A Productivity App for a Better You AND a Better World?

What if a productivity app could work for our own AND a greater good? Find out more about Forest – an app that helps us shut out digital noise for our own benefit and better concentration but which has also teamed up with a public charity to offer users a higher purpose and stronger motivation.


The proliferation of apps designed to help us keep on track and get things done is quite revealing of how overwhelmed we are by the constant stream of information and distractions. Productivity apps are a thriving sector and game mechanics have been instrumental in their success. As brilliantly demonstrated by Jane Mcgonigal’s Super Better, gamification is key to unlocking unsuspected willpower and motivation, making enjoyable the process of building good habits and completing previously resented or feared tasks and chores.


Stay focused, be present

People are increasingly aware of the negative impact of phone and internet addiction, compulsive tech use, and information overload. More and more of us are including some form of digital detoxing in our weekly to-do or wish-lists.

In August 2016 the annual Communications Market Report from UK media and telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that as many as 15 million UK internet users have tried going offline for varying periods of time in the past year.

Even before the advent of Pokemon Go, cell phones were clearly a top distraction hurting our productivity and relationships, not to mention the very real and present danger of distracted driving.

Forest comes to us on the ‘digital detox wave’ and its tagline ‘stay focused, be present’ immediately resonates with modern consumers.


How can a phone app fight phone addiction?

Forest was cleverly described by one reviewer as “the game you win by not playing”. The rules are simple: whenever you decide to take a break from your phone, you turn the app on and plant a virtual tree. The app needs to run for at least 25 minutes during which time your tree will grow and thrive. Leave the app in order to answer a text, check emails, open a website, etc, and the tree dies.


With the browser extensions (available for Chrome and Firefox), users can avoid distractions even while on the Internet, customizing their own blacklist of websites that endanger their focus (and virtual trees).


The limitations of productivity apps

However engaging the game mechanics employed, however beautifully and/or cleverly designed the interface, ultimately these apps are all about the self (-improvement). And as any procrastinator knows all too well, personal lifestyle goals for which we are only accountable to ourselves are the most easily discarded or relegated to the bottom of our checklist.

share focus

Here, too, gamification theory offers a possible solution, via the first core drive identified by Yu Kai Chou in his Octalysis Framework:

“Epic Meaning & Calling is the drive where people are motivated because they believe they are engaged in something that is bigger than themselves.”

As far as epic meaning goes, you can hardly do better than saving the world. In a sense, it is exactly what Forest is now doing together with Trees for the Future.


Personal and ‘Epic’ Meaning & Rewards

Every time you complete a chunk of phone-free time you grow a new tree and build your forest. You will gradually unlock new tree species and collect more seeds/virtual coins.

You can set the timer yourself for as long as you want but 25 minutes is the minimum. Half an hour is a realistic and perfectly feasible objective (another fundamental rule of good gamification!). In this way the app provides a source of positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment whether you use it for personal mindfulness, quality time with friends and family, or to concentrate at work, while driving or studying (it will even help if you’ve been ‘digitally grounded’ by your parents or other loved ones :).

And, of course, as any good gamified system, Forest also features a global leaderboard and the possibility to share and compete with the forests of one’s friends.

The best thing is, it doesn’t end with personal benefits. Forest has teamed up with Trees for the Future and donates money for tree planting programs in the real world. This collaboration puts personal digital detox in the service of planetary detox and life-changing opportunities for farmers in Africa.


The option is currently available in iOS only but with the inclusion of in-app purchase features in the free Android app, we will soon be able to exchange virtual for real trees on this platform, as well!

One large tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people. In the age of alarming climate change but also rising environmental responsibility and green living, (not to mention the cause-motivated Millennials), one can hardly wish for a better extra incentive for a ‘digital detox’ than an opportunity to help detoxify the planet by the same token.

And with Trees for the Future, your trees can do more. Since 1989 this public charity has planted over 115 million trees in dozens of countries and revitalized hundreds of thousands of acres of soil while changing people’s lives forever. The organization currently runs its Forest Garden Programs in five African countries – Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda and Tanzania.

Sans titre

“By planting specific types of trees and crops in a systematic manner over a four year period, families can change their lives forever. Forest Gardens provide families with sustainable food sources, livestock feed, products to sell, fuel wood and up to a 500% increase in their annual income.”


Now “plant a tree and get things done”!

I used the Forest Firefox add-on while writing this article today and am rather pleased to say that out of 6 trees planted, 5 thrived and only one died (because I forgot that I had prudently added Twitter to the customizable website blacklist).

dont look at me 2

When the abstinence got too bad and I absolutely had to have a distraction, I’d click on the icon in my browser and watch the app timer ticking off the minutes while I was getting motivating and warning messages such as  “Don’t be distracted!”, “Hang in there!”, “You’re almost there!”, and my personal favorites, “Leave me alone!” and  “Don’t look at me!” 🙂

Wishing you happy and focused tree planting, I now leave you with this link to an article by Andy Robertson who offers a great family gamification idea using Forest!



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