spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes on them each day, and this is just on your phone. How much time do you also spend distracted while working on your computer by visiting time-munching websites like facebook, twitter, linkedin, pinterest, reddit or engadget? You’re note alone, according to another survey by Global Web Index, the average person spends 1.72 hours on social media websites. The real world as well as the Internet world provides plenty of time-sucking “squirrels”, but do apps like Forest really help keep us focused?

How Forest works
Every 30 minutes of focused time grows you a new tree and earns you some gold coins. More than 30 focused-minutes at one time will earn you more gold coins that you can cash-in for different kinds of trees: a pine tree maybe, or a tree with flowers or a tree with a clubhouse or for 2,500 gold coins Forest will plant a real tree on your behalf in somewhere like Zambia or India through WeForest.

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Focused-time, on the iOS/Android/Windows Mobile app is defined as time not spent interacting with your phone. Using the browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox focused-time is defined as time spent not visiting your blacklisted websites. Regardless of app or browser extension, to get started you tap the “Plant/Start” button and watch the timer begin counting down and your tree grow. If you leave the app or visit a blacklisted website your tree dies and you have to start over. And, to help remind you that you failed, Forest will show a tiny dead-root looking stem on your plot of land.

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Discovering the Chrome and Firefox extensions definitely changed my experience with Forest. It allowed me to more densely and quickly grow my daily plot of land. However, you can only set the clock for 30 minutes per session through the browser extension, unlike the app, where it can bet set up to 120 minutes and you can grow a tree with a fort! By lunch time I had grown 4 trees and a dead root using browser extensions, where as when I was only using the phone app, I would on average grow 1 or 2 trees in an entire day. This made the user experience fairly boring and wasn’t motivating enough for me. Even after a day using both the app and browser extension for Chrome I found there wasn’t much value or fun in continuing to play the game.

In fact, is Forest a game? Maybe it should be. Making the app, or “Forest experience” more game like could change your whole forest. Unfortunately, the current interaction between “friends” is so limited that it might as well not be present. I wasted more time inside the app trying to figure out how the “friends” feature worked that I probably could have grown a few trees. Then, when I finally connected with a friend we each grew trees and there was no interaction what-so-ever. Not even a notification. Completely pointless.

So, if you dig into the apps settings you can actually send a suggestion. I sent: “show notifications of when friends build a tree”, the developer responded with “thanks for your suggestion We will consider it.” I also suggested, “a graphical representation of my plot of land for the week or month and not just day” and received a more favorable response, “We are working on it now. Please stay tuned.”

I think Forest has a great opportunity to thrive, providing social and phone addicted people like myself with a motivation to improve our time-management skills as well as disconnect and avoid modern-day tech savvy squirrels. However it has some growing to do and I hope strengthening its community will be the plant they decide to water.

Purchased via App Store for 99¢