I am addicted to reading articles on productivity – maybe that’s because as a self-employed woman working exclusively out of my home office I need all the help I can get to stay focused and keep motivated. With the flexibility to set my own hours, I have discovered that I am not restricted to a regular 9-to-5 workday. Instead, I enjoy mixing it up, like hitting the morning exercise class circuit, maybe having lunch with colleagues, and then working well into the night. This blending my work-life and my life-life into a new uber-flexible lifestyle provides me with a huge amount of freedom – which is great, except for that on flip side, I also need to have a tremendous amount of self-discipline.
And that’s why I need to read a lot about productivity.
Like many of us, I can easily get distracted and pulled away from my work. Take for example, I could be sitting at my laptop, maybe in my kitchen, and right in the middle of a sentence I get an overwhelming urge to get up out of my seat, go into the bathroom and to check out which of my two new blushes looked better on me: Apricot Sheen or Pink Raspberry? Hold on … yup, Apricot Sheen wins hands down.
Because I can get pulled off course at the drop of a pin, I need help from the experts, so I am constantly reading blogs, articles and the latest research on productivity – which ironically can eat away at my productive time if I go down one too many rabbit holes, but I am hoping it will all pay off in the long run.
Here are some recent findings
This week I discovered that we are more productive when we remove distractions – kind of obvious, but you might be surprised just how many things can be distracting.
For example, I should be in my office writing this article right now and not in the kitchen, which, as we have already discussed, is full of distractions. How many distractions can you find in my kitchen? (see end of blog for answers)
Sunny beautiful days also offer lots of distractions, which may be why we are more productive on yucky, cloudy days and why the rain turns us into super-human productive machines.
Keep the distraction theory in mind when you are organizing your office for optimal productivity. Turn tables and desks away from the windows, and put a photo a cute kitty cat, your adorable children or a line of fluffy ducklings, as your screensaver. Researchers have discovered that cute images actually enhance our mental focus. (This is for real) If you stare at a cute image for about 90 seconds a day you can sharpen your focus and reduce your error rate.
Finally, before you start turning the thermostat down to subzero (take note here ladies) studies show that we are most productive when the temperature is set at 77 degrees. Temperatures below 72 actually dampen our productive spirits.
Consequences vs. rewards
When we are taking productivity, consequences win. Remember the saying, “No Pain- No Gain”? Well, research suggests that we are more productive when there is a little pain involved, since one of the ways we get into action is by setting consequences for ourselves. Writers and artists who often suffer from creative blocks are experts in the practice of consequences. Because they operate under strict deadlines, they have often look for serious ways to motivate themselves to be productive, and some have been known to make deals with them selves using punishment if they do not meet a deadline.
Listen to one of my favorite podcasts where author Oliver Sacks was struggling to finish a book and he could not more forward. He was stuck, and after all else failed he decided to impose a deadline on himself that could be fatal…he finished the book.
Why does this work? We are programed to have an aversion to loss. Take the study of 150 Chicago public school teachers. University of Chicago economist John List divided the teachers into two groups and told both groups that their bonuses would be directly related to their students’ test scores. Teachers in group A would receive their bonus at the end of the year if the students’ test scores improved, while teachers in Group B received their full bonus in September, with the agreement that they would return it if their students’ test scores did not improve. Group B’s test scores came out higher than Group A’s by about 7 percentage points. I found this very interesting and a really good insight into our behaviors.
So now we know – we can boost productive behavior by setting consequences and eliminating distractions. That means …
hold on a second, I just want to go see how I would look as a red head. If I’m not back to work in 5 minutes I owe you 20 bucks.
How many distractions did you find in my kitchen? There are at least 10. How about: (1) plants need watering, (2) dirty dishes in sink, (3) time to rearrange the spice drawer, (4) check out the grout between tiles – scrub, scrub, (5) gratitude time – got to send thank you note for flowers, (6) did i return that library book? (7) do I need more coffee filers – what other groceries do I need?, (8) when is the last time I cleaned the oven?, (9) how do you think those cabinets stay so white?, (10) snack time! Did you find more? Leave a comment your best distractions!