Missing Piece in Productivity Puzzle: Shared Accountability
Updated: Mar 8
In today's world of technology and automation, the notion of productivity is witnessing a significant transformation. With an emergence of AI-powered tools such as ChatGPT, our ability to carry out a task is set to increase manyfold. But what about our effectiveness at the meta tasks of selecting which task to carry out and focusing our efforts on those tasks? Fortunately, the abundance of task management apps and tools enables us to simplify and optimize our daily routines, leading to greater efficiency and effectiveness. This narrative, however, overlooks a vital aspect: the spirit of community and collaboration that was once synonymous with libraries and coworking spaces.
Libraries and coworking spaces have long been known for fostering productivity and collaboration, and recent research has only reinforced this notion. A series of studies repeatedly found that library's atmosphere "encourages concentration and decreases distractions, leading to increased productivity. Similarly, a survey of coworking spaces conducted by Deskmag  revealed that "73% of respondents reported increased creativity since joining a coworking space, and 62% reported increased productivity." Both students and professionals have reported higher productivity levels when working from libraries, cafés, or other coworking spaces as opposed to working from home. This increase in productivity happens regardless of whether they are working with their peers or all by themselves. The mere presence of others in these spaces seems to be enough to boost productivity levels. This "ambient co-presence effect" has been empirically validated in a slew of research studies spanning almost three decades , repeatedly showing that people's performance on a task improved when they were aware of others performing the similar task nearby.
The rise of remote work means that as more and more individuals are working remotely, they are often deprived of the sense of community that comes with working in a physical workspace. Despite this, most productivity tools that are aimed at individuals ignore this aspect and instead focus on task logging and prioritisation. As a result, many users lose interest in these apps after just a few days or weeks.
On the other hand, popular social media platforms thrive on community engagement, but often lead to time-wasting and procrastination. However, there are already social media platforms, such as Goodreads, Nike Run Club and Hacker News, that leverage the power of community to achieve reading and running goals and gratify intellectual curiosity. These platforms show that it is possible to create engaging and productive social media platforms.
The same phenomenon plays out with task management apps that target teams or entire organisations as opposed to individuals, such as Asana, Trello or Jira. These apps have become second nature to how an organisations or teams set and achieve different goals. When everyone in a team knows who is responsible for each task, it becomes easier to hold each other accountable for completing those tasks. This shared knowledge builds commitment and accountability among team members, and ultimately leads to attainment of set goals.
Task management apps for individuals may be useful for personal use or managing individual projects but majority of these apps lack the social element that is crucial for building a sense of community and shared responsibility among team members. Without a shared sense of accountability, individuals using task management apps may easily become disengaged or lose motivation to complete their tasks. There is no incentive or obligation to ensure that tasks are completed on time, and there is no one to hold users accountable.
With the rise of remote work, people have begun to notice the shortcomings with most of these productivity apps. Particularly during pandemic, with closure of libraries and co-working, more and more people began setting up and joining online groups such as Virtual Library and Shut Up & Write!® on Meetup to work or write together with others over muted video sessions. Some apps that emphasize shared accountability also rose in popularity. One such app is Focusmate, which pairs you with a random stranger over a video call to keep each other accountable. Another example is Beeminder, where you set explicit goals and failing to meet them results in a monetary penalty. Similarly, StickK lets you set a goal and put money on the line to motivate you to achieve it. Coach.me connects you with a professional coach who can help you set and achieve goals, track your progress, and provide personalized guidance and support.
While video sessions are beneficial, they are only suitable for sedentary tasks. Moreover, most of the apps are paid and therefore not accessible to everyone. Hence I've been building Confluo, a free task assistant app that lets you attach a generic "highlight" and some "skills" to each task. As a user picks a task from a list of recommended tasks, its highlight is shared with their friends or followers and skills are added to their profile. The resulting feed of highlights shared by people is akin to a social media feed but functions as a virtual co-working space where people can work together and build accountability with one another.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.
Deskmag. (n.d.). Coworking Statistics: The Definitive Collection. Retrieved from https://deskmag.com/coworking-statistics-definitive-collection/