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.
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.
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.
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.
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.