There’s no workaround: motivation is the Holy Grail of productivity. For the last few years, I believed it too.
But motivation sometimes doesn’t matter. There are moments in which, even if your motivation skyrockets, you still work poorly, or you don’t work at all. You get distracted, lose focus, and wish to work better, but you just can’t.
For the last few years, one question rumbled through my mind over and over again.
How could I remain productive and achieve all my goals?
First, I thought I have to deal with motivation. So I searched for techniques to keep it at high levels. But still, I couldn’t reach my goals.
Sometimes because of procrastination, sometimes because of my poor organization — I always blamed something else. But lately, I realized that I was the problem. I always put myself in the wrong environment for working, studying, or whatever my plans were.
Whatever the goal, I put myself in the worst position to accomplish it. So I decided to change perspective and try another approach. That is when I first tried to improve my environment to influence my productivity.
I experimented with it during the last year of university, and it helped me incredibly. I became a goal-finisher and a grinder. And since I need a step-by-step process to keep using this technique, I built a three-step system on it.
Why do you Need to Improve your Environment for Better Productivity?
Humankind has always had a strong relationship with its environment. Because of the rain and the cold, we constructed houses. And thousands of years later, because of the hot summers, we built air-conditioners.
The environment influences and modifies our behavior, as well as our propensity to work. It can allow us to become more or less efficient, make us reach deep work, or lose focus entirely. And for this reason, setting up the environment before starting a work session becomes crucial.
Many studies bring evidence of the influence of the environment on our productivity.
1 — Light
Insufficient lighting, for example, can lead to headaches and eyestrain. This, over a long period, can trigger a lack of focus and fatigue.
However, too much light triggers migraine headaches, so it is hard to find the right setting for a work environment.
2 — Temperature
The temperature of any workplace has always been a subject of many debates. So much more since modern open offices became the new standard to enhance team cooperation.
Many people consider their offices too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. A study led by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the ideal temperature for productivity is 21°C, which is not always respected.
The same study showed how any increase or decrease in temperature results in lower productivity. In fact, at cold temperatures, people are less productive and up to 44% more likely to make mistakes. For hot temperatures instead, the University of Chicago discovered how productivity drops by around 4% for each degree over 27°C.
3 — Noise
Exposure to loud or intermittent sounds also has a physical effect on the human body. The amount of noise doesn’t matter — the work consequences of a distracted person are the same.
To prove it, the British Journal of Psychology led a study that revealed how exposure to just one conversation reduced productivity by at least 66%.
3 Steps to Improve the Environment for Productivity
Hopefully, I convinced you now that environmental influence is way more important than motivation. So let’s talk about the system I told you I developed.
It is not that hard. You only need to follow these three steps.
First Step → Choose the Environment
The main problem I had both with studying and working was the mixture between private and work life. So when I first decided to use environmental influence, it was clear that the environment was the first thing I had to choose.
Fortunately, I had a free room that I transformed into my office. I isolated it from the rest of the house, and now I use it exclusively for work. This means that working is not allowed anywhere else. The same goes for other activities.
Building a physical barrier between your work and personal life is crucial. So if you have to, lock the room every time you finish working. Otherwise, you will find yourself in the office during the most unexpected hours.
Moreover, make sure to consider the light, temperature, and noise. Isolate your walls from external sounds, if necessary. Darken the room and install the correct lights. And make sure to maintain the temperature around 21°C.
Second Step → Remove Distractions
Once I chose the environment and isolated it from external sounds, I noticed it wasn’t enough. Most of the distractions that interrupted me daily came from my smartphone, so I had to limit its access.
First, I put it on silent mode. But still, the notification lights triggered my curiosity every time something new came up.
Using an application blocker didn’t help me either since I still had the impulse to take the phone and check it. So I decided to remove it from the room entirely.
After a while, I noticed my mind was searching for distractions continuously. So I had to remove the mail notifications from my PC, as well as other similar applications.
Third Step → Add Enhancers
The first days of intensive work were productive. I wasn’t distracted anymore, and I could focus for more prolonged periods. But after a while, I noticed some tasks required specific tools that could enhance my productivity.
Still, every time I interrupted the session to pick them up from another room, I exposed myself to all kinds of distractions. So I decided to add a limited number of enhancers to my work environment.
I split enhancers into two types:
- Necessary are those I strictly need for work. For example, I take many notes, so I need post-its as an alternative to my digital agenda.
- Additional are those that enhance my work but could also distract me. For example, using music when working. This type of enhancer helps me concentrate, but its distraction potential is also higher. To solve the problem, I set up a routine on Alexa that starts the music when I ask her.
Do you really need environmental influence?
When I talk about environmental influence to my friends, they tell me I am too focused on productivity. They tell me they don’t need it.
So, do you need to improve your environment to reach better productivity?
If you want to reach the next level of productivity, you do. Motivation is not enough. It is too feeble and unstable, and you can’t rely on it.
When you start a brand-new project, motivation will empower you for the first few days. But meaningful projects don’t last only for a few days. Significant plans take months of work, or even years, before having results. So once you run out of motivation, will you have a system that allows you to remain productive, or will you give up?
This is how you improve your environment for better productivity.
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Cover photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels.
The article was first published on The Ascent, on Medium.