Meet Forest: the best way I found to finally reduce my screen time
In 2018 we all started taking screen time seriously, so I decided I’d religiously seek to reduce my screen time.
2018 was definitely the year we all started taking screen time seriously. Apple iOS 12 introduced the screen time tracker, Google introduced the time management control app for Android and there were tons of articles by people discussing and criticizing how much time we have been wasting of our day by checking our Facebook notifications or scrolling down our Instagram feed.
I was one of those people. Therefore, I was decided that I would religiously seek to reduce my screen time in 2019 — at least during weekdays, mainly during working hours, so that I could better focus on my work tasks.
The first thing I tried to do to make a change was deleting the apps — the apps, not the accounts obviously — that I assumed were constantly slowing me down — such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, among others. No need to say that it was a flawed attempt. They were re-installed back on my phone before I could even notice.
Don’t get your hopes high, my second try was just as awful as the first one: I decided to disable all notifications from my social media apps. By doing that, I would have to open the app to find out if I had new notifications or not. It did not work as I thought it would. The anxiety of knowing that I would not receive a notification if something happened was eating me alive. Also, I had to enable them back on during the weekends or days off. Well, it went like that for about two weeks, before I understand that — although it seemed to be working a little bit to reduce my screen time in fact — it just wasn’t practical.
After all these laughable attempts, I finally looked into screen time management apps. I did download one of the most famous in the market — Moment — but I never really got the chance to use it. Just recently I had read on TechCrunch about this app, Forest, which — as most time screen management apps — uses the Pomodoro Technique — it basically consists of you working without any interruption for 25-minute intervals and taking short breaks between them — and I had already fallen in love with its design, so I thought I should give it a try.
First of all, it’s free (with ads) for Android users in Google Play, while it costs US$ 1,99 for iOS users in the App Store — and sorry, there’s no free full-of-ads version for the Apple devices — but I guarantee it’s worth it.
The ‘storyline’ here is basically to grow trees and bushes in your garden during planting sessions. How? You set the time of your planting session — with a cute stopwatch, by the way — and don’t touch your phone until it’s done. If you set a 10-to-20-minute interval, you’ll get yourself a bush. If you set 25 up to 120 minutes, you can grow 1 to 4 trees in a row. Plus, if you unlock your phone whilst the stopwatch is still ticking, the app shouts at you ‘motivational quotes’, such as “stop phubbing”, “don’t look at me”, “stay focused”, “leave me alone”, “put down your phone”, among a lot of others.
But hey, what if you do touch your phone? Well, you kill your lovely tree. That’s what happens. The first time it happened to me it was kind of traumatic, I have to say. The moment I realized I killed my own tree. Okay, virtual tree, but still. That hurt.
To clarify, you cannot go to the home of your phone or open another app. If you do, your tree dies. But there’s a trick though, you can open the app directly by its notification when your phone is locked. If you do that and swift right back to the Forest app, your tree may be still growing as if nothing happened. No guarantees, though. I’d wait for the tree to finish growing.
Another cool thing is that you can tag your planting sessions like “working”, “resting”, “social”, “studying”, or whatever you want. If you prefer, you can just create a new specific tag, like “playing the piano” to tag the planting sessions for the trees that grew while you were playing the piano. Plus, you can also set a different color for each tag from a total of 12 colors. Not a big deal, but hey, it’s fun.
For analysis purposes, there’s an analytics dashboard that displays all of your progress during this day (divided per hour), week (starting from Saturday or Monday, your pick), month, or year. Precise and neat. However, it also keeps the score of all the trees you have failed to grow — or the trees you’ve killed, let’s just say — just so you never forget about your environmental crimes, I suppose.
So you’ve got yourself a garden. You’ve had lots of planting sessions that were successfully concluded, you’ve been growing dozens of trees, a few bushes at one time or another, and — hadn’t mentioned this yet — you earn coins after a planting session is properly finished. The amount of earned coins will depend on the time set for your planting session.
Let’s call them forest coins, shall we? For 500 forest coins, you get to customize your tree with some cool outfits (treehouse, fruit trees, palm trees, etc., that kind of thing) and okay, that’s nice. But here’s the coolest thing: if you gather 2,500 forest coins — which is in general around 2 to 3 weeks of gardening — , you can make a request to the app’s staff to plant a real tree somewhere in the world. How cool is that? You get to reduce your screen time and ask them to plant a real tree. It’s the perfect combination and motivation you needed to finally reduce your screen time. Or at least that I needed. It did help me to significantly decrease my screen time. Give it a try.
Edit: as of February 2019, that’s how the app worked. I have noticed a few updates recently, however, in general, it’s still pretty much the same.