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Staying Focused And Getting Things Done with Taylor Jacobson
On this episode, I am talking about focus because we are distracted on a regular basis. I’m excited to have Taylor Jacobson with us because he is a man who’s looking to create tools to help people to be more focused. He is the startup Founder of Focusmate. He’s also a student of human potential. He’s a trained executive coach, a wannabe adventurer and a recovering pizza addict turned holistic health aspirant. Taylor, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Penny.
I’m a big fan. I have a thing called distraction quiz to help people to get more aware and heighten their awareness of how crazy distracted we are. What’s the story behind Focusmate?
A big part of this story is the first time that I started working remotely. I had been a high performer my whole life. I started working remotely in 2011. Overnight, I was no longer a high performer. In fact, I almost got fired because I was having a hard time getting things done. I did not crack the code right then. What happened is I spent a long time in a phase of shame and some depression. It was a tough part of my life. I started reading about productivity, behavioral change and even spiritual growth, whatever I could to try and figure out my own problems. That solidified my passion for this space and my decision that I wanted to make this my career somehow.
Fast forward a number of years, I was working as an executive coach. I was talking to a friend about our respective struggles with procrastination. We had this idea of how could we support each other deeply to overcome procrastination and knock out some projects we were both putting off. We had this idea of like, “Let’s get on a video call together and work side by side.” We’d be watching each other get work done. It honestly sounded silly to both of us, but we were desperate. We gave it a try. Lo and behold, it works well. He and I did it a bunch of times. Pretty quickly I realized there was probably an opportunity to provide something like this to many other people like us.
We might think of ourselves as being rational animals, but we are not at all; we are very social animals. Click To Tweet You get a buddy to go to the gym so that you both get out the door and make it happen because it’s so easy to come up with all these excuses why you can’t go. When someone else is watching or someone else’s supporting you, you show up differently, so it makes sense.
I didn’t realize it then. Now, I look at different parts of my life. I can see how much I have used this tact everywhere. How I get through college with good grades was I would take a class because there was somebody in it that I knew was going to be a good accountability partner for me and therefore, I would get a better grade. That got me to college. How do I stay in shape? I make friends with people who are down to work out together because it gets me out there. It certainly works for me. What we’ve learned is there’s tribal psychology, which we might think of ourselves as being rational animals but we are not at all. We are very social animals. We behave differently when we’re with other people or when we commit things to other people. We can go and nerd out a little bit on why that is.
There is definitely a science behind it. I forget which book it was from Malcolm Gladwell. I don’t know if you remember this or if you’ve read this where people behave differently when they would witness an accident if somebody was around or if nobody was around.
People like to send me this stuff all the time. One of the new ones I heard is that there’s research that shows if you’re standing at the foot of a mountain, like a hiking trail by yourself versus with somebody else. If you’re with somebody, you report the mountain being something like 8% smaller or less steep. In your brain, things become easier when you’re with someone else.
I’m glad you shared that because that goes back to that social psychology. It is easier with other people because it’s more fun. It takes the seriousness and the edge off because even if it’s hard, it’s hard with somebody and that somehow makes it easier.
I don’t think human beings want to do things that are easy. We want to do things with other people. It’s the tribal psychology. Much as we all love ice cream and Netflix or maybe I’m speaking for myself, those are easy and gratifying things. I don’t think we love those as much as like being our best self. We would all rather be running a marathon, building amazing companies and doing great work in the world. Those are harder things but that’s where we get dopamine from is achieving things and feeling higher status because our bodies look good. We’ve created something in the world that we’re proud of and other people can see.
Those are all status-related and status is a tribal artifact. It comes back to human beings did not get to the top of the food chain because we’re more tough than other animals. Definitely, we’re frail, fragile and hairless, weak and slow. What we have on other animals is the ability to collaborate and work together. The way we evolved is we survived because we learned how to collaborate better. Genes that made us more likely to collaborate effectively are passed down. Now, we’re hardwired to do that. The idea with Focusmate or working out with a workout buddy or any form of social accountability, peer support, peer pressure, these all tap into these things. They’re hardwired. We can’t resist them so we may as well use them to our advantage.
This is positive peer pressure when you have somebody who is supporting you to bring out your best self. It’s interesting what you said is that we don’t want to do things that are easy, we want to do things that are hard. We want to accomplish more. It’s interesting that we need and we want to have other people around to witness it, to share it and to push us to that place to be our best self. I paid for a trainer because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t show up at the gym. I have to pay somebody to be my best self. That’s why people hire us as executive coaches and whatnot. It’s interesting psychology that we want to be our best self, but we aren’t as hardwired to do it for ourselves.
We could even go a step further. It’s like we’re not wired to do it at all if we’re in isolation. All of these things that we aspire to are only meaningful because they’re shared. Here’s another one that I had heard from maybe a coach was working in the prison complex and she was saying she never understood why solitary confinement was such a big deal. You look into the psychology of it and the worst thing that you can do to a human being is isolate them.
What’s funny that came up to me when you said that is in a way, entrepreneurs who are starting their own business that doesn’t yet have a team, that’s probably their biggest struggle is they’re in solitary confinement. Having a place to go like Focusmate, I just stumbled upon it. I love it. I’m signed up. I’m going to use the platform. For new entrepreneurs, this is a gold mine to support them in bringing out their best self and staying focused because there are so many things that can distract us even our own shiny ideas.
The worst thing that you can do to a human being is isolate them. Click To Tweet That’s why a lot of this mastermind-type of concepts have gotten popular too. When I started my first solo business, one of the first things that I did was I put together a men’s group of other entrepreneurs that I would meet with every month. I’ve joined another program called Exponential and that’s a team that we check in with each other every day. If there’s a breakdown, we’ll get on a peer coaching call. If you are an entrepreneur going on it alone, it’s super lonely. It’s super isolating. That’s demotivating also.
It’s that solitary confinement. When you said that, I was like that’s the entrepreneur. Tell me how long has this been in existence and what’s your greatest discovery through having it?
We’ve been around a couple of years. We’ve started as a little mini project on the side. I found a co-founder and we’ve raised some money now. We’re off to the races. I’ll share something that is fun, which is something we’ve worked hard at is fostering positive community. We’ve hit a tipping point with that where it’s like people are craving this place where they can come and be like euphorically positive, supportive and cheer each other on it. You have to create cultural norms that make that okay because I don’t think people are used to being that positive toward others and also receiving that positive encouragement for others. It’s inspired us to add a new component to our vision, which now I’m telling everyone that we want to build the most supportive community on Earth. That’s a discovery is like, this environment, this space resonates with people. We don’t know what the products and services so to speak that will evolve from that. I’m not even worried about that. We are starting from this, “What does it look like to provide the most support that you can get anywhere in the world? Most immersive, positive and encouraging?”
That’s a great vision to have the most supportive community on Earth. How do you match people up so that somebody is thinking, “This could be for me, but I’m not sure if it’s for me?” How does it work?
As far as the brass tacks, what Focusmate is it’s a 50-minute appointment where two users sit side by side via webcam and you can be anywhere in the world. You start each appointment by sharing with your partner what you’re committing to get done. In those 50 minutes, they share with you what they’re committing to get done. You both write that down in the chat area and you get to work. You keep each other company while you’re working. You update the chat with your progress. At the end of the 50 minutes, you check in and you reflect on how it went. You have this little moment of celebration. You’re paired with any other member of the community. What we’re working on is creating a more personalized experience where you can start to say, “I like working with this person. I’m going to give them a thumbs up and work with them more frequently or even add them to my trusted contacts and get a notification when they’re working.” Do things like have a private group for your remote company so even though you’re all distributed around the world, like now you’re hopping on a Focusmate session and getting some quality time with people on your team that you wouldn’t otherwise see. Something that we’re looking at now as well is a women’s only channel. If you feel safer hopping on with another woman, you can do that. There’s a whole myriad of ways that we are exploring personalization of the experience that gives you a little taste.
It’s going to be developing a lot with this new idea. I love it. Where can people reach you and sign up for this service?
You can go to Focusmate.com. It’s free so you have no excuse. Don’t procrastinate. I get emails from people that are like, “Two months went by and I finally stopped procrastinating and tried it. I’ve done 35 sessions in the last four days.”
That’s the thing about procrastination. I’d love to pick your brain more and perhaps we’ll do that in another session or offline. Tell us about your recovering pizza addict. How many pieces of pizza day would you eat? What’s going on there?
The inside joke here for people reading is that in my bio it says recovering pizza addict, but there’s a question mark in parentheses next to the word recovering. The jury is still out whether I’m recovering. I like pizza. I think that’s an important thing that I put in my bio just because now that I am the fancy-schmancy CEO of a company, people don’t realize how much stuff that even “successful” people struggle with. I don’t know if I consider myself successful or not but I definitely struggle a lot. Part of the work that we’re doing at Focusmate is creating this conversation where it’s totally safe and acceptable to be how you are, which is human and all of us struggle. There might be super disciplined people out there. Certainly, Instagram would have you think that there are but I am not one of them. Pizza does often find its way into my life.
We all struggle in different ways. At the very core of our existence is wanting to create meaning in our lives and meaning for others and we question whether we’re good enough. That’s the ultimate thing that every single person deals with. It may show up in different ways, in different areas of our life. Some people are maybe further along than others, but we’re all human. We’re all the same. I want to thank you so much for being here, telling us about Focusmate. I look forward to many future sessions on Focusmate.
Penny, thank you so much for having me. It was really awesome.
Thank you all for being here. We’re dedicated to you getting more focus and increasing your performance and being the best you. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Taylor Jacobson
I’m a startup founder, student of human potential, trained executive coach, wannabe adventurer (ask me about cycling 🚴 coast-to-coast) and recovering (?) pizza addict turned holistic health aspirant.
My career has interwoven operating and consulting roles but I’m an entrepreneur at my core and have built four businesses from food services to social enterprise, and was employee six at Teach For India.
I believe that most global problems would get solved if everyone could do their best work. My mission is to make that happen 💪.
My startup Focusmate (www.focusmate.com) is a remote co-working community where people get things done, together. Avoid Procrastination and create momentum in getting stuff done with the support of others. Our vision is to build the most supportive community on earth 🌎.
The spark for Focusmate came from my own intense struggles, as well as my work as a coach and trainer, working with leaders at places like JPMorgan, Palantir, Betterment, Compass, Wharton, Cornell, and Yale, where I gained deep experiential knowledge of peak performance and what gets in its way. 😎
I’ve been featured in GQ, CNN, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Virgin.com, Men’s Health and more.