You likely already employ a variety of effective strategies to help you get things done. Maybe you work in short bursts. Maybe you use a timer. Maybe you stay off social media until you’ve completed your goals for the day. Maybe you check email at specific times of the day, instead of leaving it open to fracture your focus.
You leave your phone in a drawer. You delegate. You batch tasks, keep a planner, stay hydrated, and write everything down. You know how to say no—and do so often.
All of these are important strategies. And there’s another one—an important one—we tend to forget.
When Paula Rizzo was working from home on her first book, Listful Thinking, she found it difficult to write in such a quiet environment. Rizzo, a former television producer, was used to working in a bustling, loud newsroom. She realized that she needed to replicate that atmosphere in order to finish her book. So, she started working with the TV on, and on some days, she worked in a noisy coffee shop.
In other words, honoring her preferences and tendencies helped Rizzo get her work done—and still does today. Rizzo is the founder of ListProducer.com.
Our environment plays a significant role in fostering (or sinking) our productivity. Unlike Rizzo, some people need complete quiet or relaxing music to focus (that’s me!). Others are particular about the kind of background noise they find helpful. Some work best in a dark, windowless space. Others, however, need sunlight streaming through their window. Some find working in an open office inspiring. Others find it frustrating.
In short, the key is to know yourself and what makes an optimal working environment for you.
In her second book Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You, Rizzo suggests identifying your optimal workspace by using your senses. Ask yourself the below thoughtful questions (or respond to the prompts) from her excellent book:
- Do you get distracted in an open space with lots of people working around you?
- What kind of lighting do you need when you’re working on an important task?
- What do you like to look at: city, skyline, beach, artwork, waterfall, trees, TV, or snow falling?
- Rank these spots in the order you’d like to spend working there: beach, quiet office, home office, bustling office, café/restaurant, outdoors/park, library, hotel. And circle the “best spot ever!”
- What are the main colors in your workspace?
- Do you have a lot of artwork around you?
- Do you have plants in your work environment?
- What objects are on your desk?
- How do you feel when you’re working in a quiet space?
- How much work are you able to do in a busy or loud environment?
- Can you work with the TV on?
- What kind of music, if any, do you listen to when you’re working?
- What do you feel when you listen to this music?
- What song gets you motivated to get things done?
- How long do you listen to that music to get you in the mood to work?
- Do you use essential oils?
- If so, which ones? How do they make you feel?
- Do you drink coffee or tea when you’re working?
- How does that help you focus?
- Do you have flowers in your workspace?
- Do you light candles when you work?
- If so, what scents do you like best?
- Describe what your desk feels like.
- Describe what the chair you sit on feels like.
- What kind of pen or pencil do you like to use?
- When using your computer, do you use a mouse or touchpad?
- Describe the list or journal paper you like to use.
Reflect on the current state of your workspace—what you see, hear, smell, and touch—and whether it’s honoring your preferences and tendencies. Reflect on whether you’d like to make any changes.
Of course, you naturally have more flexibility in your workspace if you work from home than at a traditional office. But what I love about Rizzo’s advice is that you can incorporate small changes into your environment to create big results.
Maybe you can’t burn a candle at your desk, but you can keep a small plant or bouquet of flowers. Maybe you’re stuck with an open office space, but you can wear headphones and listen to your favorite music. You can’t work at a coffee shop, but you can listen to a website that mimics one (along with rain, a train, thunder, white noise, water).
Maybe you have a tiny desk, but you can purchase your favorite pen and notebook. Maybe you can’t sit next to a big, bright window, but you can surround yourself with several images of beautiful landscapes.
And, of course, this isn’t just about being productive and getting things done. It’s about having an enjoyable, comfortable, inspiring space to work. After all, we spend many, many hours at the office (whether it’s inside a building or inside our home).
Why not make a few adjustments that both honor how you work best and how you’d like to feel when you do so?