Disclosure: I am a paying member of Caveday. The link in this post is an affiliate link; while using it does not cost you more, it may result in a reward for me.
I’m not sure about you, but I feel like the pandemic broke my focus. I’m not talking about productivity–the cult of peak productivity, much like the cults of inbox zero and work-life balance, promotes an unattainable ideal.
It’s not like there are more distractions (email and social media have always been there) but more that I’ve become more distract-able. Perhaps the lack of in-office interactions and sounds led my brain to be on higher alert for the in-home ones, or the initial days of the pandemic trained me to always be on the lookout for the next update regarding the virus or the vaccines. Maybe not seeing people in person made me crave more online interactions. Whatever the cause, the ability to sit and work on one project continuously sort of evaporated. How is it that I spent hours in the library reading hundreds of pages during law school, but suddenly I had the attention span of a gnat?
No attention span = not a good look for someone whose work requires focus and presence. After adding more quiet, device-free, screen-free time to my day, I started looking for tools to help my focus during the work day. There isn’t a quick fix, of course. In my experience, mental focus is like a muscle that needs a workout to build strength and endurance. I’ve found two tools that work like dumbbells.
What Is Caveday?
A recent New York Times article described Caveday as “paying strangers to watch you work.” (You can read that article HERE if you missed it.) This hasn’t been my experience at all. Sure, you’re joining a Zoom call and most members choose to keep their cameras on, but it’s not so much that anyone is watching you–I mean I’m sure as heck not watching anyone else–but that you’re all there working together. Think of it like a virtual office or a timed team exercise.
A “sprint” lasts one hour. You can sign up for one or more sprints, with the “three sprint cave” being a popular option. The entire schedule for the week (and a decent amount of schedule beyond the week) is on the booking section of the Caveday website. I typically sign up for two sprints back-to-back and then have a planned break (out of the cave), as I’ve found three caves back-to-back is pretty draining for me. Since I have calls and meetings, I plan my caves around those each day. If your schedule is more rigid, you might choose to sign up for the same schedule each week (you have the option to make a repeat booking of the same time and day).
You DO need your own Zoom account, tied to the email you used to register with Caveday, but it does not have to be a paid account. Sign into Zoom first, then click the link to join your sprint.
How it starts. When you arrive, the sprint’s guide will welcome you and offer tips to first-timers. Members typically change their screen name to “First Name | Location | Project Description.” Next, some sprints have a breakout room where you can check in with a few other participants; typically there is an ice-breaker question as well as the opportunity to share what you are working on. Breakout rooms are optional. If there isn’t a breakout room, or you decide not to participate, you’ll likely have the opportunity to check in via the chat function. The guide will count down to the beginning and will generally choose a gesture to begin the cave, such as a high-five to your camera or a clap. After that, you’re “in the cave.”
How it goes. While you are “in the cave,” you work on your one project. No one is watching or paying attention (though most of us stay on camera) but the designated guide is there if you have technical difficulties or other questions. Do your one thing.
How it ends. At the end of the designated sprint–usually 50ish minutes of work time–there’s a pleasant chime or musical sound, and the guide will encourage you to share your accomplishments in the chat box. The guide will typically also lead the group in a stretch or other movement. I think this is pretty brilliant, as I’ve found I need to get up and move (especially in the afternoons) to continue to turn out good work. There’s a short break (just enough time to hit the bathroom or refresh your drink) before the next sprint, so you do have some extra time to move around. Some people leave, some people arrive. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Principles of the Cave.
Eliminate distractions. The idea of the cave is to monotask. Put away your cell phone, turn off email notifications, close the extra tabs on the browser. Whatever distractions are available to you, handle them before the cave. Set up everything you need so you are ready to go.
Arrive on time. There’s something to be said for everyone starting together. It’s like you’re all on a team, just doing different aspects of the project. I feel oddly more committed to a cave when I’m there from the very beginning, from the check in. If you arrive late, the guide can choose not to admit you.
Do ONE thing. Well, one thing at a time. (I’ve often had two tasks to work on, each anticipated to last less than an hour, but I do them one at a time.) The idea is monotask. (After all that glorification of “multitasking,” it turns out multitasking is a myth.) People work on all sorts of things from discrete, defined, quantifiable tasks (“write x pages/words”), to a step of a bigger project (“outline argument for brief”), to an activity (“clean the upstairs bathroom”). Some people have a list of things that need to be done and they work through the list, one at a time. You can use the time to do pretty much anything.
Move when you break. We all know that sitting for hours on end is not in our best interest. I’m betting most people don’t act on that advice. (Same with the advice about taking time to look into the distance for 20 seconds after a long period of staring at a screen.)
Caveday: Why I Like It
It’s a game. For me, this makes working on something more like a game with rules: eliminate distractions, show up, commit to an hour, do one thing. I’m sure a lot of people are thinking, “um, can’t you just do this anyway?” Sure, theoretically. But there’s something about getting together with other people who are doing the same thing–one hour of focused work–that changes the game for me. It sounds dumb when I say it out loud. I don’t care. It works for me.
It’s like external self-discipline. Someone else is in charge of watching the clock and reminding me to stop and move. It’s not like anyone else is going to check up on what I got done though–but I do like to have a “win” to put in the chat box at the end of the sprint.
It’s flexible. I’ve been known to work non-traditional “office hours.” Caveday operates across time zones. This coming Thursday, for example, there are sprints scheduled from midnight-thirty to 6 p.m. (ending at 7 p.m.). It’s pretty easy for me to book two for the morning and two for the evening, guaranteeing four hours of focused work.
It’s something different. I like that it gives me the opportunity to interact with people who are working on something completely unrelated to what I’m doing. People make friends via Caveday and there is a robust community forum. One of the forum sections is “asks and offers” and people trade expertise and experience there. Maybe you need someone to test your app, for example. I’ve also learned some tricks and tips from other members. (It’s how I found brain.fm for example–separate post forthcoming.)
Bonuses. Caveday is also experimenting with “community caves” (that’s a scheduled small group cave without a guide) and “solo caves” (a sort of on-demand experience). There are even designated “procrastination” caves where members work on something they have been putting off or avoiding.
Special Offer: If you use this link here you can choose from one of three offers. (1) A free three-sprint cave. (2) $1 for one month of membership. (3) Three months for $40.