Forest: My #1 Tool for Deep Work

Forest: My #1 Tool for Deep Work

How to develop your focus superpower

It's 10.30am. You're in the zone and having a really productive morning. Deep in focus, your phone lights up with a notification in the corner of your eye.

You try to ignore it, but curiosity gets the better of you. Checking WhatsApp turns into a 15-minute Instagram scroll.

Talking Heads Once In A Lifetime GIF - Talking Heads Once In A Lifetime How Did I Get Here GIFs

Catching yourself, you snap back to reality and go back to your task. Strangely, that deep focus you had is hard to get back. But why?

Let me introduce you to the concept of "attention residue".

What is attention residue?

Attention residue is a term introduced by business professor, Dr. Sophie Leroy, in 2009. The idea is that when you switch from task A to task B, your attention doesn't immediately follow. A part of your attention remains stuck thinking about the previous task.

This phenomenon has been studied in the context of multitasking and task-switching. Research indicates that even brief interruptions or interactions with digital devices can lead to attention residue, affecting cognitive performance and overall productivity. Studies have shown that people are far less productive when they're interrupting themselves by shifting from one task to the other, or multitasking.

Deep Work

According to Cal Newport, we can avoid the effects of attention residue by implementing periods of Deep Work into our routines. This involves setting aside specific times to fully concentrate on a task without any distractions. By immersing yourself in this way, you can think more clearly and achieve better results.

Newport argues that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare and is the superpower of the 21st century.

If you'd like to dive deeper into the topic, I ✨highly✨ recommend reading Deep Work by Cal Newport – a must-read, in my opinion, especially for developers.

Introducing "Forest"

I love Deep Work. It's been a great help as I taught myself how to code and continues to help me when solving difficult problems in my day-to-day work.

However, my willpower isn't always the strongest, and I can't rely on myself to not get distracted 😅. That's why I use tools to help me carry out Deep Work, and one of my favourites is the Forest app:

Forest is an app helping you stay away from your smartphone and stay focused on your work.

The way Forest works is very simple:

  1. Choose a time period from 10 minutes to 2 hours to focus

  2. While you focus, a virtual tree or plant will grow. If you unlock your phone and go to another app, the tree will die.

An image explaining how forest works. It says "Whenever you want to focus on your work, plant a tree" and it shows a small sapling. Then it says, "In the following time, it will grow when you are working" next to an image of a tree. And finally, it says "The tree will be killed if you leave this app" below an image of a withered tree.

The more you focus, the more trees you grow. You get coins for each tree, which you can spend on different trees and plants for future focus sessions.

Two screenshots of the virtual store where you can buy trees and plants for coins.

Now, why would anyone care about a virtual forest? I can't quite put my finger on it, but I'm obsessed 🤣. Having a visual representation of all the hours you've focused is weirdly satisfying. I also just love how cute and simple the app's interface is.

Here are some screenshots from my application that show my focused hours for different years:

3 screenshots showing my forests for 2020 (271 hours), 2023 (255 hours) and 2024 (136 hours)


Oh, and if you let a tree die, you'll find a withered reminder in your forest. (Humble brag: I’ve been using this app since 2020 and I’ve never had a withered tree – yes, I take it that seriously 🫣).

Deep focus mode

You can take things further with “Deep focus mode”. This mode will block access to other apps during your focus time.

That means if you want to go in any other app during your focus time, you have two options:

  1. Wait until your focus period is finished

  2. Kill your tree 💔

If there are certain apps that you have to access at all times, you can add them to an "Allowed List".

Beginner tips

If you've never done this before, it can be really hard to get started.

I suggest beginning with short bursts of focus and gradually increasing the duration. For instance, you could experiment with the Pomodoro technique, which involves focusing for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. If that feels too brief, you can instead try 50 minutes of focus and a 10-minute break.

It will feel strange and difficult at first, but you will be developing a superpower. Soon, you'll be focusing for multiple 2 hour blocks every single day.

Where to get it

Unfortunately, Forest app isn’t free on the Apple Store but I genuinely think it’s worth the one-time payment of $3.99.

It's one of the top paid Productivity apps on the Apple Store for a reason — I've found it SO useful since I got it in 2020.

I think it might be free on Android, but I’m not sure. (Feel free to correct me!)

A final note on other distractions

Forest will only help you with your smartphone distractions. If you're using your computer to perform your tasks, you should try to find something to help block distractions there too.

I like to use Self Control App, a MacOS only application, where you can define a list of websites to block from 1 minute to 24 hours. I've been using it for nearly ten years 😱.

If you have any other apps that you love, please share them in the comments. I am such a geek when it comes to productivity, and I love to try out new ways to manage my distractions.

I hope that this article helps inspire you to give Forest a try. If you do download it, let me know how you get on!