Focus apps

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. be (language) for (something) / bi fər / (idiom) – used to say what a word, phrase, expression, etc. means in another language

    “Oui” is French for “yes.”

  2. gamify / ˈgeɪ məˌfaɪ / (v.) – to turn a particular task or activity into a game to make it fun and interesting

    Some apps gamify math problems to make them interesting for kids.

  3. thriving / ˈθraɪ vɪŋ / (adj.) – very successful or healthy

    I’m so happy because my vegetable garden is thriving.

  4. wither / ˈwɪð ər / (v.) – to become weak and dry

    The plants withered because Jane forgot to water them.

  5. stick to (something) / stɪk tʊ / (phrasal v.) – to keep doing or using something

    You should stick to your exercise routine for at least a month.


Read the text below.

Many people worry that smartphones are taking over our lives. They stop us from focusing on more important things.

One answer is to use a simple phone; we looked at that in the column here in August. But why not try an app instead? There are many of these “focus apps,” and they all aim to stop you from constantly checking your phone.

The apps are mostly based on the Pomodoro technique for managing time. You focus on a task for 25 minutes — ignoring all distractions — and then take a break. The technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. He used a tomato-shaped timer; pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

You don’t need an app to do a Pomodoro, but focus apps look nice and gamify the technique. Two great apps are Forest and Flora.

Forest, for iOS and Android, is lovely to look at. When you start a task, you plant a tree. If you can concentrate on your task without touching your phone, then you get a fully grown tree. The more tasks you do, the more trees you plant, until you create a thriving forest.

Flora, also for iOS and Android, uses the same metaphor, but lets you travel the world to discover new kinds of trees. Also, if you’re studying with a friend, you can both grow trees at the same time and gain extra rewards at the end of a session.

With both Forest and Flora, your tree will wither and die if you get distracted and start scrolling through your social media or news feeds. They’re a great way to create good habits and stick to them.

Both apps also let you make the world a better place by planting real trees. Forest and Flora have partnered with Trees for the Future, a nonprofit that plants trees around the world. (T)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Forest and Flora are focus apps that aim to stop you from constantly checking your phone. Would you be interested in trying either of them? Do you know anyone who often gets distracted by his/her phone? Discuss.
  • Aside from focus apps, what are some ways to create good habits and stick to them? Are you interested in starting any new habits (ex. eating healthier, daily exercise)? How long do you have to do something before it becomes a habit (ex. one month, half a year)? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Some people fear that technology is making it harder and harder for people to concentrate. Do you feel that it’s harder for you to concentrate on one thing now than it was in the past? What are your biggest distractions (ex. YouTube videos, messaging apps)? Why? Discuss.
  • With the Pomodoro technique, you focus on a task for 25 minutes – ignoring all distractions – and then take a break. Do you think the Pomodoro technique would help you get your tasks done? What tasks do you often struggle to focus on (ex. chores, studying)? Why? Discuss.