For some, the pandemic brought torture by video conference. With offices closed, hitherto inert managers became dynamos of invention, and within weeks had instigated a rigorous calendar of Zoom calls and Teams meetings. The tiniest sparks of innovation ignited by lockdown were extinguished in a tsunami of awkward, pointless, frigid meetings, with Fred forever on mute.

Others however, had an entirely different experience. Gone were the coffee shops with free wi-fi. Libraries were closed. The global village had become, the village. For a while, I could only go beyond the garden by sending the government a SMS, asking permission. I’m fortunate in that I can structure my day as I please, but the flip-side of that is that often, I under-schedule. I find myself sitting or standing in front of my computer, busily doing nothing. Before I know it, the day is gone.

One lifeline for me was the Focus Course Academy* where I continue to be a member. There's training, a workshop, all sorts good stuff. An additional element that I hadn't tried until recently, is the Focus Hour.

At the appointed time, I, and others, log in to a Zoom call. We say Hi, give an idea of what we’re focusing on, hit mute and work, with our cameras on. That’s it. Do you know what? It really works. For that hour, I’m focused and switched on. I stand at my desk, typing away and get stuff done. These “colleagues” are the best kind. They smile, greet me and then leave me the hell alone. At the end of the hour, they give me the thumbs up and disappear. There are multiple focus hours set up in the week, but many of them fall in my evening time, so I only go to one, on a Tuesday. I was looking for more.

A fellow Focus Course Alumni, Maxim, reminded me about Focusmate.  It's the exact same concept as the Focus hour, but globalised. I log on, and am presented with a calendar. Here, I can book myself in for a 25 minute or 50 minute session at a time of my choosing, and I get matched up with somebody. I will say - it’s as awkward as hell to start with. Today, I worked for 25 minutes with Chrisant, a data analyst in Berlin. After introductions, we agreed that mics on was OK, as I listened to a focus playlist and she beat the living daylights out of a mechanical keyboard. Minutes in, I’d settled into my task and just cracked on.

It's a weird blend of having some company, of setting an intention and the accountability of having the camera on. I’m not sure that it should work, but it does.

Focusmate is free, for upto three sessions per week. It can be supercharged for $5 per month, giving unlimited access. I’m a novice but I can see myself booking in for a few more.

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