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Buckle down to writing with a virtual stranger!

It’s not easy to focus on writing when you’re a busy financial professional with many other demands on your time. That’s why I’ve suggested techniques such as finding a writing buddy, using a 15-minute timer, or following a structured writing process broken into small steps (see my financial blogging book for details) to jump-start your writing.

But what if you know you’d benefit from a buddy and you’re too embarrassed to tell a friend or colleague about your need for co-working support? Or if you have a hard time scheduling work sessions in advance? You may be a good fit for Focusmate, which I learned about in “Success under the eye of a stranger,” a Boston Globe article.

Virtual co-working

Focusmate is a form of virtual co-working—working alongside someone else via video. You decide when you want to work, book a 50-minute session, and start your session. After you introduce yourself and start your goal, there’s no more interaction. A video on the service’s home page touts that “There’s no chitchat and no collaboration.” That means there’s nothing to distract you from your work.

Writer Katie Johnson says of Focusmate in her Boston Globe article, “It’s a little bit Big Brother, a little bit Chatroulette (the website that matches up random strangers for webcam conversations that tends to attract exhibitionists). And it’s definitely a whole lot odd.”

By the way, the service is free, although Focusmate plans to introduce a premium service.

The science behind co-working

On its website, Focusmate shares some of the science behind its approach to ending procrastination.

It relies on five behavioral triggers: pre-commitment, implementation intentions, social pressure, accountability, and specificity in task definition.

Can you create your own version of Focusmate?

If the thought of video co-working with a stranger makes you uncomfortable, you could try creating something similar with people you know. Just pick a time and a goal, and update your co-working buddy.

One of my colleagues in a marketing group came up with the idea of scheduling virtual “marketing sprints” without any video, but with online check-ins. We picked an hour that was convenient to many people in the group, then started an online thread in which participants posted their intentions—for example, “I’m going to write email follow-ups to editors whom I’ve contacted during the last month.” Then, one hour later, each participant posts results. It surprised me how this virtually co-working could focus my attention.

In another variation on this, I’ve done a monthly writing challenge, in which participants set goals for the average weekly word count of their writing. Each of us posted about our progress. I found it helped me keep up on my blog. If you’d like me to run a new, public monthly writing challenge, please tell me.

Your experience?

If you’ve tried Focusmate or something similar, please report on how it has worked for you. It’s probably not for everyone. That’s why I post different solutions for folks who struggle to make time to write.