Back in Cambridge, MA, where I used to live, a group of writers used to meet regularly to get some work done. After a quick hello - no chit chat, latte ordering, or other delays - they all sat down and started working.
It was so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop, and everyone got tons done during those sessions.
That's all it takes to do your work, in many cases: someone sitting next to you doing theirs. They don't even have to be doing what you're doing. Someone could be sketching or doing their travel receipts while you're writing or studying and it's all good. While it's okay to check in with your buddy once in a while, or gently offer advice and encouragement if they're stuck, mostly what you, and they, are providing is presence.
My theory about why this works is that we're such intensely social creatures that, for many of us, the solitude needed to do our work is itself an obstacle to productivity, raising feelings of isolation and even abandonment. Add to that a bit of resentment--as in, "Why am I stuck in here working when everyone else is outside having a good time?"--and some monotony, and you've got a good recipe for derailment.
Productivity buddies neutralize all that. Plus, there are the subtle pressures of "small group norms"--if those around us are working, we feel an extra bit of pressure to do the same.
You don't have to be in the same room as your productivity buddy--or even the same country! Plenty of people I know connect with theirs via Skype, Google Hangouts, or plain old cell phone.
Now, it turns out, your productivity buddy doesn't even have to be real. Millions--including many savvy college students--have glommed onto Lofi Hip Hop YouTube radio channels, which feature depictions of anime figures (often a young girl, but sometimes a cat or raccoon or other animal) working diligently but calmly against a background of soothing music.
Unlike even the most dedicated human productivity buddy, a virtual one is available 24/7. And some of these stations feature participant lists, chat rooms, and other features to help you feel a bit more connected while working--but not so connected that you get distracted.
Give it a try! At the very least you should feel more relaxed--and we all can use more relaxation, these days.
Working with a real or virtual productivity buddy? Let us know in the comments how it's going - and if you have any tips or suggestions, please share them. Thanks!