Working remotely? Let strangers watch you and double your productivity

Focusmate dashboard style=

I’ve been working remotely for months now and don’t regret it. I don’t have to commute every day, and I spend less money on gas and junk food.

That said, working from home isn’t the holy grail of working; there are drawbacks.

If you’re a fellow remote worker, you know procrastination, distractions, and longer working hours come with the job.

Furthermore, feeling lonely and unmotivated are big caveats (the pajama syndrome is real, you can’t convince me otherwise).

Now hold on. I haven't been living under a rock. I know productivity techniques that cut distractions and help you focus exist. And let me tell you: I’ve tried them all.

As of writing this, I’m using two site blockers as well as the famous Pomodoro technique. And these methods worked well for a while.

With time, though, my brain started ignoring them altogether (I wish it would put that kind of creativity into my actual work). I, hence, found myself on the lookout for a panacea. Again!

And not to gloat, but I think I found it this time.

I found the ultimate productivity and focus hack for remote workers, students, and digital nomads.

It’s called Focusmate, it costs five bucks, and it’s a lifesaver.

What is Focusmate?

Taylor Jacobson, the man behind Focusmate, sells it as a virtual coworking space. Having been through virtual coworking spaces though, I can tell you it's different.

Virtual coworking spaces are usually built for teams and tend to have a creepy, remote monitoring feeling to them. Focusmate, on the other hand, focuses on individuals instead and takes a more human approach.

It connects you with other people that want to get things done.

How does it work?

To use Focusmate, you need to register with an email.

Once you create your account and verify it, you get a handy product walkthrough that takes you on a virtual tour. You can follow it or take matters into your own hands.

Either way, you end up with a Google calendar-like interface with the timeslots other users picked.

Focusmate dashboard

You can pick one of the slots or book your own and wait for a match.

The match you'll get will depend on the type of sessions you pick. A 25-minute session, a 50-minute session, or a 75 minutes session. I, for one, always choose 50-minute sessions.

Once you get a focus mate, you click "join," you grant the tool permission to use your microphone and camera, and voila!

How is it in real life?

I won’t blame you if you’re skeptical about the whole thing; I’ve had my doubts too.

Luckily, the app did not disappoint. Here’s a rundown of my first day using the tool:

After creating my account, I quickly picked a time slot. I had a lot of work to do and, honestly, I wanted to try out my latest discovery.

After a few seconds, the tool connected me with a professor with more than 1,000 focus sessions (wow!). Sadly, we got disconnected, and the tool recommended someone else (more on that later).

Once I joined my new focus mate. He greeted me, asked me about my goals, and shared his own. This, I learned later, was part of the community guidelines.

Beyond shedding the awkwardness of meeting someone new online, the small talk helped me clarify my goals and focus on achieving them. Other than the occasional progress messages my focus mate shared, the session was quiet.

In the end, we both recounted our session, shared our progress, and wished each other the best of luck. All in all, I pulled 9 work sessions and enjoyed unprecedented levels of focus and productivity.

Focusmate worked! But then again, most productivity hacks work on the first day, week, or even month.

Before buying a subscription (which I did, eventually), I wanted to see what psychologists had to say about the concept. And I didn't have to look too far.

Many studies that have been conducted prove that the philosophy behind Focusmate is solid.

What are the downsides?

During my experience, I haven't encountered any deal breakers. That said, here are some aspects you should take into consideration:

  • It’s built on trust.
  • Earlier on, I said Focusmate is not a monitoring software. And I meant it. As you use it, there’s no way your work buddy can know what you’re doing. You could be browsing Facebook while pretending to work, and he wouldn’t know (or care, to be honest). This means you need to be intrinsically motivated.

  • It can get counterproductive (or inappropriate).
  • People on the internet have the faculty of turning beautiful things into rat nests. Think of Chatroulette; the intention behind it was to bring people closer and spark relationships. But we all know what happens there now. Focusmate faces the same threat. It’s a beautiful, internet gem where people are friendly and serious. but that could change. That said, I’ve been using the website daily for a month and haven’t had any bad occurrences. On the contrary, I met wonderful people (shout out to Gavin O), so I don’t think we have to worry about that for now.

  • You can get sucked into the productivity theater.
  • You'll meet all sorts of people on Focusmate. Most of them will greet you and focus on their tasks. Some will humble-brag to impress you, which is funny to watch. But few will try to suck you into the productivity theater. And that is dangerous. If you’re not familiar with the term, productivity theater refers to the act of pretending instead of working. People would do things like scroll through their emails or Slack to seem busy. I remember having a session with someone who needed to ship some code in less than an hour. During the session, he managed to maintain an earnest and focused demeanor. In the end, though, I asked him how it went (Focusmate guidelines oblige), and he admitted he didn’t do a single thing. He’s a better actor than a coder. But I digress…

What are the upsides?

The tool has some teeny, tiny drawbacks. Big deal… You can focus on the nitty-gritty details or you can see the potential. Here’s what you can expect.

  • More clarity and traceability
  • I said earlier that the tool brought clarity to my days. I wasn't exaggerating. Thanks to the 50-minute sessions, I now know exactly what I did every hour of every day. This allows me to trace my productivity and brief my manager on how I spend my days.

  • Fulfillment at work.
  • Having an exact idea of how you spend your work time is great for accountability (and those upcoming performance reviews). But it’s also beneficial on a personal level. Ever since I started working with Focusmate, I feel more fulfilled and, honestly, satisfied with my work. This is a change from the productivity dysphoria I used to feel.

  • Less loneliness.
  • As a remote worker, I don't meet colleagues and I seldom go out. So I don’t get to mingle very often. Needless to say, I feel lonely from time to time. Using Focusmate brought the sparkle I needed to my work-from-home routine. I have to dress up every morning, show up on time, and make water cooler conversations (kind of).

  • You can use it for so many things.
  • Focusmate is for people who want to get things done but need some encouragement, or, frankly, some social pressure. This means you can use it for anything you deem important. I've seen people use it to read a book, practice guitar, or meditate.

Wrapping up.

Focusmate has been a game-changer for me. It allowed me to get the best of both worlds. If you feel like you need a push to become more productive or maybe just talk with people, you might want to try it out. Check out their website

PS: I’m not affiliated with Focusmate in any way.