The latest testament to just how hustle-driven, yet burnt-out, that people have become is Focused, a startup that offers a simple service: For $40, someone will essentially babysit you while you perform two and a half–hours' worth of tasks. Focused currently operates out of two spaces in the San Francisco area, where people can pay to sit and work while a Focused “host” watches over and occasionally checks in to keep them on task.
“Several Focused clients I spoke to said it was the ideal place for projects that aren’t urgent or even altogether necessary, but are nonetheless personally important and oftentimes difficult, like writing a book proposal or finally applying to graduate school,” reporter Louise Matsakis writes in a new article for Wired. “It’s the type of ambitious, solitary work that can be hard to get done—even for accomplished people.”That premise is relatable and sympathetic; many people have ever-lengthening lists of tasks that fall somewhere between work and pleasure. While the $40-a-pop price makes Focused more expensive than working in a coffee shop or traditional co-working spaces like WeWork and even The Wing, applying a cost-incentive to actually getting shit done isn’t a terrible idea. A woman who spoke to Wired (and who has paid for over 20 Focused sessions) summed up the virtue of Focused, as she sees it: “There’s some kind of magical power in saying what you’re going to do out loud to another person.” The Wired writer—who also tried Focused—spoke about this, too, writing that one of the biggest motivators during the session was knowing a stranger was weirdly invested in your productivity.That may be worth $40 for some, but I’d be remiss not to tell you that the same thing can be achieved for free by simply communicating your goals to the people in your life who are willing to hold you accountable, and vice versa. Texting a friend, “Hey, I’m going to send you evidence that I’ve applied to grad school by [insert date],” or promising to exchange first drafts with someone will accomplish the same feeling of “saying what you’re going to do out loud to another person.” If you’re willing to do the same for your friends, you can all achieve the same productivity that Focused advertises for the cost of $0.This isn’t to say the premise of Focused is stupid or bad. Just like having someone watch over you while you work is a motivator, paying for a service is, too. It’s the same logic by which people justify paying $40 for increasingly popular fitness classes—you’re investing in it, so you better show up and do it well.Unlike paying money in the interest of “wellness,” though, it feels deeply depressing that cost is now considered a motivator to getting work done. Work, as far as I understand it, is the one thing you’re supposed to be paid to do. But Focused isn’t the real problem here; it's another symptom of an overworked, worn-out, impossibly stressed out generation of people who feel they need to literally pay to be productive.Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.