If you spend an inexcusable amount of time on social media or playing those addictive little phone games, this post is for you.
(By the way, it’s for me, too. I love scrolling down Tumblr ad infinitum and playing Candy Crush. In fact, Candy Crush is the sole reason why back in senior year of high school, my college applications weren’t done by Christmas like I had planned. True story. Ask my friends GracieGrace or Alex Powell the Bundi.)
This is the first post in a series titled “How to Actually Accomplish Things,” here to help you (and me) start the new year off right! It will cover my journey to, as well as tips and tricks for, getting organized, completing tasks efficiently, and navigating every single nook and cranny of the busy college life.
Today’s edition will cover the revolutionary power of the Forest app.
How This Little App Came into My Life
By now I bet you’re wondering, “But what is the Forest app? What does it have to do with time management?” Well, instead of telling you, I’ll just direct you to their website here.
WAIT! Just kidding! (Come back to my blog, please…)
Basically, the Forest app blocks you from using your phone or internet browser for a specified period of time by employing a gentle method of positive reinforcement. You pick how much time you want to take to complete a task (say, 30 minutes), hit the button, and it plants a little digital tree for you that will miraculously be done growing in 30 minutes. How cute! The catch is that if you start using another app on your phone or log into a website on your Blacklist, your adorable little tree will wither and die. What’s more, you won’t get the coins you otherwise would have earned from growing the tree. So really, it’s triple motivation to stay on task: actually getting the thing done, growing the tree, and getting that dough. Over time, your trees accumulate and begin to form…a forest, of course.
Where did I find out about this ingenious tool? Ironically, sometime last year I saw it on a random Tumblr post during one of my too-long scrolling sessions, probably when I was procrastinating for something. Anyway, I downloaded it right away, but it wasn’t until this school year that I discovered the full extent of its usefulness.
This brings me to a sidenote: To all the students out there looking to be more efficient, please check out the studyblr, studyspo, and studyinspo tags on Tumblr! (You don’t have to have an account to look through the tags.) Try not to get too overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy when you see the notetaking executed with graduate-school-level graphic design (especially if your notes are goose scribbles like mine). The important point is, there are some really good tips about effective studying, preparing for finals, time management, organization, etc., along with awesome study playlists!
One of the main points that I took away from the brief overview of studyblr that I conducted before writing this post was this: integrating beauty into your study regimen makes you more motivated to do it. Some of these studyblrs have thousands of followers! And lately, quality stationary has become the new luxury item. Why? Because people really like looking at pretty things. I think this is an underrated, underutilized truth. Advertisers figured it out long ago – have you ever felt compelled to buy something just because of how brightly colored the packaging was? (If you’ve ever bought Tide, you probably have.)
So part of the beauty of the Forest app is just that – beauty. The app is gorgeously, yet simply, designed. And as you earn more and more coins, you get to purchase different versions of the trees, for extra cuteness and visual variety as you plant your “forest” of productivity.
How to Use It: Grow Tomatoes on Your Trees
I get the most effectiveness out of the Forest app when I use it in conjunction with the famous Pomodoro Technique. This is a time management technique created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. “Pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato,” and the technique is named after the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo apparently used when he was a college student. (You can actually still purchase such a timer, but who would want to do that when we’ve all got phones?)
In this method, you try to accomplish a specific goal within one “Pomodoro” or 25 minutes. After the 25 minutes are up, you take a short break, then start another Pomodoro. After about 4 Pomodoros, give yourself a slightly longer break.
There are many ideas and tips out there about how to get the most out of this technique (such as at http://pomodorotechnique.com), and some people have even come up with extra rules designed to optimize your entire life with the Pomodoro technique (“Don’t start a Pomodoro unless you have enough time to finish it,” “Figure out exactly how many Pomodoros your task will take,” etc.). Maybe I’ll get there one day, but right now, that’s too much for me. Us college students need to keep it simple, am I right?
Here’s what I do:
- 1. Set a specific goal. Example: Read Book 8 of Paradise Lost.
- 2. Plant a 25-minute tree in the Forest app.
- 3. Work on the task, working as quickly as possible without compromising excellence in execution. (This gets easier with practice.)
- 4. After the tree has grown, immediately set a 5-minute timer on my phone to do something relaxing and non-work-related. I used to go on Tumblr or play Candy Crush, but lately I have enjoyed crocheting a few rows on my latest project and/or watching hair tutorials.
- 5. Begin again at step 2. If I didn’t finish the original goal, I will finish it up and start the next one. Ideally, though, I’ll try to set goals that I can realistically finish in 25 minutes.
I have actually used the Pomodoro Technique way back in high school, but my attempts at productivity were ultimately thwarted by all the distractions just within reach. A simple timer doesn’t keep you from going on the internet. Using Forest app, I ensure that I get the maximum use out of each pomodoro.
Why It Works
There are a multitude of reasons why this method works, reasons that were researched by people that know a lot more about science than me. But here are a few in layman’s terms (and a few that are just my own opinion):
- 1. Various studies show that the human brain can focus only for a half hour to about an hour – and let’s be honest. For most of us, an hour is pushing it. The Pomodoro technique takes the burden off you to work furiously for an hour or more, which usually only leads to burnout and discouragement. Which brings me to number two:
- 2. Breaking a task up into small, specific goals makes it seem less intimidating. Usually the real reason why we procrastinate is because we look at the thing we have to do, and it just seems SO. BIG. Feelings of fear and dread fill us, perhaps without us realizing it or despite our own logic (“It’s not a big deal, I’ll just start weeks in advance,” we tell ourselves as a kind of anesthesia). Those feelings of dread inhibit us from starting at all, until before we know it, the deadline is nigh and an all-nighter is in order… Since we seem to tend to look at the entire forest, the Pomodoro method forces us to concentrate on each tree, one at a time. (And yes, pun intended.)
- 3. Obviously, the Forest app and the regimented timing schedule helps you cut out the time lost on social media. But you’d be surprised to see how much time you’ve actually been wiling away on Facebook once you get into a rhythm with this method and begin to finish great amounts of work each day. For those of us that are the worst about getting sucked into our phones, we probably spend hours over the course of a day on social media. Remember, every few minutes you take in between classes, before dinner, and right before you roll out of bed all add up. (Check out the Moment app if you really want to know how much time you’re spending on your phone.)
- 4. Twenty-five-minute chunks fit easily into any schedule. I think that a lot of college students (myself included) look at their schedules and think, “I can barely find any uninterrupted blocks of hours in here!” But it’s the small blocks of time that make the difference. When you’re planning your day, an hour looks like a long time. A half-hour is slightly better, but may not jibe well with many university class schedules. But 25 minutes sounds like it gives you time to dash off a cover letter and 5 minutes to run to Orgo. I often find that when I feel like I don’t have enough time to do something, I end up not doing anything.
- 5. Even if you don’t have a phone addiction, the Forest app and Pomodoro Technique combined make for an extremely compelling, surprisingly rewarding game. Racing against the clock forces you to be more efficient, and the Forest app’s digital prizes give you a pat on the back and inspire you to truly “earn” your reward by working hard.
- 6. (Bonus) This is a really easy way to chip away at any sort of recreational project you’re working on, like I do with my crochet. Think about it: if you do 6 Pomodoros a day, that’s 30 minutes of crocheting (or doodling, or sudoku puzzles, or easy exercises) you probably didn’t think you had!
Next time: How I plan my daily schedule!