How I Focus: Forest

Forest app icon

I have worked remotely from home as consultant for over eight years now. Keeping focus during work is a constant struggle for me. I’m endlessly inventive in coming up with new ways to distract myself from doing work when I don’t want to. One tool I use to combat this is Forest, a distraction blocking app for your phone.

Blocking Apps

The big selling point of Forest for me is the ability to block apps for up to three hours. By default, it locks you out of every app on your phone. However, I use the allow list feature to allow certain apps. For example, I use Remember the Milk to keep track of projects and todo lists. That is productive work I can do with my phone, so I allow it.

The app blocking used to have some serious issues on Android, but recent updates have made it very reliable for me on Android 10. It used to get confused by notifications and and fail block timer. That is no longer an issue for me. I have no experience using it on iOS, so your mileage may vary.

Pretty Little Trees

Screenshot of weekly progress in Forest app
Some of these things may not appear in an actual forest.

My kids love how Forest gamifies staying off my phone by encouraging me to plant an adorable forest. For every 30 minutes you stay off your phone with a timer running you get a new tree. They love to see what I’ve grown recently and they even encourage me to grow more trees. That’s a win-win for them. They get to see more pretty trees on my phone and I’m not distracted by my phone, helping me be a more attentive father.

You earn coins every time you successfully complete a block, which you can then use to unlock different types of trees and bushes. The art style is whimsical and they’re not afraid to veer into things that are tree-adjacent at best. For example, the screenshot above has both candy and spirit trees alongside more realistic plants like apple trees and sunflowers.

Other Features

There are some features that might be useful to others that I do not use.

First, they have a Chrome extension to block websites. I use Cold Turkey Blocker for this, so I haven’t tried the extension. It seems worthwhile to try though if you like Forest and don’t currently use any other website blocking tools.

Second, you can go nuts with tags and notes on your block sessions if you like. I tried to do this a bit. I had tags for work, reading, side projects, etc. I constantly forgot to use it though, so my data was a mess. I gave up on it, but if keeping track of historical data is your thing then this feature is for you.

Finally, you can spend your virtual coins to plant real trees. Forest partners with Trees for the Future for this. I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m skeptical of the effectiveness of this kind of activism. It’s there if you want it though.

Conclusion

Forest is an important part of how I work on a daily basis. The combination of my phone being upstairs and an effective blocking tool even if I go upstairs keeps me off my phone when I’m trying to be productive. And the flexibility of the allow list lets me use my phone strategically when I need it for productivity. Plus, the in-app Forest you grow is adorable. If you, like many, are struggling with phone distractions, give Forest a try.