2016 has absolutely been the year of productivity. As our world becomes increasingly digital, we’ve come to expect things instantaneously. While this is great when we’re consumers, as professionals, it can be taxing. Our customers, clients, coworkers, bosses, friends and even family are demanding more from us all the time.
You’re in a rut. You’ve been lacking motivation and focus for a few days, and despite all your work to mitigate the issue, something still doesn’t feel quite right. Your to-do list is clean and well optimized. Your calendar is organized to a level that is, to be honest, scary. You’ve got macros that have cut your repetitive task-based work time in half. Still – you feel there’s an imbalance in your potential productivity. What could possibly be missing?
Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you changed your work environment? A week? A month? Six months? Never?
Okay, let’s back up for a second. We need to first define “work environment.” After all, it’s going to be vastly different for most of you. If you’re like me, your work environment is likely pretty static, and your ability to modify it is fairly limited. If you work from home, conversely, your options are nearly endless. There’s only one real way to define “work environment” that will apply to everyone – it’s wherever you do what you do on a regular basis. For some of you, that will be a desk with a computer. For others, it might be a coffee shop or your couch at home. Wherever you do your work, though, you can make small, subtle changes or big, bold changes that can have far-reaching effects on your productivity.
One of the easiest ways you can change your environment is to simply change the direction you face. Have an office? Turn your desk around to face the other way. Not feasible? Move your computer a few feet and rotate around so you’re looking at a different part of the room. Work at a coffee shop? Sit at a different table than usual, or better yet, try a different coffee shop. Simply having different scenery to look at can spark a new wave of creativity, even if that new scenery is similar to what you’re used to.
If you can’t change your environment quite that dramatically, try adding some visual flair to your workspace. Put a small plant or trinket somewhere in your line of sight. This has the added effect of adding some of your personality to your workspace, which has its own benefits. You’ll feel more at home while you’re working, and being surrounded by things you enjoy can be relaxing and creativity-boosting.
Even subtler still, if you do most or all of your work on a computer or phone like I do, you can change the way you interact with those devices and achieve a similar effect. After all, a digital space is still a space, and there are myriad ways to adjust it to your preferences. Change your desktop wallpaper, rearrange your icons, raise or lower your monitor, change the theme of your favorite apps or programs from dark to light or vice-versa – the possibilities are nearly endless. These small adjustments will change the way you see your daily work, and force you to approach it differently, which can lead to positive results.
A big trend in internet-dependent work lately has been remote work, where people who aren’t necessarily dependent on an office and live a “digital nomad” lifestyle, doing work as they travel. If you have an employer who’s open to it, consider taking off for a year or two, doing your work from the road. Expand your horizons and get paid doing it – what could be better? Of course, this won’t be for everyone. Matter of factly – it won’t be for most. Most jobs require at least some in-office presence, traveling for months at a time can be taxing on even those who are comfortable as loners, and even with a steady paycheck, travel expenses can get out of hand quickly. If this all still sounds like you, though, there’s virtually no better way to change up your environment and reignite your passion or creativity.
Your Virtual Environment Matters, Too
With access to email, Slack, text messaging and message boards, the need for direct human contact is fading ever further into the past. Even the telephone is being utilized less and less. Consider this, though: if you email the same person every single day, how might that working relationship change if you spoke with them face-to-face once a week? What if you gave them a phone call, when time is less of a factor? It might seem like a hassle at first, but this accomplishes a few things you might not think about.
First, humans crave connection. Simply being able to make eye contact satisfies one of our most basic human needs. Making a connection on this level is nearly impossible to do in an email. Secondly, seeing someone in person or speaking to them on the phone is a vastly more efficient way of conveying tone, subtext, or other subtleties than typing up a quick email or memo. Finally, it’s easy to lose a sense of personality among the people you email regularly. Making a more personal connection, even over something trivial, allows you to empathize with them in a human way, understanding them more intimately as people. Even with emoji, our brains simply aren’t as good at parsing subtle hints of human emotion via more new-age forms of communication.
Give Yourself Variety
What you look at and do day after day can have a similar effect to white noise – your brain will eventually tune it out and ignore it. Provide your brain with subtle changes while you’re at work and suddenly you’re seeing things a bit differently – literally. Having a different set of stimuli available to you on a regular basis is important for exercising the brain (which is a muscle, by the way).
Doing the same tasks over and over again might just be a part of your job. Looking at the same blank walls every day doesn’t necessarily have to be. A productivity-minded individual is always looking for ways to squeeze the most out of every interaction, every process and every project. It’s not always obvious to pan out slightly and look at the bigger picture. Your environment plays a larger role in how you do your job than you might think. Treat it with the same level of scrutiny as your work processes and you’ll be amazed at the results.