It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. One of the main reasons is my executive functioning – or lack thereof. The whole pandemic situation has *not* helped! I have numerous partially written blog posts in multiple locations. Some of them are even almost completed, others are just ideas and a small bunch of notes, most are somewhere in between. My home is in a similar state.
Needless to say, this inability to focus on a task for long enough to see it through to completion, common amongst autistic people, and neurodivergent people in general, is very frustrating! I am in awe of successful autistic public figures like Jack Monroe and Chris Packham who manage to achieve things like writing entire books!
However, and I say this cautiously, I have found something that helps: pairing up with a random person for a video call through a site called Focusmate.
A former colleague mentioned it to me. Keen to try something that might help, I signed up straight away, and I am so enthused that I have become a little evangelical about it.
Focusmate is “virtual co-working”. A video call with an almost randomly assigned stranger who is also trying to focus on something they want to accomplish. Users book 50 minute sessions to focus on tasks of their choice and do them ‘together’. After a quick hello and a verbal sharing of goals for the session, it’s straight to work. Most people prefer mics off while they work, but the camera must stay on. A timer sounds at the end and you check in with your partner. Simple, but remarkably effective! Freelancers and students use it to get their work done but also all kinds of people use it to focus on whatever they choose. The idea is that you are more likely to focus and get stuff done if you set specific intentions and have a buddy doing the same. In the ADHD world, this is referred to as “body doubling”. As this article in ADHD magazine ADDitude explains.
The Focusmate website has a page dedicated to explaining the science of how this works. You can read it here, but maybe that’s just procrastinating and you’d be better off just giving it a try and seeing if it suits you. (Did I mention I’d got a bit evangelical about it)
I registered with my work email and booked my first session with the person who had told me about it., which was less daunting than a random stranger. She worked on her studies in Germany while I did some work tasks I’d be putting aside for some time from my home in the UK.
In my first few days I co-worked with someone planning Gaelic lessons in Ireland; a Canadian establishing a morning routine; someone in the US working on a creative project; a couple of students studying for exams; people in Germany, Spain, India and coincidentally someone working on a tedious document in the same city as me.
I was so wowed by the whole thing, that I signed up all over again with my personal email address. Of course I could use the same account for everything, but keeping work and nonwork separate is better for me. So far I’ve used it for writing (this); tidying the kitchen; doing meal plans and related sensible grocery orders, sorting through decades-worth of papers and doing some tedious life admin jobs that I’d been ignoring. I finally changed gas and electricity suppliers – a task which had been on my “urgent” to do list for well over a year.
Interacting with a new person multiple times a day might sound daunting, but I found it’s mostly really not. And I say that as someone who has had days on end with zero human conversation during this pandemic. The fact that Focusmate users seem to be generally international, young, creative, neurodivergent (or often several of these) I think makes it easier.
There is a large “ADHD for smart ass women” community who follow a podcast of the same name. I seem to end up randomly paired with them often, and (so far) they’ve all been lovely. If I want to focus on a task that’s something most neurotypical folk would consider easy but that I might procrastinate over for hours (or days or months), it’s always reassuring if I get paired with one of the ADHD women. They understand “my goal is to remove this nail polish that I meant to remove a week ago” or “I am going to clean my bathroom” or “I need to make a decision about a thing I need to buy that I’ve been spending hours researching and being indecisive about”.
In terms of using it for work, I’ve found it brings the benefits of working in an office into my home. An added bonus, that I was not expecting, is that it makes me feel more connected to the wider world. I have been further than around 5km from my home on just one occasion since March 2020. In some ways, my world has shrunk dramatically. It was so refreshing to connect with and do something alongside people in different countries, to hear the different accents and be aware of the different time zones and climates that people are going about their days in.
A friend, who knows I don’t plan or returning to the office, expressed surprise that I “prefer not to work in the office but [am] happy for strangers to watch [me] work!”. My response was along the lines of that these people don’t constantly interrupt me, type loudly, or cook smelly food in the microwave. Also, they aren’t watching me – they are just there, getting along with whatever they need to focus on. And I can mute them 😀
My only concerns about my newfound favourite website is that it might stop being effective. It has honestly been the first time in at least a year that I have felt genuinely enthused and excited about the possibilities of something new to me. It would be disappointing if the benefits did not continue. Watch this space, I guess. If my next blog post appears before 2023 it’s a winner!