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How I Write and Learn

Introducing……”App Spotlights!” In our new series, our writing and learning coaches share some of their favorite websites and applications! Check back to see how our coaches use technology to help them write, manage their day, take note, and much more!


By Sherah, a Writing Center Coach

This month, at least fifteen different strangers watched me struggle to write my dissertation proposal. Sound like a stress-induced nightmare during a nap you shouldn’t be taking? It’s actually something I’ve been waking up early to do! 

My source for these strangers is Focusmate, a productivity app that pairs you with another user for 25 or 50 minute virtual coworking sessions. Using a simple calendar interface, you select a session duration, schedule an appointment, and are matched with an accountability partner. You meet, state your session goals, then work until a timer cues you to check in about your progress. Focusmate is intended to provide you with five behavioral triggers for achieving focus: pre-commitment (schedule in advance); implementation intention (Focusmate sessions are how you’ll get something done); accountability (your Timeliness score); task definition (state your objectives); and social pressure (share your goal and progress). Three appointments per week are free and unlimited sessions cost $5 a month. You can also add a profile and select preferred genders for coaching partners, if you’d like. 

Lately, a Focusmate session is my first task of the day. I’m not a morning person, so scheduling these in advance gets me out of bed and working at a reasonable hour. If I have trouble focusing later on, impromptu sessions get me back on track, especially if I screen share. 

Unlike well-intentioned study sessions with friends that slide easily into chit-chat or me staring into space, Focusmate keeps me hyper-aware of my session goal. Knowing I’ll have to disclose my (potential lack of) progress to a friendly stranger is fascinatingly motivating. Ultimately, I find Focusmate interesting but slightly uncomfortable, which is exactly why it works for me.

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach, a peer tutor, or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

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