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Put down your phone and grow a forest
An image of the Forest application for mobile devices, which is designed to help people stay focused on tasks away from their phones. - photo by Steve Eaton
I have planted a small forest and if I stay focused right now, it will grow.

Im using a new app called Forest that is designed to help you stay on task, in part, by encouraging you to not use your phone.

You decide how long you want to stay focused, and that can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. If you dont get sidetracked by an email, a cat video or something else that is not on your grown-up agenda, the app continues to run and your trees grow and grow. If you just have to check your email, the weather or text the person in the next cubicle, you lose and the tree stops growing. Instead of a lush pine tree, youll have a dead, burned-out tree decorating your little plot of ground. (The app doesnt work for teenagers but I suspect one that measures everything in seconds, not minutes, is under development.)

The irony of using an app to teach you to not use apps is just so sweet to me. Apps can be used for just about anything, and now I know I can use one to help me stop using them.

If I look at my phone right now, theres a little cartoon drawing of a tree trying to grow along with some stern advice, like Dont look at me! on my screen. As you stay focused for longer and longer periods of time your forest changes, and you can even build little treehouses and pretend like you are protesting some logger who wants to come in and clear-cut your green kingdom.

I love the app because I already create games to keep myself on track. I might, for example, run a timer to see how long I can push myself to stick to a difficult job that I might otherwise put off. I dont know of many other apps, however, that reward you with graphical representations of your mental tenacity.

Once, when I worked in Seattle, I was walking across town and I got an idea for a cool app by watching a row of very focused men on the sidewalk. There was a large old building in the downtown section that was being torn down a piece at a time by some huge claw machine that would punch it like a giant lazy transformer. It must have been too close to other buildings to implode it or smash it with a wrecking ball; so, they were slowly and systematically gnawing and banging it apart.

No matter how busy or late they were, guys would just stop in their tracks to watch the destructive drama unfold, wondering when a row of windows would come crashing down and second-guessing the strategy of the person operating the heavy equipment. Most women, however, just walked by the noisy, dusty scene with that same look my wife has on her face when I invent a new sandwich.

Why not create an app that lets you destroy a building in your smartphone as you check off items from your list? First, when you create your to-do list, you would rate the importance of each item on the list. If you just went and made a copy of something, for example, that might just crack a window. If you finished the a particularly tangled report, however, that might knock out a major support pillar, causing a large portion of the building to come crumbling to the ground.

I know what you're thinking: If there was an app that rewarded politicians for getting things done by letting them tear down things, we might really make some progress. I think, however, we should create a special app just for them.

They could try to see how long they could go without criticizing another legislator or the president. They would be trying to gain a pile of political gold coins and if they played online against each other they could steal each others cash pile. If they could go five minutes without badmouthing anyone, their pile of money would grow and everyone knows that our elected representatives need piles of money to become elected representatives. I think this would be very motivational for them, but it might put CNN out of business.

I think you get the idea. The possibilities are endless.

Im pretty good at technology; sometimes I can even guess my own passwords correctly on the first time. Im learning how to do Snapchat, but the messages I get keep disappearing. For now, Ill have to leave that project to those of you who actually know how to do computer programing. It shouldnt be too hard.

Just focus and while youre at it, grow a forest. I already have a tree in mine today.

Good thing I can still check my email on my computer.
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