Distraction? There’s an app for that!

We’re tackling the problem of distractions this week, and like many of us, I’m an expert at finding reasons to not write. Laundry to be folded? Dishwasher to be unloaded? Twitter to be checked for the fiftieth time in an hour? I’ve succumbed to all of these and a million more.

Luckily, I’ve got a pretty simple and low-level hack to share. This works for me, given my oft-discussed proclivity for gold stars. In this case, it’s gold stars disguised as green trees.

Here’s the deal: there’s an app called Forest. You tell the app you’re “growing a tree,” which means you’re going to work for a set period of time. You choose a duration between ten minutes and two hours. Then, you work for that amount of time without navigating to any other app (or any websites that you’ve pre-programmed if you’re using the Chrome extension). If you work the whole time you said you would, you get a nice tree planted in your virtual forest. The longer the duration you choose, the cooler the trees you can grow.

People, I know this sounds simplistic. I don’t really want to interrogate all of the reasons this system motivates me. Better to just accept my pitfalls and shortcomings as an everyday human being and keep growing the fake trees in the digital forest.

If you exit the Forest app during your pre-set growing time for any reason except for answering an incoming call, your tree dies. Not only does it die, but you have to look at the dead tree in your otherwise pristine forest forever. 

Suffice it to say, I really hate looking at the dead trees. It takes a kid emergency or an unfortunate accident for me to quit a work session once I’ve planted my fake flora.

Also, there’s a bonus in the Forest app: it’s the “plant together” mode. You can have Forest friends and decide to grow a tree at the same time. Then, if either of you falls prey to distraction, both people have to witness the dead-tree carnage. My writing pal Nicole and I plant several trees together per work session. We’ve “unlocked” different trees during our time on the app, and it’s fun to be able to contribute various species to each other’s fake forests. 

Again, let’s not think too hard about why this is so much fun for us.

So there you have it, friends! Low-level incentives! A two-dollar app! Faux foliage! That’s my best defense against distraction. (May the writings gods help us all.) 


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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.