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Productivity

Setting the Scene for a Productive Day

Your desk setup and surrounding environment play a huge role in your ability to focus and produce great work. A look at how to "script" your space for creative success.


Once you’ve sunk into the warm embrace of your favorite chair after a long day, it can feel excruciatingly difficult to summon up the motivation to go out and exercise, grocery shop, or take in culture. It just seems like far too much hassle and effort to take action. So you stay put.

Yet, when you go directly from your workspace to the gym, the grocery store, or an art gallery, completing the corresponding activities becomes next to effortless. It’s hard not to do what you “want” to do when you’re in the right environment.In the same way, the places where you do — or attempt to do — creative projects can naturally draw you into a certain state. If you’ve developed a habit of feverishly responding to every email and/or social media message as soon as you sit down at your desk facing your computer, it’s hard to engage in any kind of higher-level strategic thinking from that position. Your brain has learned that when your body sits in that spot, you’re in “tactical” mode.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may have an armchair tucked into a bay window overlooking a garden. Since that’s the place where you journal, sitting down in that chair triggers a reflective mode. With minimal conscious effort on your part, you exhale, lose track of your surroundings, and begin to explore all sorts of ideas and possibilities.

In both instances, you didn’t command your mind to function in a certain way; your subconscious simply responded to the patterns of behavior associated with placing yourself in a certain location.

When you leverage the fact that you have emotional and mental responses to specific places, you can dramatically increase your productivity. Each person’s optimal environment will look a bit different, but I’ve found that you need to consider these four elements as you set up your backdrop for success:

1. The Right Reminders.

Ideally, you can have different locations for each type of activity such as answering email while you’re on the train, doing your core responsibilities when you sit down at your desk, and strategic planning when you stop into the coffeeshop. These patterns of behavior matched with consistent location changes will prompt you to complete the specified activity with minimal mental effort.

But if you must complete all of your daily activities within a few square feet of space, you can trigger your mind to change activities with other small physical cues such as: standing up instead of perching on your chair at your elevated desk; moving your mouse from one side of the keyboard to the other; or sliding your chair over to a different portion of your work surface. You can choose how you associate places with activities, but to achieve the full benefit, aim for a consistent link between place and behavior.

When you leverage the fact that you have emotional and mental responses to specific places, you can dramatically increase your productivity.

2. The Right Tools.

Preferably, you can have all of the tools you need to complete a particular type of work laid out in a beautiful, organized fashion — and within arm’s reach. This makes you more efficient and reduces your resistance to doing a certain task because it requires getting up to fetch something. If you can’t leave everything out or you have a mobile working situation, carry a bag stocked with all of your essential tools, materials, electronics, and papers. Put it together once, and then as soon as you use up any supply, immediately replace it. This allows you to quickly and efficiently transition to a new location without feeling frustrated that you forgot a critical item.

3. The Right Distractions.

Some people experience creative nirvana in monastic-like silence while others hit the flow state to the pounding beat of their favorite song. Neither pattern of activity is right or wrong. The essential point is that you’re keenly aware of what types of distractions — or lack of distractions — make doing what you want to do easier. You can take notice of how you respond to these sorts of environmental factors and stage your day accordingly:

  • How do I function when I’m connected or disconnected to the Internet?
  • Does having certain devices turned on affect my mental state?
  • What kind of activities do I do best when I’m around people?
  • How does my mind respond when I’m completely alone?
  • Can background music or a movie help me focus?
  • Do days at home lead to higher or lower productivity?

4. The Right Surroundings.

For your most important creative work, having an environment that you relish spending time in makes starting on hard mental work much easier. If you have the ability to design your workspace, consider the type of lighting, colors, and materials that make you feel good about moving forward on creative projects. If a custom workspace isn’t feasible, try to find a spot that best suits your ideal — perhaps an atrium area in your building or a conference room with a great view. Or you can make small adaptations to your workspace such as:

  • Bringing in a small lamp with a soft white light bulb for a warmer glow
  • Keeping fresh flowers or plants in your area
  • Putting up some favorite pieces of art or inspiring quotes
  • Tacking up fabric on the wall
  • Requesting additional drawers so that your surface looks less cluttered

By setting the backdrop for your day, you can reduce friction in the flow of your life and create better work in less time.

Where Do You Stand?

Have you found that you can make your work easier by positioning yourself in a certain location?What changes to your physical environment have lead to the greatest creative breakthroughs?

More Posts by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at http://www.RealLifeE.com.

Comments (95)
  • staceekersley

    On a personal level, and as an architect, I definitely concur on the merit of “setting the scene”.  In fact, I just wrote about the exact same thing on my blog, as it pertains to “The Right Surroundings” http://b-izzybees.tumblr.com/p… .  Thanks for expanding! 

  • Meshin

    We love this. Productivity is all about being in the right place. 

  • Claire

    Great ideas, will be using some of them (some I already do). Thanks! 

  • Phillip Patterson

    A clean, organised desk is a must! I can’t work if it’s cluttered or messy.

  • bid_blog

    Messy environments are mentally paralyzing. Flowers and plants are a must!

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Way to go!

    You are really putting these principles into practice!

    To your brilliance,
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

    P.S.-Classical music rocks!

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    My pleasure–one of my passions is interior design because I find that our surroundings have a great impact–positively or negatively–on our overall well being.

    To creating beauty and productivity!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders
    http://www.ScheduleMakeover.com

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    They do make life happier 🙂 Here’s a shot of my desk.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Randy Ainsworth

    At the beach in New Jersey with just pen, paper and magazines that inspire creativity.

  • Hazel Anaka

    This is so timely for those of us gearing up for the month of insanity called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! Spent the weekend re-organizing my home office and re-alphabetizing my books.

    Now I just need to clear some things on my to-do list and I’ll be ready.

  • jkglei

    Ha. Obviously, that desk was arranged for a photo shoot for this piece. (It would be hard to access the keyboard with all those notebooks in front!) I think being neat and organized depends on the person (some people like it, some people don’t). What’s more important is having everything you need for your work close at hand so you can stay in the creative flow. -Jocelyn /// Editor-in-Chief, 99%

  • Ali Davies

    As someone who runs a business from home, I like to vary what activities I do from where. For example, I do my strategy & business development work from a hotel lounge that overlooks the sea as it inspires my creative thinking. In the summer I like to work outdoors when possible as the flexibility for me it is one of the luxuries of running a business from home.

    I think many people become unnecessarily a prisoner in their home business because their mindset thinks they must be in the home office if they are working. I prefer to think of having a home business as the freedom to work from multiple locations to suit the activity I am doing.

  • Somogyi Gabor85

    Hasonló a felszerelés;)

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Great question!

    I’ve experienced these truths from a personal/coaching client perspective.

    But there are scientists who have gone through the rigors of testing our mental/behavioral responses to certain types of environments.

    Here’s a link to a study about “Material priming: The influence of mundane physical objects on situational construal and competitive behavioral choice”: http://www.sciencedirect.com/s

    And another link to a study synopsis:
    Even the Furniture Can Affect Business Attitudes: http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/ne

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders
    http://www.ScheduleMakeover.com

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Right on!

    You’ve really got the concept of “Setting the Scene” down pat!

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Exciter8906

    I like the desk. What is the official name for those? Where did you buy it? Please email me at exciter8906@gmail.com. Thank you

  • Salahettaki Ettaki

    Red Pacquiao vs Marquez 3 Week is the nation’s oldest Pacquiao vs Marquez largest drug prevention program in the nation reaching millions of Americans Pacquiao vs Marquez Live stream the last week of October every year. By

  • Salahettaki Ettaki

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  • Matias Corea

    The desk is from Design Withing Reach http://www.dwr.com/product/wor

  • Matias Corea

    We got them as a present, this is the brand: http://www.craftdesigntechnolo

  • jkglei

    I like your persistence! We just responded below. ; )
    http://the99percent.com/tips/7

  • caramelos123

    Eso es correcto para tener undía productivo. Marisol – casas en venta

  • taimb

    i’ve found that in the afternoons i need a distraction. i usually take a visit to the local coffee shop to refuel or go visit a few friendly co-workers for a few minutes to catch up. then when i get back to my desk, i plug headphones into my laptop and listen to music while i work. this helps give me tunnel vision and i’m able to get a lot more done. if i don’t do this, i end up wasting at least an hour on silly distractions–both internal and external. 

  • Aman Anderson

    Everything about this piece is amazing.

  • Neil

    Any suggestions for breaking my Facebook and email addictions? I find that my ability to focus on difficult tasks is waning, as I am constantly drawn to these distractions. I guess the simple solution is to close out my browser and MS outlook, but any other ideas to help mental focus are welcome.

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