In 2013 I wrote my first book, a single 80,000-word document on Microsoft Word. It was sheer determination through high school that made me write every day for National Novel Writing Month in November and through December. 50 straight days, roughly 1,667 words a day.
And I did it again the following spring, writing my second book spanning 90,000 words. It was amazing. I was fire. I was magic.
But when I entered college in 2016, everything changed. Assignments flooded in from every direction, pushing my creative writing under the bridge to be replaced by essays and take-home exams. With a 16-credit workload and part-time job, I was stressed out, I had no time for my writing, and I felt like I was losing my mind.
My creativity was drowning in a swamp of academia.
Then I found Forest
Forest is a productivity app, available on Android and iOS, that encourages you to focus by planting virtual trees that lock your phone and keep you focused on the task at hand. Each tree or bush you plant represents a timespan of 10–120 minutes. If you exit the app (to go social surfing on Twitter or Instagram, for instance), your tree will wither. The more trees you plant, the bigger your own “forest” of trees becomes.
I discovered Forest in college, and it changed my life. I used Forest every day to set aside time for homework, separating the tasks into different categories (like “Study” and “Writing”), and I was able to see how I used my time. During summer break, I had the idea to use Forest to write a book when I didn’t have homework, only self-set deadlines.
And the app worked wonders for me. It helped me write a 90,000-word book and has helped me ever since.
1) A visual forest encouraged me to keep writing
As a visual person motivated by bullet journaling, whiteboards, and Post-it notes, I found that Forest fed my creative spirit. For every 20-minute bush I planted, I could pop out 300 words or spend time researching plot holes and building characters. And I could see it, too. You can earn coins with every tree you plant and save up for a variety of trees: baobabs, oaks, rose bushes, and more.
Every day I was motivated to write because I could plant trees. I had a visual, though virtual, representation of my focused time over a day, week, month, and year. It was an achievement every day.
I wrote for 30 minutes and voila! A full-grown apple tree representing 30 minutes of writing.
That apple tree turned into two, which turned into four, and so on. I grew a forest of my own. And my book grew and grew.
2) Using Forest with my best friend kept me accountable
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is known for its writing sprints — small 10- or 15-minute focused sessions where you write as much as possible in that sprint. My best friend and I continually held Forest “planting sprints,” using these NaNoWriMo writing sprints to plant trees on Forest and write together, working in the silence of our dorm room or across the phone when we were hundreds of miles apart over summer break.
Focusing with other people kept me engaged and accountable to my work — and my writing thrived.
3) Seeing my stats kept me motivated
On Forest there are graphs showing how and when I use my time. I always use tags to section off my writing, homework, and other tasks. And Forest tracks it all. So far in 2019, I’ve used Forest for about 84 hours.
This overview page can show specific “plots” of your forest’s land for a day, week, month, and year. Whenever I felt like I was getting nowhere with my novel, I looked back at Forest and reviewed all my accomplishments the day or week before — and it motivated me to do better.
And I still use Forest
As a recent college grad, there is nothing more depressing than not having a job and feeling like you’re wasting your life because you feel like you’re not doing enough (not writing enough, not reading enough, not living enough, etc.).
That’s been me for the past 5 months, and the only thing that’s kept me sane is Forest. Seeing my progress on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis encourages me when I feel that shadow of self-doubt. Now out of college, I try to use the app as much as I can, mostly for writing. I even used it for all my job hunting endeavors (LinkedIn, application writing, etc.) to track just how I used my time.
So when I feel like I’m not doing enough, I look to Forest — all my baobabs and oak trees, my mushrooms and bushes — and I comfort myself with a visual representation of my productivity.
And I think: “I am doing enough! And I’ve got a whole dagum forest to prove it.”
p.s. Forest hasn’t just helped me to write one book. It helped me write several. Whether it be my Wattpad books or my blog posts, I use Forest for them all.
What about you?
If you’re looking for a great productivity app, I’ll be the first person to tell you that Forest is marvelous and practically made for the phone-aholic culture in which we live. I’m not a spokesperson for the app, just a devoted fangirl. Perhaps this app isn’t for you, but maybe these ideas can help you structure your own time, even without an app.
If you’d love to do something similar without the app, I recommend setting aside a focused time away from your phone/TV/(*insert distracting activity*) to do something that’s important to you: writing, replying to emails, making dinner, exercising— basically any task that takes time and focus. For 10 minutes. 20 minutes. 120 minutes. If you track your time and spend it wisely, avoiding the abyss of procrastination, you will see the fruits of your efforts.
Or, let’s say, the trees of your efforts.
I love all things related to productivity, especially when it can help organize my life. Do you have strategies or apps you love and use for completing your tasks? Please let me know in the comments!