Taylor Jacobson: Tackling Procrastination, One Task at a Time
Taylor Jacobson is the founder of Focusmate, a behavioral technology company that is transforming the way we work, learn, and fight the pull of digital distractions. Previously, Taylor helped launch Teach for India, and built a business coaching entrepreneurs and executives to overcome procrastination and performance obstacles. Taylor also facilitates Venwise pods for C-suite leaders of venture-backed startups in NYC. We caught up with Taylor, former consultant, to learn more about his journey since Oliver Wyman.
What skills did you acquire at Oliver Wyman that have helped you throughout your career?
Sometimes, you need to hang out at a Florida strip mall approaching strangers, if that's what it takes to build a data set that doesn't exist, to solve a problem that no one has solved - something I did on one engagement with Jordan Parker and Howard Lapsley.
At Oliver Wyman, you learn how to fill knowledge vacuums using grit and creative experimentation and to take action in the absence of guideposts. In starting Focumate, that same grit enabled me to develop a functional prototype of a complex multimedia application without a single line of code. You develop confidence that you can learn whatever you need to learn to achieve your goal.
What was one of your most important experiences at Oliver Wyman?
In my early days at Oliver Wyman, I was this guy who was afraid to wear the wrong shoes on casual Friday. But at Oliver Wyman you're bombarded by people who insist on knowing the real you, from my desk-neighbor Ethan Murray sparking early morning deep conversation, to Anton Vidgen challenging me to let my personality shine, to Raj Lalsare encouraging me to dive head-on into a Nonprofit Fellowship, and Partha Bose helping me find the courage to make a career move completely outside my comfort zone. That culture of encouraging authenticity and bold career moves sets Oliver Wyman apart, and set me on a path to discover the work I'm meant to be doing.
Letting your personality shine makes you a better consultant too. A client once told me she prefers Oliver Wyman to a competitor because we could get together at a restaurant after work and connect as individuals - wacky, funny, brilliant, whatever - instead of as robotic smart people with answers. Ultimately, all problems are human problems, so crafting effective solutions requires that we connect to our own humanity.
How did the Nonprofit Fellowship Oliver Wyman impact your current career path?
I did a Nonprofit Fellowship with Teach For India in 2008 - 2009. Being employee six at a startup nonprofit was a stark contrast to typical client engagements, and quickly forced me out of my comfort zone (and out of the W)!
I once traveled alone, 16 hours on a 2nd class train from Mumbai to New Delhi, found a free place to stay, built a recruitment presentation, and arranged and delivered pitches to 500+ attendee audiences at top universities in the region. The experience helped embolden me to give up a spot at Wharton and start my entrepreneurial journey.
What led you to your current line of work? Did your background at Oliver Wyman help?
In the course of working with dozens of coaching clients, it became apparent that even the most talented people procrastinate and struggle to follow through on their goals. The most effective solution I found was 1-to-1 accountability, but I didn't have the bandwidth to offer that, and couldn't find any decent tools - so I decided to create one.
The growth I experienced at Oliver Wyman gave me the confidence to tackle digital addiction and procrastination, one of the great problems of this age, which literally have a trillion dollar impact on both workers and businesses. Oliver Wyman alumni have also been enormously helpful along the startup journey. Bryan Marcovici, Mark Weinberger, Jake Baker, Zach Drossman, Jamie Waldinger, Ben Brooks, to name a few!
What are you reading?
I'm currently re-reading Cal Newport's Deep Work, Adam Grant's Originals, and Nir Eyal's Hooked, in tandem with members of the Focusmate team. As the world's top behavioral designer, Eyal has had a strong influence on our work, and we're proud to count him as a Focusmate investor and advisor.
I'm also reading a lot of academic research on the psychology of work, accountability, and creativity by researchers like Teresa Amabile at HBS and Keith Wilcox at Columbia, who have both influenced my own writing on productivity.
What advice do you have for former and/or current consultants and staff?
One, let people experience the real you. Expressing yourself is like sending out a bat signal to attract your tribe. During my tenure, that meant volunteering to give Friday morning talks, taking a role on the global training committee, writing for the company blog. Ironically, "firm contribution" activities can be quite self-serving because they help you form invaluable relationships and build a brand that complements your reputation as a consultant.
Two, think of your job like being a toddler. Bring enthusiasm and play to everything. Expect to skin your knees, say the wrong thing, and ask a lot of questions. Don't judge yourself for where you are. Your job is to bounce back up when you fall down, and learn fast.