1000 Sessions with the Ultimate & Most Effective Productivity Tool: Focusmate
Last week I finally hit the 1000 session mark on Focusmate. That’s at least 833 hours spent on the platform and at least 80% of that time spent on valuable work. Because let’s be honest: even though I aspire to, not every second trying to get work done will be my best work ever. I could be in need of a break while still “stuck” in a session, or punching my way out of creative block. Nonetheless, the tool has changed my life for the better. Here’s how.
Table of Contents· What is Focusmate?
· How does Focusmate work?
· How I came across Focusmate Virtual Coworking
· How Focusmate has helped and is helping me get shit done
· How Focusmate has enriched my life in unexpected ways
· What I'd love to see on Focusmate
· The downside
· Getting Started
· General tips for using Focusmate
· Browser Extensions to use with Focusmate
· Final words
What is Focusmate?
Focusmate is a virtual co-working platform that pairs you with an accountability buddy in a 50-minute video call during which you’ll each work on your own tasks, whatever those may be.
I’ve had Focusmates do a booty workout, strip an engine out of the car, or home school their three kids. Some use it for their morning routines, others use it to get client calls out of the way or simply to get started with their day.
Important side note: Focusmate is Not a dating app. It’s an on-demand service that matches you with an accountability buddy to get serious work done. The main and only way you help each other, is by simply being there. Making remarks about a person’s appearance, or asking for their Facebook or Instagram profiles is out of the question. So rest assured.
How does Focusmate work?
Your Focusmate dashboard is a calendar. Here, you can book sessions every fifteen minutes, on-demand and around the clock. Each session lasts for 50 minutes.
If a person’s name is in that time slot, you click on their name and confirm to book a session with them. If the time slot is empty, you can book a session for yourself. Eventually someone will click on your name in their calendar, hereby matching with you, and voila! You’ll have a Focusmate session coming up.
You can really pick any slot on the calendar. When you confirm a booking, you won’t be able to book an overlapping slot.
What if you already have a confirmed session with another person, but you want to change the time slot?
Well, that’s no issue. Just cancel the session, and book another one in your preferred time slot. Be courteous of your partner though and try not to cancel a confirmed session within the last ten minutes. Of course, life sometimes happens and you have no other choice. There’s a rematching system in place in cases where you or the partner doesn’t show up.
Ten minutes before session start
A little play-button on the session that’s about to start will be clickable, and you’ll be able to enter the session. I recommend entering no earlier than 2–3 minutes before, as it’s possible that you’ll get rematched last-minute with someone else. And you don’t want to be waiting for a fictional partner, right?
If you’re not matched with someone yet, the calendar will show this too. In the upper left corner the block with your earliest upcoming session will read “Matching…”.
Inside the 50-minute Focusmate session
The rules are simple. Working with video on is mandatory. Then:
- Greet the Focusmate.
- You can ask them how they are. (Not all Focusmates do this. Some prefer to get straight down to business.)
- Share what each of you will be working on and share mic preferences (mics on or off).
- Wish the other person luck, mute the mic (or not) and get to work.
If it helps you, you can write a list of your tasks in the chat. You are free to update the Focusmate by writing them in the chat with a simple “task 1 done” or similar. Depending on the Focusmate, they will cheer you on! If not, they’re usually highly focused on their own work.
After the session
When the timer hits 00:00, you’ll hear a harp sound, marking the end of the session. You can unmute, and both share how your session went. What remains is saying your goodbyes, until your paths cross again.
How I came across Focusmate Virtual Coworking
According to my profile overview I signed up to Focusmate in April 2019. I left my job earlier that year and had just made the jump to freelancing. In my head I drew out that I’d make money building things with code. That dream died several months in, as I found out that it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.
Despite spending the year being “funemployed”, I was determined to stay in motion. Without a plan, a system or whatsoever in place and no clear goal, it was hard to follow a direction to move in. I just knew I couldn’t sit on my behind and watch series all year.
To save myself from impending doom, I ran a Google search. I’m sure the search query looked somewhat like “Help, how do I get work done alone?” or “How do I stop procrastinating”. Luckily, Focusmate popped up. The illustration of the stranded person in the desert choosing between Productivity or Procrastination made me laugh and helped me cross the threshold of trying it out.
“A webcam session with strangers? Why not”, I thought. Nothing to lose here.
I found the platform beneficial, and got a few dozen sessions in. I only made use of the service sporadically and more or less forgot about the platform. Until lockdown spring 2020.
I was working from home full time, and really struggling to get anything done. My mental health was not as it should be. On my own, I thought, why even bother? It was pretty bad. Then I remembered Focusmate. What if this platform could help me out once again? Could it make a difference?
I hopped back on and got the $5 Turbo subscription that granted me unlimited sessions. It saved me from getting fired from my jobs and spiralling further into a dark hole.
How Focusmate has helped and is helping me get shit done
Where do I even start.
#1 It helps me get into flow state.
I focus on one or several tasks only during these 50 minutes, and ignore everything else, until I hear the harp sound breaking the silence.
#2 You are not alone.
As fellow Focusmate user Linda perfectly summed it up: “I never have to be alone again”. I know there is always someone there who also seeks a buddy to work together with.
#3 I let two people down by not showing up.
By booking a session with someone else, I am forced to show up at a certain time. If not, I am not only letting myself down, I am also letting them down. Focusmate users often plan their day with the tool. They expect the person they booked a session with to show up. It’s the least I can do.
#4 It’s helped me improve my time-management skills.
At the start of the session you vocalize your goals. I’m often delirious or overly ambitious and give the Focusmate a too-long-of-a-list with things I’d love to get done. Some call me out on it and ask “do you think you can get all of that done within this session?”. While blushing I acknowledge that it might be a lot. I always try, and do as much as I can. Trying to accomplish these goals that are actually too large force me to work smarter, go straight for the goal and waste as little time as possible. Even when I don’t tick off all list items, and this happens often, I gain a clearer picture of what I’m humanly capable of finishing within one 50-minute session.
#5 It’s helping me break big goals into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Sure, there are big tasks that eventually need to be completed. I often start a session saying, I need to work on campaign X. But that consists of a bunch of tasks, which I write out in the chat. You could say that it helps me make sense of how to attack the bigger picture. It feels like planning my route towards the mountain summit.
#6 It gives me insight into my most productive times.
In the “Settings” under “Email Notifications” you can choose to get calendar invites for each confirmed booking. These sessions automatically show up in my Google Calendar. At one glance, I can see how much (or little) I’ve been working this week. The same for all the previous weeks where I booked sessions. Seeing the times I typically work at, I stopped rigidly trying to force myself to work at this or that time, just because others are. I instead let it flow naturally towards the times I “tend to like” to work.
#7 Focusmate helps me get over myself.
Being lazy, safe and comfortable is more beneficial for human survival. Of course my mind will try to trick me into slouching on the couch, forever. But that will not help me move ahead. So instead of giving in to the “I don’t feel like it today” (like I won’t tomorrow, nor the day after), I book a Focusmate session.
How Focusmate has enriched my life in unexpected ways
- It’s a zero-cost (well okay, $5) way to meet people from different cultures and countries from around the globe. It’s still mind-blowing to me that the next person could be working from a Singaporean high-rise building, or a cottage in the Colombian mountains. I enjoy getting a brief glimpse of what their life and living surroundings look like. I appreciate this even more during times of Covid where travel and exploring abroad is reduced to a bare minimum.
- I built some great friendships as a complete side effect to regularly using Focusmate. There are regular faces you keep seeing on the calendar or in sessions. Over time, you chat, and you chat a little bit more. When I see I’m matched with someone I love to work with, I get excited! I look forward to seeing them again, hearing what’s been going on in their lives, and knowing that we’ll have a good session together. The only downside to building friendships is that you might spent a large part of your session catching up with people and chatting for too long.
- The community around Focusmate is strong, tight-knit and supportive. I’m not much of a talker. A tool like this can only work if the people using it feel safe and comfortable showing their faces on-screen to a complete stranger. Kindness and respect are highly valued and upheld within the community. There’s a Facebook community group where we share wins, ask questions and the like. In rare cases where a discussion escalates, we’re not afraid to uphold each other to the standard of respect and kindness.
- I get productivity tips, book recommendations, useful websites and life advice merely by reading people’s bios. There’s something to learn from everyone.
- The Friday group sessions! These get-togethers feel somewhat more casual and relaxed. It’s a zoom meeting that starts at the full hour, and lasts for 8 hours or sometimes even 24, depending on how many people are available to host it. They work well for me when I want to spend time on personal projects without going all hardcore as I prefer to do in the one-on-ones.
Cool fact: very often community members take on the role of host. During the break you are free to unmute and share how your session went, and what you’ll do for the next one (if you plan to stick around). If you don’t feel comfortable talking out loud in front of a group, then you are free to share this in the chatbox. Or to continue silently lurking here while being surrounded by people.
- It helps maintain my social skills. I am currently learning to overcome some social anxiety. Situations where people normally have no issues functioning and interacting with other humans I don’t always handle all too well. Corona and all the related lockdowns have made human contact less common, reducing the available situations where one can practice, well, being a human. By regularly talking with strangers on Focusmate, I prevent myself from getting completely anti-social and nurture my speaking and interaction skills in a supportive environment.
What I’d love to see on Focusmate
This is more a wish list of features I’d like to see some day.
- The ability to add people I enjoyed working together with as favourites.
- More integrations, such as with Toggl, the time tracking tool I use.
- Increasing the speed would be amazing. There’s a few seconds load time on every click. Getting rid of this would improve my user experience.
The only downside I can think of now is that you might have to deal with tech or connectivity issues. These are out of your control, but if the screen is constantly flashing, it can disrupt your concentration.
In my earlier Focusmate days it used to really annoy me. By now, I have gotten used to it. And when it happens? Well, we’ll just have to work with that. I’ll hide the flashing screen behind a window, and hope we’ll get 1–2 minutes of uninterrupted talking time at the end. When the WiFi is too poorly, I’ll cancel the rest of my sessions for the upcoming hours, because I don’t want the Focusmate to have to “suffer” from my WiFi connection as well.
Overall I’m an easy-to-please customer.
Three weekly sessions are for free. These are great to test out the platform and see if you like it.
Video chat sessions with strangers might feel or sound weird at first, but I promise you it’s not. The people who sign up for Focusmate are here to get work done.
- Add a picture to your profile, and some basic information, so that other users can get an idea of who they’ll be matched with. It also helps to add a sense of trust for the other person going into the session. The person you’re matched with is still a stranger who is letting you into their home/office.
- Check your timezone settings. It would be a waste to wait for the session to open when it hasn’t even started yet in the selected timezone. Or accidentally miss a session.
- Read the Community Guidelines. They’re simple and straight-forward.
- Join the Facebook — Official Community group. Even if you’re afraid to book your first session, by lurking in the group you’ll get a feel of how people treat each other. You will quickly learn that you have little to fear and that you have a community there to support you.
General tips for using Focusmate
- Try to enter the session one minute early. Punctuality is appreciated. I often find the most punctual people already there waiting for me, their eyes fixated on the screen. This is why I do my best to enter the session around one minute before start. This way, we can exchange greetings and tasks before the 50-minute mark, and make full use of our time together.
- Keep chit-chat at the beginning to a minimum. If you vibe well, you can always chat more at the end of the session when you’ve already gotten some work done.
- Check the partner’s profile beforehand, if you have time. The section with what they think contributes to a successful session, biggest pet peeve and what they’d love their Focusmate’d do gives you a lot of information about whether or not you’ll be a good match.
- Take note of the emojis in peoples’ names. As long as there’s no filtering function to separate desk 🖥 and non-desk work (doing exercise, cleaning), or mics on🔈 or off🔇, people tend to add emojis to let you know what they prefer. Then you don’t have to dive into their profiles. The only way to currently prevent working with people who don’t share your preferences is to cancel sessions with them if you’re matched, or block them, so they won’t show up on your calendar in future.
- Go into this kind and open-minded. There’s a wide variety of people using the platform. Not 100% of the people you work with will be a good match. This is inevitable. Give them the benefit of the doubt! Have a session with them. If you didn’t enjoy working together, you can always block them afterwards to prevent getting matched in future. Also, some people are more chatty and talkative than others. Try to be flexible and adapt to each other.
- Use the blocking feature to curate your Focusmate experience. Blocking a user prevents you from seeing them on the calendar, and you won’t be able to book sessions with each other. Take care: blocking is not the same as reporting. Reporting is done when a partner violates community guidelines (e.g. is rude, makes inappropriate or sexually tinted comments).
- Pro tip: remember that you can mute one’s tab. Sometimes a partner wants to keep their mic on. For me that’s no issue at all, because I will sneakily mute the tab anyway (and unmute at the end of the session). Or when the connection breaks, and they come back on, they forget that the mic is still unmuted. To not bother them, I just mute the tab and unmute it at the end instead of talking them out of their focus.
- Don’t compare your Focusmate experience to someone else’s. Whereas some people can power through with back-to-back sessions for 10 hours straight, others need to take a longer break between every one or two sessions. There’s no better or worse. The only thing that matters is what works well for you.
For example, I typically don’t plan my sessions ahead, but book them the same day shortly before I want to get started. Often I book 2–4 sessions in a row before I take a long break. Then I repeat. The total amount of sessions I get in per day vastly differs. The weekly average is anything between 20 and 40 sessions.
- Based on your gender, it’s possible to match with people of your own gender and non-binary people only. Personally I like to match with whoever the heck is available. My only criteria are that the partner prefers mics off too, and that they’re on-screen most of the time; I don’t care if they’re doing jumping jacks or dusting their porcelain collection.
Gender-matching has long-time been a highly requested feature. And now it’s here. I can very well imagine that some people feel more comfortable working with people of the same sex only.
What if the Focusmate stands me up?
There’s a rematching feature in place. If no partner is there, a popup will appear at the 48-minute mark, asking you if you want to wait for your current partner, or get rematched with someone else who is also waiting. This popup stays on-screen for 3 minutes. I advice to not wait too long to click. People tend to smash the rematch button as soon as it pops up. The chances of finding a partner will be lower the longer you wait.
What if I cannot afford the $5?
There are scholarships for this. If you’re in a situation where you are currently not able to pay this amount, I urge you to write the team and ask them about the possibilities.
Will Focusmate work for me if I have social anxiety or similar?
I’m struggle with this and I’ve managed to survive haha. I handle the sessions well, because I know exactly what is expected of me: say hello, how are you, what will you be working on, mic or on off, good luck. That’s all. During the session you work on your own things, just like the Focusmate.
Also, remember that it’s just one individual you have a session with. The person does not give a single flying eff how you look. They just care about you showing up and being on-screen most of the time. When the session starts, they’ll be much more focused on their own work. Maybe they’ll hide you behind a tab, and just knowing someone else is there is enough of a help.
I’d like to use Focusmate, but I’m afraid of perverts…
I understand. In the extremely rare cases this happens, the person who violates the rules gets reported and kicked off the platform forever. I really want to emphasise the word rare here, as this is exception, not the rule. According to a recent Focusmate statement, the extreme incident rate is 1 out of 100,000, which is low. The Focusmate team takes immediate action here and they take reports seriously.
The far majority of Focusmates is great. I would love to promise you that you won’t encounter a pervert, but as in any other place, just like when you’re walking on the streets, this is not a given. There will always be that <1% of people who lack decency. But I refuse to let that ruin my fun.
In my 1000+ sessions I have never encountered anything obscene. I expect maybe 1 out of every 200 people or so to not be the right match for me, personality- or work habits-wise (e.g. they want mics on whereas I don’t). When we don’t vibe well or if I feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, I do use the blocking function afterwards. Again, this is rare. Most partners are lovely.
If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can take some measures:
- Adjust the gender matching settings in your profile
And cancel sessions with users who don’t have:
- A profile picture
- Profile information
- A very low amount of completed sessions (or none)
There have been discussions in the Facebook group about the “dangers” or insecurities of starting sessions with people with “vague” or incomplete profiles. But let’s not forget that we too were once newbies. I doubt I filled out the profile info so extensively during my first few sessions, as I was just testing the tool. I don’t mind matching with newbies or “empty profilers”. I enter such sessions with an open mind. If it’s not what I expected, I can always end the session.
Can I invite friends to book sessions with me?
Yes! This feature is brand new. I haven’t used it yet, but from what I understand, you book sessions on the calendar. You send the friend link to your friend who is also registered on Focusmate, who can then book those slots with you. These slots will be locked.
Browser Extensions to use with Focusmate
I’ve been writing this piece during several Focusmate sessions. Without a tool such as this, the amount of work I’d get done would not even compare. It would be laughable. As a matter of fact, I’ve been writing every single piece I ever published on Medium since last year during one or more Focusmate sessions.
Without Focusmate, I struggle. Where I’d freak out having to tackle a big task on my own, I know that I can book a Focusmate session and have a buddy there who will hold my hand, without them even knowing. Just having someone there makes such a big difference. I feel like I am not alone.
I used to underestimate the effectiveness of vocally sharing my goals, and this feeling of having to “justify” what I did by the end of the session. If I don’t accomplish my own goals, the Focusmate doesn’t care. It’s all on me. But I will feel better when I can share how much progress I made versus how I failed to meet my own goals. And this positive feedback loop keeps getting strengthened.
Of course you can lie, but that’s only harmful for your own performance. And seeing how someone is hyper-focused while you are scrolling the internet is a horrible feeling. You basically guilt-trip yourself into doing what you should be doing. As one Focusmate said: “I need guilt (to get to work).”
Overall, the value I get for the current pricing of “just” $5 is immense. $5! That’s why I am raving about this tool. The concept is so simple. The positive impact it is having on my life is monumental.
If you struggle to get work or anything else done on your own, maybe an accountability buddy can help. Book them on demand on Focusmate. Use it to establish a morning or evening routine. Plan your work hours with the Focusmate calendar. Schedule that garage cleaning session or that other big house task you’ve been putting off. And maybe we’ll even see each other in a future session.