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Virtual Co-Working To Beat Distraction and Procrastination

The accountability partner you never thought you needed.


Angelo Belardi

May 21 2021

3 mins read


Working from home and not procrastinating is challenging. For me, some valuable skills that help me to stay on track while working with the few constraints that come with the home office setting, are:

  • Set and track reasonably small goals (e.g. SMART goals)
  • Concentrate on high-leverage tasks (e.g. Pareto principle)
  • Learn to decide when “good enough” is enough
  • Ensure little distraction

Even with that, I sometimes fail to progress as quickly as I would like to. My fine-grained planning is not as clear as it could be and I let myself get distracted too easily. A few weeks ago, I’ve found an unexpected solution to these problems.

Meet your new accountability partner: A stranger from the internet

I recently read Indistractable by Nir Eyal for the second time. This time around, I dig up a little gem that helped me cut back on lingering around with tasks or getting easily distracted while working. The gem: virtual co-workers. As Eyal explains, there’s a website called FocusMate that offers virtual co-working to improve distraction-free work. How? It enforces accountability by having a stranger observing you through your webcam while you work. Strange, but surprisingly effective.

The guys from FocusMate advocate their service as:

“virtual coworking eliminates procrastination and induces flow – long stretches of intense focus. You and another user act as accountability partners, sitting side-by-side while doing your work, during a carefully structured 50-minute video interaction.”

Over the last few weeks, I virtually shared my office with people from India, Australia, England, Germany, and many other countries. This helped me get back to writing manuscripts for scientific publications that had started to gather dust. It also helped me to refocus during late mornings when I am easily trapped by distractions as lunchtime approaches. Finally, it helped me to timely restrain administrative tasks like scheduling the day/week ahead and answering emails. Such tasks could otherwise easily spill into time slots scheduled for something else.

The fact that you have to plan one or two specific tasks for every session and explaining them to your new co-working mate is crucial to segment your work more clearly and to set better measurable goals. And the fact that you have to recap how the sessions went and whether you reached your goals, forces you to stay on track during the session.

With a free FocusMate account, you can schedule three sessions each week. That might be enough for some use cases, but I’ve seen people with thousands of sessions and who regularly do five or six sessions per day. 

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