Productivity is a matter of survival for startups. If you want to achieve superhuman results at lightening speed, you have to be careful to adopt only the most useful work habits.
You’re constantly on the lookout for the next big productivity hack—the one that will give you the edge you need to get more done. The unfortunate reality is, though, that some days productivity hacks and organization strategies are just a distraction.
Countless studies have shown us that our work environment has a huge impact on our output. So instead of thinking about how you work, maybe it’s time to consider where you work. Before you take a red sharpie to your productivity strategy, try switching up the scenery.
Home sweet home
Many managers think that their team members will slack off or get distracted if they work from home, but research has proven quite the contrary.
Ctrip, a Chinese travel booking service, put this to the test when they let half their employees work from home to cut costs. Although they expected productivity to decline, it actually improved by a whopping 33% and saved the company about $1,000 per employee that year.
Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom explains that this was because the employees got away from workplace disruptions. Although it might seem like offices equip you with everything you need to work, they’re usually chock full of distractions—people chatting, needlessly IM’ing you, or dragging you into meetings.
Work from home to create distance from these types of disruptions. When you are no longer a shoulder tap away, your coworkers will think twice before asking you to participate in various conversations and meetings.
Separate work from leisure
At first, working from home isn’t easy. It takes time and self-discipline to learn how to draw a clear line between your personal life and your work.
People can have a hard time working from home because of a psychological phenomenon called “pairing by association.” Basically, this explains why you associate the objects you see with the actions you take. So if you settle down with your work laptop on a couch in front of your TV, don’t be surprised if you can’t resist the temptation to watch Friends reruns.
To be productive at home, keep your workstation separate from everything else. Have a desk that’s dedicated to work, equipped with everything you need to work effectively. This way you can have a mini-office that you subconsciously associate with all your work-related tasks.
On the road
We’ve all experienced those brilliant eureka moments while commuting or taking a long drive, be it a solution to a problem we’ve been mulling over, or a potential business idea we’re eager to share with our friends. Well, science has an explanation for that too.
When you try to be creative, distractions suddenly cloud your thinking—whether it’s a phone call from your mom, or the allure of that endless Twitter feed. However, when you’re doing mundane things like taking long drives “you become less aware of your environment and more aware of your internal thoughts,” says Drexel professor John Kounios.
At these moments, you can take advantage of what psychologists call retrieval-induced forgetting. You can “forget” any contextual thoughts and focus all your mental energy on being creative and solving problems.
Record your ideas
The only problem is that as soon as you stop doing these mindless things, your attention snaps back into the real world and away from your brilliant ideas.
That means you only get a tiny gap of time when you can record your ideas before they slip away. To keep this from happening, equip your car with a way to capture your thoughts. Use a voice-activated recorder, or just the standard voice memo feature that comes with most phones.
And long car rides aren’t our only mundanity. Our lives are filled with mindless activities like showering, brushing our teeth, or even making coffee in the morning. Instead of letting this precious time go to waste, seize the opportunity to make the most of the few moments that you can think creatively, by equipping yourself with a notepad or voice recorder.
The great outdoors
It’s easy to feel cooped up in your stuffy office with its bland decor and artificial light. The good news is that working outside has far more benefits than just getting some vitamin D. Nature also calms our nerves and improves concentration.
Researchers proved this when they tried to find a drug-free solution for children who have ADHD. The Journal of Public Health experiment revealed that the environment in which children played had a huge effect on how focused they were afterward.
The children that played indoors were just as distracted afterward, and those that played outside were considerably more attentive and focused, showing fewer ADHD symptoms.
This can be explained by the “biophilia theory,” which states that people feel calm and concentrated in the natural environment that they evolved in. We are programmed to feel safe around bodies of water that give us life, and to feel focused in the green where we’d expect to encounter natural predators.
Bring the outside, inside
It isn’t always super practical to work outside. No Wi-fi for one, and it’s always a huge pain to read your laptop’s screen under the glare of the sunlight.
Companies are beginning to realize that while they can’t stick their team in the forest, there is a way to combine the best of both worlds. For example, Google has installed huge windows in their offices with views out onto gardens, interior waterfalls, and walls with live ivy to “improve cognitive function.”
It might not be feasible for you to landscape your office, but even small things, like sitting near a large, open window, or investing in some plant life goes a long way. So, nix the industrial decor, and work in an environment that will enable you to concentrate on the work that matters.
Mix things up
If constant iteration to the way you manage your time is failing to make you more productive, remember that tons of environmental factors can affect your concentration, from noise, to colors, to level of comfort, and even to smells.
The next time you feel trapped in a black hole of procrastination, don’t rush to test yet another life hack. Instead, get some fresh air and change your work environment.