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Last Updated on August 21, 2017

Don’t Overlook Your Workstation, It Might Be The Reason Why You Are Unproductive

Don’t Overlook Your Workstation, It Might Be The Reason Why You Are Unproductive

As a personal coach with over 100 employees, one of the most common questions I receive from time to time is “how can I be more productive?” The only way to really get ahead is by increasing your productivity. It’s a pretty straight forward concept. When we get more done, we reach our goal more quickly. We all have the same amount of time in the day, but some people just manage to get more done. Surely, there must be some secrets to this super-human level of efficiency. But what?

Throughout the years, I have passed down different techniques and hacks to boost productivity to my collegaues with reasonable success. But one day it dawned on me. I had been overlooking the most important element of a productive work space; the work space itself.

Don’t just organize, organize with purpose

As I observed the Lifehack office, I noticed that there was one distinctive variable. All of my colleauges had been integrating the same productivity techniques that I had taught them, but still for some reason some had more success than others.

I noticed that there was definitely a direct connection between those who had organized work stations and their level of productivity. I asked each individual what the thought process what behind their desk set-ups. Not at all to my surprise, those who admitted to organizing their workstations with purpose were more productive than those who didn’t.

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Why? Because not only do they take the time to organize, but they organize tactfully to increase productivity. (I am even de-cluttering my desk as I write this!) This makes a whole lot of sense because your environment contributes largely to your success.

Think about it like this: if you were on a diet, you wouldn’t surround yourself with junk-food, right? Well, if you want to think clearly, you shouldn’t surround yourself with distractions.

Create the ideal environment to enhance your productivity

I decided to pick the brains of the more productive individuals in the office. This way I could harness some of their wisdom for helpful tips for organization and increased efficiency. I found that they all had these habits in common:

1. Keep distractions on your unfamiliar side

By your unfamiliar side, I mean your less dominant hand. If you are right handed, keep your phone on the left side of the desk so are less likely to reach for it. Understandably, you want to keep your phone around in case of emergencies. But checking your phone is probably so habitual that it’s become muscle memory at this point. Sometimes you grab your phone without even realizing it. Constantly doing this will break your focus and disrupt your workflow. To avoid this, make it inconvenient to reach.

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2. The larger your trashcan, the better

This may seem slightly trivial, but it’s actually imperative for improving efficiency. The goal here is clarity. So you want to have a nearby receptacle to dump all of your unwanted and unneeded clutter before it takes over your life.

Let’s say that you’ve just finished brainstorming and have utilized all of the ideas you had written down. Now you have no need for that pile of papers holding your old ideas. But your small trash can is full. Instead of walking across the office to dump the papers, you just set them off to the side. It starts out with just one pile of papers, but the it turns into a habit of, “I’ll take care of this later.” And the next thing you know, you’re buried with outdated and unneeded items. Is that a used tissue? Gross!

Now the items you actually need are mixed up with unnecessary items, which will get frustrating after a while. Save yourself the trouble. Clean as you go.

3. Have a designated “deal with later” area

As your work days drag on, you’ll start to realize that you’re not getting as much done as you’d like. As tasks and projects pile up, you find yourself battling distractions and losing your focus, not to mention becoming overwhelmed by your workload.

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Lighten the load a bit. Create a “deal with later” area. This could be a folder or shelf where you store your tasks. By doing this, your brain will register that you have received the project, but then you can file it away so it does not deter you from your current task. Each time you get distracted, it takes twice and long to refocus. Set aside a time to clear out your “deal with later” area, and get to it when you can.

4. Keep only the essentials on your desk

The presence of organizational tools may make you feel like you are being more productive, but remember less is more. You only need one pen to write with, one highlighter to highlight with, one notebook to write on and one stack of post-its until you run out. Anything else is unnecessary, and will just make your work space a mess. Besides, you want to spend your precious time working, not deciding on which pen to use.

Keep these items to your dominant side, on your otherwise clutter-free desk. That way you have all that you need right on hand.

5. Have an organized drawer for the almost- essentials

I know you love that polka dot stapler and matching tape dispenser. But they’re not vital items for your productivity, are they? You want to keep them close, but not out in the open where they might distract you. Instead, keep almost-essential items like these that you use on a daily basis in a well-organized drawer.

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Keeping items like these out of sight gives your brain less of an opportunity to wander, helping to keep you on track. You might not think that a stapler is going to hinder your workflow, but you’d be surprised where your mind will drift to when you’re stuck on a task.

6. Always have water on hand

And lots of it. It is the elixir of life and productivity. I noticed during my observations that the most productive people always have a large container of water on their desk at all times. This is because when they become focused and throw themselves into their work, they often forget to drink water.

Having water on hand saves them less trips of getting up to get it, therefore they have less distractions throughout the day. Not to mention, staying hydrated helps them to think clearly and therefore be more productive. Remember, clarity corresponds with efficiency.

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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