Bijgewerkt: mei 25
This is part 1 of our 4 part series on productivity. To read the rest of the articles click the links below:
Part 3: Productive Lifestyle
Part 4: Psyche
Let's dig in
Trying to become more productive is a many-tailed beast. Some things that influence your productivity can take years to cultivate; your purpose, your core values and your strongest beliefs are anything but easy to find out. It is a time-consuming process of trial and error that can span years, and sometimes even decades.
But, fear not. There are also things that you are able to influence that can have a noticeable impact on your productivity in the short term. Perhaps the quickest of them all is your environment: the space in which you are performing a given task or set of tasks and the resources you utilise to perform those tasks.
For example, it might be much harder for you to sit down and get work done in your bed (room), where you are comfortable, easily distracted and have your cell phone right next to you. You might convince yourself it’s okay to take a nap, check your social media or watch just one more episode of your favorite show on Netflix. Being in an environment that is not conducive to productivity makes it much harder to get work done, as it will require significantly more willpower.
So, when you know you have to get something done, you probably instinctively go to the library, a coffee shop or any other place away from the environment/space where it is hard to be productive. For many people this is an intuitive behaviour, but how come this change in environment can have such a big effect on your productivity? And what can you do to make your environment more suited for productive work? What tools, tips and tricks can help you create an environment that reduces distraction and increases focus?
Keep reading to find out all about creating an environment that allows you to utilise your productive potential!
What is a productive work environment?
Before we take a deep dive into the ways in which you can make your work environment more productive it is important to know what it is we are trying to achieve. Knowing this will allow you to be able to think beyond the examples we provide in this article, helping you figure out solutions that work best for your personal needs.
A productive environment achieves two things
It decreases barriers so you can get started easier
It decreases distraction so you can focus for longer
It’s as simple as that. If you can shape your environment in such a way that you will be distracted less, and motivated more, you will get more work done.
But, as simple as it sounds, it requires some thoughtful analysis and trial and error to figure out how to actually achieve this. To help you in this process we have selected three elements that have a big influence on your productivity. These three elements are as follows:
Your physical environment
Your social environment
We will discuss each of these elements separately and give you clear, actionable advice to implement the knowledge into your own environment.
Productive work environment
We’ll start this analysis with your physical environment; the space in which you perform a given task or set of tasks. There are certain variables in your physical environment that can influence your productivity. We’ll cover the ones that make the greatest impact and have the strongest research to back them up.
This factor might prove to be divisive. Some people prefer to have background noise, while others prefer absolute silence. This is something you should find out through trial and error. However, there are some general guidelines regarding the influence of sound on your environment.
The following sounds are shown to be experienced as distracting and annoying:
Avoiding these sounds by looking for an environment that is silent or that has more pleasing sounds can contribute to your workplace productivity. For those that want absolute silence, noise canceling headphones are the way to go.
Getting enough sunlight every day is important. Many people experience what a lack of sunlight can do during winter, when days are shorter.
But, lighting also appears to play a role in your productivity. Research shows that having natural lighting in your work environment can increase focus, energy levels and boost your mood. Take this into account when you get down to work and you might notice an immediate benefit.
Not the first thing you might think of altering when becoming more productive, temperature has been shown to have a (potentially) large influence on workplace productivity. Research shows that every degree of temperature increase above 25C can lead to a 2% drop in productivity.
Keep your working environment at about 21-22 degrees celcius to make sure you remain as productive as possible!
This is a very effective way to increase your productivity: dedicate a certain space to being productive, and only spend time there to be productive. No chilling, no netflix, no youtube, no distraction. Only work. At first this will obviously be hard. But, once this behaviour has been ingrained into your brain, you will find that it is much easier to be productive in this environment. Being there will almost automatically get you in a state of productivity.
Of course we understand that it is not possible for everyone to rent a desk at the nearest co-working space and start working there. While that might be a very effective way to create a productive environment, the principle can also be applied to spaces you already find yourselves in; Dedicate a corner of your living room, a spare bedroom, the library, your favorite coffee shop or a local cafe to productive work and you will find that being there makes you more productive. Even just having a certain chair at the table where you only sit when you’re working can bring forth the benefit of this approach.
So, your physical environment can play a large role in your productive output. But how about your social environment: the people working with or around you?
Work alone or in a group
Are you a team player or do you prefer going solo? Do you love to have people around you that you can take (small) breaks with, brainstorm with or keep you focused? Or are you someone that just wants to sit down without any distraction to get the job done?
Finding the answers to these questions is something you will have to find out through trial and error. However, there is one method that can be applied both for people that prefer groups and those that prefer solo work: Accountability Partners.
A trend that has gained a lot of ground in recent years: accountability partners. An accountability partner is someone that can help you remain focused, disciplined and consistent in your (productive) efforts. This is done through frequent contact (usually weekly) where you each give the other an account of the work you did, the commitments you have to yourself and whether you are living up to those commitments. The other person will give an honest report of your account and provide feedback, tips and insight on how to improve.
Adding a reward or punishment can improve the benefits of accountability partners even more!
An accountability partner is usually one of the following people:
Someone that has already succeeded at what you are currently trying to achieve
Someone that knows what you value and has your best interest at heart
A peer that is at least as motivated and disciplined as you are
Having an accountability partner is a very powerful way to increase the amount of external motivation for achieving your goals. While having internal motivation is the only truly reliable source of productive output, having a strong source of external motivation can be a very welcome addition.
If you are having trouble finding someone that seems like a good match you can always ask the members of the BeMore community!
Best tools for productivity
The number of tools, gadgets, apps and widgets that can help you become more productive is enormous. While some of them can actually make a meaningful contribution to your productivity, there are also many tools that only add complexity and thereby reduce the time you can actually get work done.
So, how do you know what tools you should use?
Well, let’s start by asking yourself: what are the most important things that I need to do to become more productive? We have defined three main areas of focus, and give you recommendations for each.
As David Allen says in his book ‘Getting Things Done’: ‘’Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them’’. If you want to be productive for longer stretches of time, you need to incorporate a note-taking system that allows you to safely store all the random thoughts your mind will have while you are trying to focus. Writing them down not only makes it easier to return to what you are doing, but it also allows you not to let any good ideas and important thoughts slip through the cracks. Having a good note-taking system is like having a second storage for your brain.
HOW you do this does not matter. Whatever works for you, works for you. The only thing that matters is that the note-taking tool of your choice is always available to you when you are working. From personal use we can recommend the following
Paper and pen
Try these and figure out which one works best for you!
Keeping track of all the things you have to do can be a daunting task. More so when you are trying to use your memory to store all the tasks, deadlines and projects you’re working on.
Having a proper task-management system can therefore be of great benefit to your productivity. It helps you work for longer because you have a clear set of tasks to complete. It helps you focus because you know which tasks belong to which project, meaning you can work on one thing for longer stretches of time. The list of benefits is large, so having a proper task management system is worth the effort.
Here it can also vary greatly what works best for you. Some people prefer using physical tools like a whiteboard or post-it notes. Others prefer digital tools like trello, asana or excel to manage their tasks. Below are our recommendations:
To do list (paper, post-it notes, Todoist)
Trello (or any kanban based system)
As we’ve discussed at the start of this post, one of the main things your environment should do is reducing distraction so you can remain focused for longer periods of time. The math here isn’t hard, more focused work = more valuable output.
There is a wide range of tools you can utilize to reduce distraction. For this section we will focus on reducing distraction from your electronic devices. Below are some ways to apply this to your environment.
Turn off ALL notifications when you get to work
When you start working on tasks, it is crucial that you can do so in an uninterrupted manner. For your cell phone, try putting it on silent or even on airplane mode while you’re working. For your laptop or PC, make sure you have notifications from your email, whatsapp web and any other service (temporarily) turned off.
Create a guest profile on your laptop, tablet or phone
Most modern electronic devices provide the option to create multiple user profiles. Dedicate an entire user profile to productive work to make sure you don’t get any unwanted distraction. You can do this by only installing the apps you absolutely need to get your work done and eliminating any distracting games or social media.
Use the pomodoro time management method
For people that want to focus in short bursts, the pomodoro method might be a valuable tool to use. It splits up your time into 30 minute intervals, where you work for 25 minutes and rest for 5 minutes. After you have repeated this pattern 4 times, you take a longer 30 minute break. Repeat for as long as you like.
Bonus Section: Nootropics
When you’ve got the basics of your productive environment down, nootropics can be the thing that gets you to a 100% performance. Nootropics are a class of substances that show cognitive enhancing effects like:
Important notice: Nootropics are not a replacement for a well-structured life and environment. Just as with becoming more physically fit, you need to make sure you’re eating and training right before relying on substances to improve your performance. We are not making any recommendations about dosage and advise you to do your own research before considering taking nootropics. For this we can recommend www.examine.com.
Below are some nootropics that studies have shown to be effective.
Probably the most widely used nootropic of them all is caffeine. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that can increase alertness and decrease fatigue.
A substance that shows to be a good complement to the widely consumed caffeine. It is a relaxant, but not a sedative, which allows it to foster a state of calm, attentive wakefulness.
The past decade has shown a strong increase in the availability of herbal substances that show promising effects as nootropics. Some of these include: Lions Mane, Panax Ginseng, Bacopa monnieri and many more.
Your productivity is influenced by a wide range of factors. One of the variables that has the most impact on the short term is your environment: the physical space in which you perform a task or a set of tasks.
Modifying your environment can be tremendously valuable when looking to become more productive. Altering lighting, temperature, sound and finding a dedicated working spot have all shown to be very effective. Then there is also the option of finding an accountability partner that you can work with to keep eachother on track towards obtaining your goals. The tools you use also play a large role in the amount of work you can get done. Having the proper tools to take notes, manage tasks and reduce distractions can be very helpful.
Once you have the foundation in place, nootropics might also be an interesting way to increase productivity. Nootropics are substances that show positive effects on cognitive functioning like memory, focus, attention and coherence.
With all this knowledge in hand you are now ready to start experimenting and integrating. Try to figure out what works best for you and you will find yourself becoming more productive.
As more research, knowledge and experience becomes available we will be updating this article. For now, it is time to move on to the second part of this series: planning!