Digital Nomad Stories

Boosting Productivity and Living Authentically: A Conversation with Focusmate's Founder Taylor

October 09, 2023 Anne Claessen Season 2 Episode 151
Digital Nomad Stories
Boosting Productivity and Living Authentically: A Conversation with Focusmate's Founder Taylor
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Meet Taylor, the founder of Focusmate, who turned his lifelong struggle with procrastination into an innovative platform that's revolutionizing how we work.

Taylor also shares his transformative journey towards a fulfilling lifestyle. We talk about redefining the concept of a workday, and aligning life with your desires. Taylor takes us through his life in Mexico City, striking a balance between work, passion, and health. 

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Speaker 1:

Hey Nomads, welcome to Digital Nomad Stories, the podcast. My name is Anne Claessen and, together with my co-host, kendra Hasse, we interview digital nomads. Why? Because we want to share stories of how they did it. We talk about remote work, online business, location and dependency, freelancing, travel and, of course, the digital nomad lifestyle. Do you want to know more about us and access all previous episodes? Visit digitalnomadsstoriesco. Alright, let's go into today's episode. Hey, hey, nomads, welcome to a new episode of Digital Nomad Stories. Today, I'm here with Taylor, the founder of FocusMate. He knows a lot about remote work, about productivity, getting shit done, which are my words, by the way.

Speaker 1:

And I'm really excited to have him on the show today to talk more about remote work, but especially productive remote work, and getting some tips about that, because I mean I just need them, you know. So you got to listen in. So, taylor, welcome to this episode.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for having me. Great to be here.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so can you tell us a little bit more about what FocusMate is and what you do?

Speaker 2:

Sure yeah so let's start with what FocusMate is. Focusmate is this. Well, let's say, it's this crazy fantasy that I had for many years when I was a horrible procrastinator that I was kind of too ashamed to tell anybody. And then one day during my years working as a coach, executive coach, etc. I had a client who was really struggling with procrastination. He had an investor presentation coming up and was really starting to freak out and his vulnerability, his situation kind of activated me to pitch this idea to him. That was really my fantasy, and what I proposed to him was let's get on a video call and let's keep each other company while we get our work done. And so we did that.

Speaker 2:

We this was Skype at the time and the first minute of the conversation we both shared what we were going to do. Obviously, he was working on his investor presentation and I was working on a blog post and I am a champion procrastinator when it comes to writing a blog post and we both wrote down also. We wrote down what we were going to do and then we just started working. You know, we both had the video window open on the side of the screen and we worked for a couple hours together like that and we checked in periodically to just see how we were progressing.

Speaker 2:

But it was just fucking crazy, I mean, for two lifelong procrastinators to just have this sudden experience of like whoa, that was so easy and so focused and it was really. I mean I'm like having tears in my eyes actually just remembering that feeling, but like to just feel how easy it was to just like get something done. And those words they almost sound trite, you know, to just talk about getting something. It doesn't actually sound as meaningful as it is, but it really is like.

Speaker 2:

I'm kind of like tangenting here and waxing a little philosophical, but you know, for me it's like the difference between just feeling like my life is wasting away, which is really heavy, and feeling excited and looking forward to the future, and having, you know, having a greater sense of possibility for oneself, for myself.

Speaker 2:

So we did that first experience. And long story short, focusmate is a platform to find a buddy, to find a part, a co-working partner, to set up a video call where you keep each other company while you get work done, and it can either be 25, 50 or 75 minutes. You can tell us some of your preferences over who you want to work with. You can also save your favorite partner. So it's easy to work with your favorite partners. But it's really that simple it's. You know, in the snap of a finger you can log on, book a session and, you know, be getting down to work in a couple minutes from now with somebody from somewhere else in the world, and it's just a stupendously impactful way to shift your state and, you know, get into gear and something that's important to you.

Speaker 2:

When you say what do I do, can you tell me what you mean by that question? I do a lot of things, you know.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, exactly, tell me all the things that you do, but more like what is, what is a typical day or week for you?

Speaker 2:

Well, I live in Mexico City, which I love. I've been here for about a year and I do most of my like work, work, good job, work in the morning, although I also eat breakfast outside almost every day. There's a park near my house, so, yeah, getting outside early is important to me.

Speaker 2:

But, yeah, I'm usually doing calls and co-working, which for me is, like you know, using Focus Made is how I get my work. Like you know, individual focus work done Between like 8 and 12, sometimes a little bit later and I go to the rock climbing gym a lot. That's currently like my most excited passion and there's a lot of cool stuff going on here in Mexico City. And then I have I have kind of like a not really a side hustle, but kind of a next, next chapter, that I'm starting to nurture the vision and kind of speak it into reality, and I don't have a lot of bandwidth for it right now. But my next thing will be around really teaching people about authenticity, which I think is just teaching people how to do more of what they want moment to moment.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and you know, I guess the last puzzle piece of my life right now I've really focused on my health. I've had a lot of like chronic illness and PTSD and a variety of things, and so that's been a whole other journey and learned a lot there, grown a lot there as well. Yeah, you know, part of why I don't work a ton of hours is Because I don't want to, and part of it is, you know, putting a focus on my body and my health as well.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, interesting. So two things were really interesting to me about what you said that I just wanted to like highlight and ask more about. First of all, I totally agree with you that getting the stuff done that has been on your to-do list, you know, like this task that just is on your to-do list and it always goes to tomorrow, like at the end of the day you just always like I'll do that tomorrow and that just happens for weeks. I'm sure I'm not the only one. It takes up so much energy to not do the thing, like even if it's something that is literally 10 minutes to get done, but just that energy of, okay, moving it to the next day and you still have to think about it, it's still like kind of in the back of your mind.

Speaker 1:

And I absolutely agree that having the tools to just get this stuff done, that you need to get done, and being productive and just you know getting it done and moving on. So for you that's like getting stuff done in half a day of work and then moving on to what's important to you, which is, for you, working on your health. I think that just makes so much sense and so cool that you took this step to actually create focus made that we can all use that now, that tool that worked so well for you. So that's one thing, and then what I want to definitely learn more about is also how did you end up in Mexico City? Like, how did you end up there? Because just before we hit record, you told me that you also no matter around a little bit, but that it was against your will. So I definitely want to hear that story.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, just doubling down on what you said, I noticed one of the things that happened for me as I spent more time as a procrastinator, spent more time like not following through on things I wanted, is I found that I actually started to like water down my ambitions and even kind of how I related to myself, like almost changing my personality to pretend to be somebody else so that I wouldn't be as disappointed that I wasn't doing the things that you know somewhere I really knew I wanted to and could do. So, yeah, like you said, it takes a lot of a lot of energy and for me it's really a stressful experience, so it's like a state of chronic fear and stress to not be following through on things.

Speaker 2:

So, yeah, I just want a huge plus one on that and that it can be really euphoric you know, to just crush the stuff that matters to you and bring back that sense of possibility and or even introduce a new one of like things you never really thought were available to us that suddenly are because we're productive.

Speaker 2:

And you know you said that I I'm gonna nitpick. You said that I, you know I I get my work done in a half day so that I can do the things that I want later in the day. And yes, we do in. Certainly in the United States and in a lot of places we have a notion of like what's a full work day. But it's been a journey for me, but I've really kind of deconditioned that for myself and I've really shifted my context from you know what is a work day, which is just a construct, it's just a concept, to what do I want?

Speaker 2:

And to me, that's the only question that matters. And and actually I do also want to do my work. I'm really excited about what I'm building, you know, and it's like this is how much energy I want to put into this, and this is how much energy I want to put into this and this, and so, yeah, that's. It's a relatively recent thing for me. Over the last few years, you know, as a younger person, I I really kind of moralized the amount of work I was doing. You know, like if I wasn't putting in a good eight hour work day, there's I was, I was bad. Yeah, it's taken a lot of.

Speaker 2:

It's taken me really like working myself into health crises and and being unhappy, really unhappy, to let go of some of that conditioning and really just commit to living according to this one precept, which is just what do I want, what feels true for me, what feels right. So I think that's a great point, that you made that what.

Speaker 1:

what is a work day for you? A work day is working between eight and 12. So how is that just the kind of routine that you have, that you work between those hours, or do you have a set to do list for the day and then, when it's done, it's done and you log off early?

Speaker 2:

It's mostly a routine, as opposed to about the things. I really try to eliminate any urgency in my life. I just I'm not an emergency room doctor and I don't want to. I don't want to have things in my life that are urgent and sometimes they happen, sometimes emergencies do happen and then, yeah, it's like you respond but fuck American work culture. Anyways, we really like, use and abuse urgency as a concept to make ourselves and other people do things, and so this is a round about way of saying no, there's never like I have to do this, this and this. It's really.

Speaker 2:

This is what my body is saying yes to, and I really I really try to listen to my body and some days, and actually my one of my colleagues that I have I have a call with every Tuesday she was on vacation. This week it's Thursday for context of the listeners, so we didn't have that call and that was 10 am and I just went for a bike ride and listen to an audiobook. You know, because that was my body was just like oh, we don't have a call, like what do we want? You know, let's go outside. So, yeah, you know it's it really comes from. These are the hours that it feels good to be having calls to be, you know, sitting on my computer a little bit cranking, getting stuff done, and then I can sort of be like great, you did it. D like you can go to the gym, you can do whatever, take a nap. So to me that's just kind of the rhythm, the rhythm it feels good.

Speaker 1:

So I'm also wondering then, just like circling back to my other question, I had too many questions, I'm sorry, sorry about that. I'm also really wondering, like, how did you end up here in Mexico City living the lifestyle that you have now? Because you said a few times that it used to be very different for you. So can you walk us a little bit through where you were a few years ago and then how you got to where you are now?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm just laughing, kind of looking back at some moments I saw. A few years ago I was, you know, quintessential startup founder living in New York City. I was living in East Harlem and, yeah, like every minute of my life was packed and I knew it. I knew it didn't work for me, but I really just did not know how to change. And then pandemic hit. I had a few, let's say, traumatic situations happen all at the same time and, yeah, my body just went into shock. I was having panic attacks every day, major, major symptoms. I mean I could not do my job, I could not even go grocery shopping. And so, yeah, that's, needless to say, that was a forced change.

Speaker 2:

And, you know, as New York and the pandemic started to shift, I really needed to get out of New York. I had a lot of PTSD triggers related to New York City and way too loud for somebody with PTSD, with just lots of sounds constantly triggering my nervous system. And yet I had. I didn't know where to go and I was super under resource. I mean, I was in this major state of crisis. So, yeah, I packed up.

Speaker 2:

I spent a few months at my mom's place, which is in Massachusetts, but that just very clearly wasn't the place for me to heal and get better. And so I just kind of started moving around and I went to Portugal for three months and Portugal was still really locked down and it was. You know, I was still really messed up and it wasn't a good, it just didn't help me. I sort of had this fantasy of, like you know, my city by the ocean, beautiful European city adventure, and it was not that at all, it was horrible. I spent a month with a friend in Boston, a friend in Maryland. I spent three months at an Oshram in Northern California really interesting experience and all the while just nothing was really helping, you know.

Speaker 2:

And at the time I was in a men's group and we had a retreat in Mexico. So I flew down to Mexico, to Puerto Vallarta, and being together in person with these guys in this really intimate, supportive environment, I mean it was the best I had felt in over a year, maybe a year and a half, two years, and I didn't have anywhere else to go. So the retreat ended and I stayed in this little beach town and I didn't love it, didn't hate it, but started to hear things about Mexico City. It was not at all on my radar. Mexico was not on my radar, but at some point, you know, I heard a few things. And then there's just this moment where I was like huh, that's what I'm looking for. So I moved here last July and I love it yeah.

Speaker 1:

Awesome, do you think? I mean, you mentioned a few times that specific locations didn't really help for healing. Do you feel like a location is important for that? And Kay, talk a little bit about what you were looking for specifically so that you could heal in Mexico City or in the location where you ended up eventually?

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, I mean, yeah, number one. Environment is tremendously impactful on us, and so knowing what suits us is for me has been really, really important.

Speaker 2:

And you know, for example, I really like big cities but I'm also really really sensitive, and at that time, you know, I was 100 times more sensitive. So you know, just to paint a personal picture, I tried to live in this beach town in Mexico which you know, very beautiful, very quiet, easy to get healthy food, affordable, whatever. But it just felt too provincial for me, it felt too isolating. And so for me, mexico City it's this mega city with everything that huge international cities have, and it's also very green and it's relatively quiet compared to other big cities that I've lived in. And so for me that's, you know. And then it has all of the healthcare and kind of well-being resources of a major international city. You know, for me, earning in US dollars, it's relatively affordable to get the kind. You know I get acupuncture in my house twice a week. That's fucking crazy. So that's not maybe per se like about the city I live in, but it kind of is right, like it couldn't do if I chose to live somewhere in the US. I just couldn't do that.

Speaker 2:

The way I think of environment is it's like there's only so much we can do with discipline and positive self-talk and sort of the inner game which is profoundly important, obviously. But I'm a big believer in like outsource every damn thing that we can, because, like, why use that discipline and willpower if we don't have to? You know, to me that's it's like focus made. It's like, well, I could try and get myself to focus or I could just use this thing. That makes it really really easy. So, yeah, you know, holistically, that's how I look at choosing the right environment for us. It's like if you want to get to A to B and there's a river that goes from A to B, like grab an inner tube and you can just float down the river. That could be a lot easier and more enjoyable than, like you know, trying to trying to walk or whatever.

Speaker 1:

So, yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think also what you said, that you went to Portugal and that you, that you had this image of what life would be there and that it just wasn't it. That's so relatable, like I had that in actually several locations where I thought, okay, this is going to be amazing for I don't know all these different reasons that I got there. I was like, hmm, it doesn't seem to be really working for me. You know, like it was just very different.

Speaker 1:

And the thing is with traveling and relocating, you always bring yourself and all the shit that's going on in the inside. You bring that to that new location. And I think when I started no manning, I definitely kind of well, didn't know or forgot about that, because you know, I think deep down I didn't know, but it's easy to forget. Like you, you do bring all the stuff that's going on here when you go to the next location, you bring all that. So I think it definitely makes sense to think about, okay, what do I need and what do I want from this next location? How can I make life easier for myself? How can I go to a place where I don't know? Like people can come to my house to give me the services that I need or want, like when I, when I lived on Bali, I had private boxing lessons.

Speaker 1:

Well, here in Germany that's a little bit more difficult. It's well one, not as common and two, it's like 10 times as expensive Picking locations for what you want out of it. It's, I think, very interesting. I've had different people on the podcast over the past months mention that, so I think that's really interesting. Do you think you'll stay in Mexico City quote unquote forever? Do you think it's more like that you have a phase in Mexico City and then maybe, when you start working on your new project or I don't know, another time in your life that you would move to a different location again?

Speaker 2:

I've gotten to a point where I can really appreciate that having a plan doesn't help me, and usually it hurts me, and that's to me. It's different than having a vision. For me, a vision is something that exists right now. I'm just feeling it. I can see it. It feels true and authentic for me in this moment, but it doesn't mean I'm beholden to anything. I actually just put in an offer on an apartment here, so I guess that feels good to me. If this feels like home, I don't know what's gonna come, but I try to just be as open as possible to whatever is feeling resonant at the moment.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's also a little bit why I say quote unquote forever, because you know who knows, who knows what, what happens in years from now. I think, saying that you will live somewhere forever, it's just weird to be.

Speaker 2:

What I've learned is sometimes we have to let ourselves be surprised by what we want and the way this came up for me. I was on a call with a couple guys we're just kind of a mutual support conversation and somebody teed up the question of like hey, what do you see for yourself in four years? And at that point I was living, I still, I'm still here in a month-to-month like furnished Airbnb rental, you know. And to my surprise I was like whoa, I see myself in Mexico in four years and I see my, you know, I see this and this and this and this, and so it's kind of just like letting that vision just come in and and just accepting it and just feeling like, oh cool, like all right, yeah, I'm down to to buy a property, you know.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, interesting, cool. And how did you manage to start a new company, focusmate, and build that up from? You know, there was nothing, and now there's FocusMate, with I don't know hundreds or thousands of users I have no idea, but, like people all day long are working on FocusMate. How did that happen while you were also focusing on your health and healing and moving to Mexico, like you did all these things while also starting a company which I have a lot of respect for? So how, how did you manage to do that in also a balanced way? Because I have not been able to do that in a balanced way. I started my company and went all in for years, which I do not recommend.

Speaker 2:

Well, yeah, you know. To your implied question yeah, today, focusmate. We have users in every country in the world. We've hosted over five million sessions on FocusMate. Like you said, you can go on there's always people working on FocusMate, so pretty cool.

Speaker 2:

So, to be clear, I started FocusMate well before my health crises and the pandemic and all that and I definitely went all in myself. I started in 2016, you know, before remote work was a thing, you know there's a few digital madding was a thing, but very different world and I, yeah, I certainly went all in and, you know, not to beat a dead horse, but actually for me, let's say, I had really struggled to follow through on important things for the first 10 years of my career and when I had the idea for FocusMate, I you know it clicked for me that I wanted to go all in. This was gonna be a bigger endeavor than I had ever taken on before.

Speaker 2:

But you know, I just felt like, yeah, this is it, like I need to do this. And what helped me was, literally, we created a Facebook group. We didn't have an application at the time. We created a Facebook group and you could go and you could schedule a session with somebody using the like community interface in a Facebook group, and so there was probably 15 people in those early days that we would just manually book appointments with each other and it was kind of a pain in the butt, but that was the support structure that actually helped me build the first version of the application and just kind of stick with it when I was on my own till my co-founder joined.

Speaker 2:

And but there's another, I think, really important part of your question is like, how did I manage during the times that I really was in crisis because I had to stop functioning the way I was? I was no longer like I'm gonna just carry these heavy rocks up this hill, you know, by myself. It wasn't that mode anymore. It was really like, no, I need to put everything down and just sit here under a tree and kind of try to survive. And yeah, it was a transition to.

Speaker 2:

It was a very terrifying transition to basically asking my team to do everything, and it really it challenged my. It challenged me to ask for, for, often, things that I felt guilty about. Like you know, you should be able to do this yourself, taylor, but I just couldn't, and so it was either like kill myself trying to do things that just my body just couldn't do, or ask for help, and so, yeah, I was really going through a portal of like nails on the chalkboard, making requests over and over and over. That really felt kind of humiliating to me until I got comfortable with it and it actually really helped the company because it really became less dependent on me and I figured out what are the forms of contribution that really really mattered to the team. That also really felt good to me and energizing to me, even when I was in this really broken down state.

Speaker 2:

And what a cool learning for me. I mean more than anything that has taught me about authenticity, because to me that's kind of become the definition of authenticity. It's like doing things that give us energy and not doing things that drain us. And having you know, having your battery down at 1%, that'll teach you to pay attention to what gives you energy or what drains energy, and so I definitely have a lot more energy than I did. I'm, you know, I'm still still on my path, but I've really held on to that and tried to be as strict as I can with myself about, you know, if I don't need to do this and if it's not kind of my highest contribution to the team, to the company, then and I should probably try to give it away.

Speaker 1:

I really thought that you did something else before all of this happened and then you started focus made after. But I am even more impressed to hear that you started focus made before that even, and you just made this whole transition while still being the founder of this company, you know, and just completely changing the way you work within the same company. I honestly think that's even more impressive and I think it's also interesting that what you said.

Speaker 1:

I'm learning that in my own company that sometimes it's honestly really good to take a step back as the founder, at least for me. I think sometimes I can be a little bit too invested emotionally in the company and I honestly think that outsourcing some of the things and also some of the like slightly higher level things. So I'll just give an example I hired a project manager a few months ago for the first time and it has changed my business for the better. Like, I'm a good project manager myself, but I think I was just too close to everything. So just having someone else handle this part of the business, it's just, it's insane how much energy I have for other things that are actually more important for the business and I think it's yeah, it's interesting.

Speaker 2:

So happy for you, so happy for you and resonate with that so much. Yeah, you know, I think we kind of delude ourselves. What is really controlling fear based behavior? We can call that emotional investment and I was a million percent the same same as you, but really it's just. You know, there's just a new skill set that has to be learned. That's like being discerning about when to delegate and trust people and how to, how to hand things off and how to discern. You know who's the right person to do something instead of you, and you know. And then also, when it's not, you know when it's not working for somebody else to be taking care of something, just acknowledging it, like saying what you need, letting people go if it's not a great fit. Yeah, that all requires a form of vulnerability of like oh my God, I don't have my hands on the wheel right now.

Speaker 2:

But you know, it can be pretty nice to let somebody else drive.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, times 100 percent, absolutely. So you have a company to get things done, but you also have a really clear vision of doing what you want, and that authenticity is so important. So I think that's really interesting. From just talking to you, you know it's what it's. Not one way or the other. I think it can be both. I think that's what your story shows us Like you can go and focus made and get the things done that you need to get done, but also make sure you do what you want to do. That's what I'm hearing you say 100 percent.

Speaker 2:

And you know we live in a time when certainly there's a lot of people that do not have that luxury and they need to work a certain amount in order to survive. But there's also a lot of people that do have that luxury. And you know, there's just a lot of kind of social narrative around how things are supposed to be and I think it's kind of silly that. I think it's silly and wasteful to have that luxury, to have that opportunity and to not be kind of pushing the envelope of what work is and I don't think we're the only company that that's doing that. Now, that's sort of just trying to create work norms, work cultures that really just work for us.

Speaker 2:

You know, like what do companies even exist for? Certainly, our products and services exist to serve people. But you know, even before that, like why do companies exist? It's to serve humanity, right? It's a structure for nourishing the employees and the customers of that business. So it's not to make money. Companies do not exist to make profit, and that's maybe a byproduct of them existing to serve us. But the way that they serve us, that's really up to us. So I think it's a good moment in time for us to be really reinventing. You know why does a company exist and how can we create a culture in a way that actually encourages us to live our lives the way we want to.

Speaker 1:

I think that's a great point, because I'm sure many people see it this way, that it sometimes feels like we're here to serve the companies. But that's not the way it's supposed to be, honestly, and why companies exist, like you said, it's to serve us, to make life better and easier, and exactly what you said like serve us as humanity. I think that's also a great way to end this interview today, but before I let you go, I also want to know where can people find you and also where can people find FocusMate?

Speaker 2:

Yes, so number one, anyone out there listening or watching would love to have you join the FocusMate community and give it a shot. Our website's focusmatecom. It's free to join. We have a free plan that is free forever. And, yeah, where can you find me? The two best places would be LinkedIn and Instagram. Linkedin is more of work-related content and Instagram is more of my authenticity-related content and, yeah, would love to connect with any of you and either of both places.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. Also, make sure to add all the links to show notes so when you're listening you can just go to the show notes, click the links there, join FocusMate, follow Taylor and be back next week for the next episode. Thank you for being here today, taylor.

Speaker 2:

Thanks so much for having me.

Speaker 1:

And that's it for today. Thank you so much for listening. I appreciate it very, very much. I would appreciate it even more if you could leave a review on Apple Podcasts for me. That way, more people can find this podcast, more people can hear the inspiring stories that we're sharing, and the more people we can impact for the better. So, thank you so much if you are going to leave a review. I really appreciate you and I will see you in the next episode.

Interview With Taylor, Founder of FocusMate
Transitioning to a More Fulfilling Lifestyle
Healing and Finding the Right Environment
Transitioning, Delegating, and Authenticity in Work