The average person is distracted every 40 seconds when working in front of a computer. Indeed, even the most productive workers get only 11 minutes on average between interruptions. Increasingly, with experiments like Digital Wellbeing and Screen Time, tech giants are advancing usage limits as a potential remedy. But if you ask Mathias Mikkelsen, CEO and founder of Memory, our attention deficit calls for a uniquely digital solution.
Available today, Dewo (pronounced “dee-woe”) is a “personal assistant for deep work” and the brainchild of the 45-person team behind Timely, Memory’s first product. Timely launched three years after Mikkelsen bootstrapped the company by selling his apartment. A productivity-tracking tool that taps AI to create up-to-the-minute timesheets on behalf of employees, Timely quickly found success, racking up thousands of paying customers across over 160 countries and attracting the attention of investors like Concentric, Investinor, 500 Startups, and SNÖ Ventures.
Memory, which is based in Norway and India, raised $5 million in October 2018, bringing its total raised to $6 million as annual sales crossed the $2 million mark.
In point of fact, Dewo’s design was informed by the AI model underpinning Timely, which privately tracks everything users do — including the files they work on, websites they visit, calendar appointments they create, and more. Leveraging Memory’s eponymous app, Dewo analyzes a person’s work in real time and scores it against a scale ranging from “complete distraction” to “intense deep work.” (Here, “deep work” — a phrase coined by Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University — refers to the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.)
Dewo tracks web and desktop activity to learn the circumstances that allow an individual to perform their best work and then recommends actions and pointers to replicate or prolong those results. For instance, when it detects that someone is actively engaged in deep work, it automatically silences any distractions that might disrupt them by taking actions like muting app notifications and toggling on a Do Not Disturb mode within chat apps like Slack (on desktop and Android). In the coming weeks, Dewo will offer to rework calendars courtesy of integrations with Outlook and other platforms, moving meetings (including those of team members) to maximize the time available for productive work.
It’s more complex than it sounds. A clustering algorithm helps Dewo predict which apps and activities are useful to a person, identifying groups of users that weren’t previously known (e.g., social media managers who often use Facebook and Twitter). Activities are assigned categories based on a global model and the type of cluster to which users belong, and every minute of the day is assigned a productivity score to evaluate work quality.
A simpler version of the clustering algorithm helps Dewo predict if a person is nearing deep work so the tool knows when to block notifications. And when its calendar rescheduling feature goes live, Dewo will tap an AI system that gives weight to every 30 minutes of a week, taking into account a user’s work calendar history and how likely they are to be able to get deep work done. (Dewo will always try to find some time for lunch, and it’ll run a larger algorithm on Thursdays for the following week that takes into account all the meetings an entire team is allowed to move.)
Dewo provides insights intended to reveal helpful — and harmful — work patterns through a dashboard. For instance, it’ll alert you to the amount of time spent responding to emails or checking social media in a day compared with the days preceding, plus which apps you used the most often in the course of a work week. It’ll also show how frequently you switched among various apps on the hour, and the number of meetings in which you participated versus your average, as well as the physical places you tend to be the most productive in (such as an office or a café).
As with Timely, Memory claims Dewo and its data remain private and secure, but the tool’s reports can be shared with employers or clients on an individual basis. Mikkelsen envisions this helping build cases for more productive work arrangements, like flexible hours, smarter meeting planning, and new schedules.
“Work as we know it today is broken,” he said. “The virtually connected workplace contains a never-ending supply of distractions in the form of notifications, emails, and social media, too often at the cost of productivity.”
While Dewo is currently free to use, Mikkelsen says it might gain premium features “far in the future.” Given the tangible cost of distraction — work lost to emails and meetings cost U.S. businesses an estimated $650 million per year — it likely wouldn’t be hard to find paying customers. That said, Mikkelsen considers the tool more a public service than a money-making venture.
“I believe that in 10 years time, we will all look back at this current era of digital distraction and think ‘How on earth did we get any real work done?!'” he said. “Many of us have no idea just how much we are being distracted at work and the impact this has on our output. Dewo will be the angel on your shoulder to fend off distractions and protect your time, and we can’t wait to see how this will transform the working lives of individuals around the world.”