Kathi talks with Writing at the Red House instructor Cheri Gregory about accountability. Cheri tells us all about her new favorite productivity tool called Focusmate. It’s an accountability system for all of us who work from home and are social learners. It’s especially valuable for a time like this when most of us are maintaining our social distance but thrive on working together.
In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to create your own online accountability system from home.
The “Rules” for a Successful Co-Working Session:
- No socializing
- No collaborating
- Come with a mindset: “This is a work session”
- Pre-decide what you’re going to work on
- Show up a little early
- Share what you’ll be focusing on
- Invite your partner to share what they’ll be focusing on
- Decide together: mic on or mute?
- *Set a timer and focus for 50 minutes
- When the timer goes off, briefly share how it went, offer each other encouragement, and sign off
* Kathi’s alternative idea for 9, when you want to work with a friend and need to focus on a project: Focus for 45 min and then reward yourselves with 5 min of “friend time.”
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Transcript of this Episode
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Communicator Academy Podcast # 187
Next Level Accountability
Kathi – Well, hey friends! Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators God has created them to be. We are coming from Writing at The Red House, and I’m with one of our instructors, Cheri Gregory. Cheri, welcome back to Communicator Academy.
Cheri – Thank you so much. I’m excited to be back here and here.
Kathi – Okay, good. All the heres. So, you have found a productivity tool that is changing things for you. I’ve done other forms of stuff like this, but this is on a new level. I’m just going to give you the floor for a bit, and I’d love to ask you some questions about how you’re using it.
Cheri – Sure. It’s called FocusMate.com and the easiest way to describe it briefly is that it’s an accountability system. It’s very well curated. When I log into my dashboard, I can see that different people have signed up to work with an accountability partner, either at 9 o’clock, 9:15, 9:30, 9:45. It’s in quarter hour increments. Or, I can look at the calendar and I can put myself on there. The system magically matches us up randomly, with somebody else in the world, who wants to work with an accountability partner, and when that time comes, I click a little button, and we’re connected by video, as if it were a Skype call. Then, the way it works is, we can introduce ourselves to each other very quickly, but we immediately get to “What are you going to focus on during this 50 minute work session? What am I going to focus on?” We agree mic on or mute, and we get to work. At the very end of the work session, a chime rings to tell us that we’re done, then we check in with each other and talk about how that time went. Did we get things done we thought we would? Did we get distracted? That sort of thing. When I first tried it, it was recommended to me by a friend, and I was like, “Oh! That sounds interesting.” Then I found an article that somebody wrote after her first 100 sessions. She titled it, “I’ll never have to work alone again.” I realized, as a social learner, and as a social person who just values connection so much, it meets a need I didn’t realize I had.
Kathi – That’s so interesting. There are so many things I love about this. First of all, that it’s 50 minutes. One of the things is, when I do coaching, or anything like that, I do it in 50 minute segments because I believe in humanitarian breaks. I’m like, “How do other people go to the bathroom? Go get a glass of water?” Things like that. Fifty minutes, to me, is perfect. Also, if I need to check an email, or talk to my assistant, or something like that, 10 minutes give me time to do some of that. Okay, so I think the first question some people would have is “Well, how do you know if the person on the other end is skeevy or not?” So, here’s my first question. Am I going to see something I don’t want to see?
Cheri – Oh, no. That’s totally out. If you did, you’d close your video and report them, and they’d be off FocusMate. I’ve not had anything like that happen.
Kathi – Okay, good. That noise is our puppy, letting us know that she’d like to be part of the conversation as well. She is not good with focused accountability. I’m just going to let you know. She’s a deterrent because she comes and sits on your lap. Roger and I say, “Well, I can’t do anything. I have a puppy on my lap.” Okay, so tell me some of the people you’ve connected with on this.
Cheri – I’m in a season of life, right now, where I’m finding my way back to some more disciplined habits, in healthier ways than I did when the habits were perfectionistic. So, I’m trying to find this really healthy balance. So, I thought, “This will be really good for me.” But one of the first people I matched with was a man from England who was applying for a job, and I thought, “What a vulnerable thing to invite a complete stranger into.” It’s not like we sit and stare at each other, but for 50 minutes, I was working on my manuscript, and he was working on whatever his next step was to find a job. I found myself thinking, “I’m going to pray for him, that he gets his job.” One of the next kids I worked with, and I say ‘kid’, because he seems so young to me, but he’s was working on his doctoral dissertation. I started working with him on a Monday, and it just so happened that because the times we each wanted to work, we ended up working together every single day. So, he was going to turn it in on Sunday, and I didn’t have a work session with him over the weekend, but I still messaged him. I knew he was going to be revising it all Sunday, and I was just like, “Good luck revising it today.” Literally, it’s people all over the world and with so much negativity in the news, it is so uplifting to know that there are really cool people doing really cool things all over the world.
Kathi – Things that we would never imagine or consider. Just having a place to say, “I have dedicated this time to focus on this.” I’ve done something similar, where I’ve called somebody and said, “Hey! In 50 minutes, or an hour, this is what I want you to check in with me on.” And I found that very useful, but I’ve got out of the habit. So, this really appeals to me. I do think that I would love to see if I had somebody in my life, I could say, “Hey! On Tuesdays and Thursdays, let’s meet at one o’clock Pacific, and for 50 minutes we go do our own things, but this is what I’m going to do every Tuesday and Thursday for fifty minutes.”
Cheri – What I think this is, is a very formalized method of doing just what you described. A work session. A co-working session. The value of doing it with a stranger, for me, is, you know I’m so collaborative. They won’t let me talk beyond the little brief opening. Now, that said, I’ve met other writers and we do talk shop for a minute, but we’re both on schedules. So, I don’t feel the pressure of, “But I should be friendlier.” Or “I should listen better.” Or whatever else.
Kathi – Part of the reason I love this idea is because now, with living in the mountains most of the time, I’m not going to the coffee shop to meet anybody.
Cheri – It does sort of have that milieu to it.
Kathi – So, give me an example. If I’m working on my doctoral dissertation in England, and you’re getting on to organize your office, tell me what the conversation is when we first pop on.
Cheri – So, I get on. They get on. We say ‘hi’ and literally it’s “What are you focusing on this session?” There’s a little chat window. I’ve worked with people who are in the library, so they keep their mic off, so we do type to each other. Personally, my preference is we talk to each other. I like my mic on, because I like hearing. I like the rustling sound of another live being. Another part of it, and there is scientific research on this, it’s not just the accountability, but it’s having somebody witness what we’re doing. There are quite a few people that are the same way. If we’re both writers, we can hear each other’s keys clicking. That’s inspiring. I’m like, “Wow, she’s getting more words. I need to get more words.” So, they’ll tell me what they’re doing and sometimes they’ll say, “I’m afraid of this.” Or “I’ve been stuck with this.” Then, at the end, they’ll be like, “I hoped to do more of this, but I ran across this obstacle.” Or, “I broke through. I had a breakthrough and got more done.” So, part of what’s been fun is finding a variety of ways to cheer for them in a way that doesn’t seem trite; that’s a genuine way to say, “But you persevered. Good for you. That’s still more than you would have had.” Or “Good. I’m so glad. What a relief that must be to have figured out what was holding you back and to be moving forward with it.”
Kathi – I just think, talk about upping the possibility of me getting something done. If I say, “At two o’clock, I’m going to work on a chapter for 50 minutes.” Can I tell you how many thousands of things could get in my way before I work on that chapter? But, if I’ve got an appointment, then what I can do is say, “Okay, I can’t do the other things, because I have an appointment with somebody.” We’ve talked about this. If you write down a goal, you’re x times more likely to accomplish it. If you share that goal with somebody? It makes all the difference about whether you’re going to do it or not.
Cheri – The other thing I’ve found is that, since I work from home, I don’t take myself as a worker, seriously. So, if my family shows up, and I perceive that they need something, (and let’s be clear, it’s not that they’re coming and asking for things. I perceive they need something) I will drop what I’m doing to take care of them. It’s the people-pleaser-meddler problem. But if I’ve going an appointment at two o’clock for FocusMate, they can find whatever they were looking for by themselves. I don’t need to keep inserting myself in their lives and, the fact that I’ve got the earbuds in and they know about FocusMate, so they know that if I’m quickly using the bathroom and reheating my tea, they know I’m about to do a work session. It’s become a great boundary setter for both them and me.
Kathi – I love this so much. Okay, so where do they go for this?
Cheri – Literally, FocusMate.com.
Kathi – Okay, so if someone wanted to set this up with a friend, what would say is your rule, your criteria, for setting this up with a friend? They can adjust it from there, but if they’re just getting started, what would you tell them to do?
Cheri – You know, I like being flexible about a lot of thing in life. I think what makes this one work is the absolute rule of not socializing, and not trying to use it as an opportunity to collaborate. This is where I was like, “Kathi and I could do this!” and then I was, “No, we couldn’t.” It would be like when I was in high school and four of us girls would get together to study for a history exam and what we ended up doing was planning the most amazing Valentine’s Day party for the senior boys that has ever been held in the history of the world. It was a great party, but we failed our history exam.
Kathi – Right! Exactly! I don’t believe you failed a history exam.
Cheri – We won’t talk about what percentage I got.
Kathi – She got a B+. That’s what ‘fail’ is. Okay, so what are the rules?
Cheri – So, the agreement about no socializing. No collaboration. That also takes pressure off. That’s the good part. You can socialize some other time with your friend. Collaborate some other time. This is a work session. You come knowing what you’re going to focus on. You share that really briefly. I find showing up early helps. So, instead of showing up at 2 o’clock, I show up at 1:58, so everything’s set and ready to roll. Then you make the agreement mic on or off. So, if I’m editing a podcast, I’m going to want mic off because I’m going to be doing that in the background. So, you make that agreement. Then somebody sets a timer, so at the end of that 50 minutes, you report in to each other what happened. The other thing it’s taught me is to be much more realistic about how much time things take me.
Kathi – It’s so true, isn’t it?
Cheri – Sometimes things go faster, but most of the time I was like, “Oh, this will take me two hours.” But it ends up taking me 3 or 4 sessions. I used to beat up on myself. “I need to work faster.” No, I just need to learn and be more realistic.
Kathi – This is how long things actually take. Okay, so I’m going to make a proposal to you. I want to try this with you and me. I know you said we can’t do it, but I think we could, but here’s the thing: instead of 50 minutes, could we do 45, then our reward for being focused is we get five minutes of friend time.
Cheri – This is the best idea ever. You heard it here, first on Communicator Academy.
Kathi – I think that’s the perfect solution. I think we are capable of doing this. I think we could get things done. By the way, trying to Skype from The Red House stinks. Skype. How 1990s of me. To be able to say, “I have a reward at the end that I’m really looking forward to.” Okay, we’re going to try this and report back. I say we do a three month experiment. Twice a week, then we see if it works or if we spent the whole time talking.
Cheri – No. You and I are both too competitive. We’d make it work.
Kathi – Okay, you guys. It’s FocusMate.com and I’m going to recap Cheri’s rules. We’ll put those in the notes, so if you want to try this with a friend. We want to hear if you do this and it works. We’d love to hear if you’re able to be focused. Cheri, thanks for sharing this. It’s so cool.
Cheri – It has changed everything for me.
Kathi – I love that. Friends, thank you for being here. You’ve been listening to Communicator Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go live it.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items
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