Balancing the Grind with Jeremy Nagel, Founder of Focus Bear

Jeremy is a neurodivergent software developer turned startup founder. His new startup, Focus Bear, is a productivity and work-life balance app for people with ADHD/ASD.

To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I worked as a software developer for ten years whilst playing with various side hustles. In 2021, one of my side projects, Smooth Messenger, started to get some decent traction and was acquired by Sinch MessageMedia, a multinational SMS provider. My day job is now as a product manager for Sinch MessageMedia, continuing to build Smooth Messenger, an SMS integration for Zoho CRM. 

Of course I have a new side project: Focus Bear which is a productivity and work life balance app designed for people with ADHD and autism (though it can be useful for anyone). I was recently diagnosed with ADHD and autism myself and learning about my own neurospicyness has helped me accept myself much more and also develop better coping strategies.

What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I start my day with a two hour morning routine incorporating exercise (run and yoga), mindfulness (journaling and deep breathing), creativity (writing my book and editing blog posts), study (learning Chinese and going through my flashcards) and planning my day. By the time I’m done, I’m psyched up and ready to be productive.

My work involves a lot of meetings. I find it draining if I sit the whole time so I will often go for a walk during meetings where I’m mostly listening. When I’m not in meetings, I’m working on strategic planning documents or reviewing my team’s work. I use the pomodoro technique as well as Focus Bear’s distraction blocking features to keep me focused. 

“Hyperfocus” (an ADHD trait where we can become fixated on one task and lose track of time) can be a problem for me so I have Focus Bear give me break reminders every 25 minutes. I’ll stand up and stretch and go grab a drink of water. Without those reminders, I tend to work non stop for several hours straight and then end up with a headache and neck pain.

Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I’m fortunate that I can work remotely close to 100% of the time. I go into the office roughly once per month for strategy meetings. Working from home is much better for me. I find the office environment very difficult to focus on. I’m quite noise sensitive and constantly hearing other people’s conversations ruins my flow. The logistical aspects of getting to the office on time also create unnecessary anxiety for me.

In my home office, I control the noise levels, the lighting and the environment. It’s easier for me to take the frequent breaks I need and I generally feel much more relaxed and calm.

In the past 12 months, have you started/stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Work-life balance for me means making time for my relationship with my wife and prioritising exercise and sleep. During COVID, I didn’t have much balance. Work was getting very intense for me particularly towards the end of 2021 when I went through the process of selling my last business. I wasn’t sleeping enough, I wasn’t meditating, I wasn’t exercising and I was heading towards burnout.

In early 2022, I committed to making changes. I started by setting up some habits in the morning: not the two hour morning routine I have now but rather a fifteen minute routine. I started with a 5 minute run, 5 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of yoga.

Even doing that small amount in the morning made a big difference to reducing my anxiety. I was able to see that the world didn’t end if I didn’t answer all the overnight emails from the US immediately upon waking up. Customers didn’t notice the time difference and they almost certainly noticed the improvement in my mood!

Over time, I built my habits up by a few minutes each week: the 5 minute run became 6 minutes and then 7 until eventually six months later, I was running for half an hour each morning, meditating for 20 minutes, journaling and doing some Chinese study. 

I did the same in the evening. To begin with, I set a line in the sand of no computer or phone use after 9.30pm. Being somewhat addicted to my devices, I asked my wife to set passwords on both so I could only access it late at night if I convinced her that it was an emergency. There were immediate sleep and relationship benefits: I was more present with her and I had time to do yoga and journaling before bed.

I applied the same tiny habit approach that I used in the morning and gradually made the shutoff time earlier. These days I’m off work apps at 4.50pm which gives me ample time to help around the house, make dinner, eat a leisurely dinner with my wife and family and wind down before bed. 

I find that I work best by having a clear routine, minimising distractions, and taking small steps towards where I want to go to really help me find balance in life. 

Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

My number one book recommendations on building healthy habits is: Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg.

Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I created Focus Bear for myself and other neurodivergent people who want assistance to stay on tasks. Focus Bear is how I am able to stick to my routine and get off my devices in the evening (the evening shutoff password is a game changer).

I also love a Mac app called Coherence X which allows me to turn web pages into standalone apps. I’ve used it to make a less distracting version of Slack (no push notifications allowed and I hide all channels except the one I want to view) and email (inbox view is blocked until I’ve cleared out my flagged messages).

If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Elon Musk because I think it would be humorous.

Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers? 

Radical change is best achieved by compounding small changes over time. I’ve found it’s better to think big but act small so that you’re making constant improvements towards your goals. It’s been the commitment to making those small actions and aiming to be 1% better each day with a clear focus that has really improved both my balance and productivity. 

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.