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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

100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier 10 Best New Products That People Don’t Know About Book Summary: The Power of Habit in 2 Minutes 1 Minute Book Summary: How To Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less 2 Minutes Book Summary: Thinking Fast and Slow

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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