My (Not So) Secret Weapon: Focusmate

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I thought to write this post about 11 months ago--after using Focusmate after a month.  Then that became 3 months out; then 6 months out, but here we are at 1 year and I'm finally getting to it.  How did I get to it?  Well, I used Focusmate, funny enough.

A screenshot of Lance's Focusmate Profile. It includes a profile picture, the user's name, when they joined, where they are joining from, number of sessions, timeliness score, monthly streak and weekly streak.

Backing up--what is FocusMate you ask?  Apparently, you haven't been talking to me about my dissertation lately (no shade; I don't blame you!).  Focusmate is a service website that allows you to be coworking with other people at times that are useful to you.

Focusmate is a website where you can sign up for 25 or 50-minute sessions to FOCUS on something you need to work on and have a workMATE to do that work with.  How does that happen?  Well, after you create an account, you identify 25 or 50-minute sessions in the next week or month that you want to be paired up.  Once you confirm that you want these sessions, you'll get an email reminder with calendar invites.  At the appointed time of a session, you log into FocusMate, join your session, and are put into a video room (like Zoom).  Someone (your workmate) shows up. You greet each other, share what specific goal you have for that session, and then get to work.  Often, this means putting yourself on Mute and going off to another browser tab (at least for me).  At the end of the session, the FocusMate tab will chime.  Return to that tab, unmute yourself, and share with your workmate the progress you made (they will do the same).  Thank one another and end the session.  That's it.  

Sounds strange to some folks (I've explained it to many folks and have gotten a raised eyebrow).  You basically schedule yourself to work in silence with a complete stranger.  But the thing is, it works for many many people--I know because I've done over 250 sessions in the last year and rarely have had the same person twice.  Because it is a global site, there are people literally from all over the world that I get to meet and share some time together working on things that are important to both of us.  

When selecting sessions, you may be initially paired with folks that have signed up but those might not be the people you are actually paired with.  Your pairings can change up to 2 minutes into the session. That's because people are changing their sessions regularly.  For instance, there's at least 2-3 times a month that I have to cancel my session within 5 minutes of it starting.  And the system is set up to be ok with that; with some many users (I'm guessing, 10,000+), if someone cancels, the system reshuffles names.  Basically, the only time you'll be without a partner is if you are the ultimate last to be paired (that is, so long as there's an even number of users at a given time slot, there is only 1 person who may not be paired; I've yet to experience this, BTW).   Additionally, you can also set some preferences about your partner selection--you can choose same-gender if you prefer or indicate if you don't want to use video/audio and just use the chat feature.  

The Focusmate weekly email with Attendance Score, Sessions Last Week, and Weekly Streak.

So what I have found so useful about this site that I continue to rave about it a year later?

1. I can sign up for sessions any time I want and at times that work for me.  I love working with friends but many of them are not early people. I'm an early riser and definitely has a stronger mental flow of ideas in the 6am-11am slot than at the other end of the day.  I do manage to convince some friends that also need to do deep work to join me for these sessions but those are more exceptions than rules.  Most of the time, it's just me and so FocusMate gives me an opportunity to find others who are also working at that time.

2. Social pressure--even when it is of my own imagining and with strangers I will unlikely see again--works for me. That I have made a commitment to this time with some other individual looking to move the needle on what they're working on, creates a kind of communal space that gets me focused on my work.

3. The simplicity of the structure. Show up, share your goals, get going. It gets me into my flow and after doing it a few hundred times, it's enough structure to get me going and not enough to get me lost or hung up on things.

4.  It's damn cheap!  The platform is free for 3 sessions a week; but if you want to use it unlimitedly, then you can subscribe fro $5 a month.  No lie, this is the MOST PRODUCTIVE $5 I SPEND EVERY MONTH ON GETTING SHIT DONE.  

5.  It has very simple but effective metrics. Each week, you receive an email with your successful attendance percentage, your sessions last week, and weekly streak (52 and counting!).  The end of year report tells you how many minutes you "focused", how many different partners, and how many different countries. Nothing too details but enough to feel like you are meeting goals.  

6.  You can share a link with friends and colleagues who want to book a session with you.  I've two friends whom I regularly do sessions with and I just share the link with them and they can book a session with me.

7.  It's kinda cool to meet a bunch of different people and learn the kinds of things that people use the service for.  I've met folks also working on their dissertation but there's so many other things people use it for: focused time to pay bills, test prep, billing for customers, file work for clients, reading, writing, organizing their life or their week, coding, preparing presentations, studying, and a dozen other things I'm not recalling.  It's an interesting window into other people's lives.  

8. I've made mad progress with my dissertation and I owe a lot of it to FocusMate. The scheduling and showing up aspect allow me to know that I have clearly marked borders of when to start and stop working on my dissertation for a given day. That significantly helps create the structure I need to show up and get it done.  It says a lot that in the last year, I've moved into completing chapter 3, defending the proposal, revising it, getting IRB approval, doing 3 pilots and then 25 interviews and now data analysis.  I've been more productive in the last year than in the last 3 years previously and a good portion of that success has been Focusmate!

So--that's my take on FocusMate; it's an incredibly useful tool that can sound a bit strange and yet for myself and so many others, it works well to get us to show up, have a conversation, and get shit done.  

Have you tried FocusMate?  What did you think?  Have you tried similar services (are there similar services?)?  


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