You are only as productive as your environment. So let’s get your main work environment, your office, as productive as possible.
Here are 19 tiny changes (with affiliate links to products that I’ve personally used to enhance my productivity) that can do exactly that. Try one, or try them all. The more changes, the more you’ll find you have the clarity, focus, time, and energy to work on what matters.
1. Greener is Better
Plants look great. They boost your mood. They purify the air, reducing air toxins by up to 87% in less than 24 hours. And studies have shown that plants in your workspace can increase your productivity by up to 15%.
Combine that with a reduction in tension and anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, and you’ve got yourself a low-cost productivity enhancement to any work environment.
If you want to learn more about the positive change plants can create, read Seven Benefits of Having Plants in Your Office by Barry Chignel of CIPHR.com .
If you already believe me, just buy a plant for your office. They’re like ten bucks.
2. Keep It Organized
If you leave drawers open, cables untucked, and @#$% everywhere, consider cleaning things up.
Sure, you feel like you’re saving time by not worrying about throwing out the rotten banana peel on your desk. But the few seconds you save now is lost tenfold later.
That’s because being productive requires energy, and disarray saps it.
In a survey of over 800 workers, P-Touch discovered that the combined cost of searching for lost items in the physical and digital world adds up to $177 billion per year. That was in 2010 (it’s only gotten worse) .
While organizing a messy office takes time up-front, and keeping an office organized requires an ongoing investment of time, the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.
Keep a clean, open space on your desk. Organize your files in a meaningful way on your computer. Keep your browser tabs to a minimum. Organize extra cables in little storage bins (I use these). And don’t stack @#$% up or store stuff in your workspace.
All of these small tactics will lower your stress and make it faster to find what you need so you can get back to working on what matters.
3. One Keyboard to Rule Them All
There’s no one best keyboard for everyone. Personal taste in keyboard “clickiness,” shape, and color are all personally important factors. But, there are two major attributes to any keyboard that can improve your productivity while at work (the second attribute being more important than the first).
First, it must be Bluetooth (for reasons I’ll share below). It matters that you are unbound by cables, free to twist and turn while still able to interact with your devices.
When you’re leashed to your desk and constrained to a particular posture, you’ll get uncomfortable and stop working. Cut that cord and you can lean back, shift position, and move around, saving you from losing your groove when the typing gets monotonous.
Second (and the reason for getting a Bluetooth keyboard), is that you can pair it to any device. But I don’t want you to get a keyboard that only pairs to one device. I want you to get one that pairs to at least three.
You’ll pair device #1 to your computer. Device #2 your phone. And the 3rd device can be your iPad, a personal computer, or any other device you use during the day requiring a keyboard. Being able to switch, with the tap of a button, between any one of these devices means you don’t have to interrupt your flow or lose your positional context (the arrangement of your body and how it affects your mental state). You can go from emailing on your computer to texting on your phone without moving a muscle.
4. Make It a Safe Space for Fidgeting
Sometimes being productive means doing nothing at all.
Well, it’s not that you’re doing nothing. You’re thinking, planning, and strategizing. You’re just not moving, producing, and working.
For those times, the most important thing is to maintain focus.
You’re familiar with the popular fidget spinners, the toy that broke $1 billion (with a B) in sales in 2017, right? While you may think of these as a toy for kids, fidget-like toys such as stress balls, even doodle-pads have been adopted by adults and businesses for decades.
The reason why is both simple and complex.
You know from firsthand experience that fidgeting with toys can help you focus. They give you something to do, a background task to work on while your brain concentrates on more meaningful tasks.
However, a bit of science and research tells us that fidgeting releases dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, two chemicals that increase focus and attention .
Sounds like a great way to concentrate on work that matters.
Personally, I find fidget spinners boring. They’ll get the job done, sure. But if you want some real fun, try ForeverSpin tops.
Or, if you want a real mindless challenge, try a Kendama. Getting good at one of these will put hair on your chest (male or female), and is a wonderful fidget toy to keep you focused during meetings or phone calls.
5. Google Isn’t Everything
This one isn’t complicated. When you need to look something up, you don’t want to interrupt your workflow to do it.
Google is fast, convenient, and omnipresent. But sometimes the information you’re seeking is in a book, a magazine, or other physical material. When you find yourself referencing the same materials more than a few times, it’s time to keep it on hand.
I keep a bookshelf of writing and business books within arms reach of my desk.
Writing and business may not be your thing. So, whatever your thing is, keep those materials close by. The next time you are deep in the middle of focused, productive work, you’ll be able to grab your reference materials and continue on without interrupting your flow.
6. The Right Speakers and the Right Music for the Right Task
It’s proven. Music makes you more productive (especially while performing repetitive tasks) .
Playing music while answering emails, inputting data, or doing other routine jobs can drastically improve your productivity. For me, throwing on some Dr. Dre gets me in the mood to crush just about any assignment.
Now, when it comes to working on creative tasks, you can still get a productivity bump with music. But be careful to select music without lyrics. Electronic or classical music are better choices for thinking or learning as they won’t distract you from the mentally-demanding task at hand.
Either way, music makes you more productive, so a great pair of speakers for your office is worth the investment. Just make sure it has one important quality: the ability to play music from wherever your music resides.
Sometimes I listen on my phone, sometimes on my computer. Sometimes I listen to records from my record player. These speakers allow me to switch modes quickly with the push of a button so I’m not constrained by the source. On top of that, they are bookshelf size, sound amazing, and aren’t that expensive.
Many soundbars are great alternatives, pumping out amazingly clear tones while allowing you to switch between multiple inputs (including Bluetooth and analog). If a soundbar is more your style, I’ve had great success with this Vizio bar in our basement movie room.
The important thing is to get some decent speakers in your office so you can really enjoy the music, pump up the volume, and let it works it’s productivity magic on you.
7. Let Them Listen
If you want to be productive, you need to maintain momentum. And nothing stops your momentum quicker than an unanswered question.
Think of all the times you wonder when your favorite sports team is playing, what the weather will be like later, or how many kilometers are in a mile. These simple questions, though they can quickly be answered with a quick Google search, are often distractions pulling you away from work that matters.
You found the answer to your question, but the next thing you know, you’re lost in a sea of text messages and social media.
So get an Echo Dot (I use these) or Google Home or Apple HomePod for your office.
Yes, it’s a bit creepy that it’s always listening. But the number of times during the day you’ll ask simple questions, get an immediate answer, and get right back to work will number in the dozens. Beyond that, you can set timers, set reminders, look up information on Wikipedia, and have it spell words for you. All with nothing more than your voice. All while preventing you from getting lost in your phone.
Which after all, is the main benefit: Answering whatever question was top of mind, scratching your mental itch and letting you get back to working on what matters.
8. Stink it Up
The smell of lavender will make you sleepy. The smell of citrus will wake you up.
It stands to reason that certain smells could help you focus and make you more productive.
In fact, several scents including lemon, which helps you find clarity and concentrate; cinnamon, which prevents mental fatigue; and peppermint, which stimulates your mind and gives you an energy boost will do precisely that .
There are a thousand companies that produce candles, essential oils, incense, or wax burners with these various scents. Which one you pick is up to you.
I use a combination of Scentsy and essential oil diffusers. The essential oils seem to pack more punch, so if I’m not trying to cover the smell of dog or spilled coffee on my office carpet, I’ll fire up some peppermint and get to work.
9. Hug Your Head
As I’m writing this, a bluejay is screeching outside my window.
It sounds like someone is murdering it, and it’s treacherously distracting.
It couldn’t be my kids. They just got home from school and are stomping around my wood floor with their shoes on, screaming just as loud as the bluejay.
Times like these warrant headphones.
Not just any ol’ headphones. I’m talking over-the-ear, noise-canceling headphones with as many decibels of sound reduction as money can buy.
When it comes to productivity, headphones are different than speakers. Headphones don’t blend sounds with the environment as speakers do. They draw you in. They buffer the outside world from your inner thoughts.
Even without playing music, a pair of headphones hugging your head creates a barrier, a walled garden around your mind, allowing you to focus on what matters and stay productive in treacherously distracting times.
I have two pairs:
AirPods, which I carry with me at all times. They’re not great but are incredibly convenient and do in a pinch (especially while traveling).
Beats Studio 3 with Noise Cancelling. I keep these in my bag or at my desk. When I’m ready to hunker down and get real work done, I crown myself with these babies and drown out everything but my productive thoughts.
10. Sit. Stand. Sit. Stand. Both
Experts claim certain health benefits to standing at work. But there are productivity benefits too--though not what you might expect.
While a Texas A&M study found that workers who used standing desks were 38% more productive than those who did not, the research was debunked for a variety of scientific reasons . The fact of the matter is, whether you stand or sit while working, your productivity doesn’t increase one bit.
However, having the option to work while standing does.
First, being able to work in the way that is most comfortable to you will increase your engagement by up to 38%, according to Dr. Laura Hamill, Chief People Office at Limeade. If you’re more engaged, you have a higher focus, creativity, and motivation.
Second, the health benefits associated with standing over sitting, such as increased circulation and improved oxygen flow, lead directly to productivity benefits such as improved focus, increased energy, and a reduction of pain and discomfort .
Finally, and this is anecdotal evidence by yours truly, having an adjustable desk lets you switch things up a bit when you get tired of sitting, allowing you to keep focused on the task at hand while experiencing a rejuvenating change of pace.
Here’s the desk I use. It’s slim profile and elegant design doesn’t detract from the aesthetics of my office or ergonomics in my sitting position. Plus, it’s quite easy to lift and lower with multiple height choices available for different situations (typing vs. writing, for example).
11. Chew to Recharge and Refocus
I don’t know about you, but I get lost in the refrigerator when I’m procrastinating.
Give me a tough task to accomplish, and I walk straight to the light, basking in its glow while the cold air chills my feet and I look for something, anything to eat.
Furthermore, everyone has those moments when they’re “zoned out.” Seemingly unable to accomplish anything, you stare at your monitor, lost in thought (though you’re not really thinking) as the minutes tick by.
Also not productive.
A solution to both problems is keeping a small snack handy, ready to deploy when you feel the gravity of procrastination weigh you down.
Lifehack.org has a list of 20 Foods to Snack on For Enhanced Productivity; all brain-happy, energizing foods to enhance productivity and finish work by dinner.
Keep a few of these options by your desk and pull them out in times of need. The act of eating will help you refocus. And the energy from the food will carry you through those dull moments in your day.
12. Hang Your Compass
Maybe this should have been tip #1. It’s that important.
If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s impossible to be productive.
Priorities are the compass. They are your direction. Priorities tell you exactly what to do and by when so you can work on what matters.
A big task list is handy, but not good enough to maximize your productivity. You must prioritize.
Every day, pick one or two tasks (no more than three) that you need to focus on to have a successful day. Those are your priorities, and they should align with a successful week, which should align with a successful month, which should align with a successful year.
Get the idea?
When you choose your priorities for the day (either the morning of or the night before), it’s not enough to keep them hidden in your notebook. You must hang them where you can see them at all times.
With your priorities front and center, they’ll continually remind you needs to get done. They’ll also act as a warning siren for when the inevitable distraction strikes.
Figure out your yearly goals. Break them down into monthly, weekly, and daily priorities. Then, every day, write and hang your daily priorities so you know exactly how to stay productive all day long.
13. Time Your Limits
There are two reasons to use a timer:
For use with a productivity methodology such as Pomodoro.
To prevent you from getting lost on Instagram all day.
The Pomodoro method is an effective way to manage your energy. You can read about it here. Keep the timer of your choice on hand because, with this productivity method, you’ll use it often.
As for Instagram (or your social media drug of choice), keep a timer to set your limits.
Instead of cutting yourself off completely from social media, which is both unrealistic and boring, set a five, ten, or twenty-minute timer when you start a social media break. This will give you time to rest, zone out, and catch up on fake news. And the timer will prevent you from getting lost in your feed for 45 minutes, squandering your productivity for the day and making you feel guilty for such overindulgence.
It doesn’t matter what kind of timer you use. If you bought that Echo Dot I recommended above, you can set timers until you’re blue in the face. Of course, you can use your computer or phone as well. And, some of you classic folk out there might go with a Pomodoro “egg” timer or use an hourglass.
I personally like using this hourglass (it keeps 30 minutes worth of sand) because it provides a visual and ever so slight and unobtrusive audio cue (the sound of sand falling). The combination reminds me that I’m keeping a timer while not distracting me from my endeavor.
14. Double Your Desktop Space
If you don’t have two monitors, get another. Alternatively, buy one double-wide monitor for the same effect (here’s the one I use).
Two monitors vs. one big one are not created equal.
Depending on what operating system you are using, multiple monitors are handled differently than a single double-wide.
I recommend two monitors if you always have one application opened, front and center. Email comes to mind. When you have two monitors, this main application can remain contained to a single monitor leaving you another monitor for miscellaneous work.
However, if you don’t typically operate out of a single application, I recommend getting a single, double-wide monitor (make sure your computer can handle the ultra-wide resolution). Having all that extra screen space will give you plenty of productivity opportunities. Think research while writing, summarize webpages into an email, or video chatting while playing Sudoku ;-).
Either way you go, the productivity benefits of having two monitors are well documented. Some studies have shown that productivity can increase by up to 30%, especially in cases of data entry, comparing side-by-side information, and communicating with others while you work . Furthermore, the extra real estate provided by more pixels let you spread some information out (like a spreadsheet or a multi-page document), giving you a broader view of the information at hand and saving you time from switching between windows or scrolling around to take it all in.
15. Open Writing Space
Stop looking around for a pen and paper as if you’ve never been asked to write something down before.
You know, when you’re talking with someone and they ask you to write down an address and, since you’ve got nothing handy, you pretend to memorize it. Or when you’re in a meeting and you feel the need to jot down an action item but don’t have a pen and paper handy, so you just don’t.
What do you think happens to that address, those action items? You forget them, that’s what. Now you’ve got to go back to that person and ask them to help you remember.
That wastes your time and theirs.
So keep a blank sheet of paper and a pen on your desk.
At. All. Times.
Not a computer. That doesn’t count. Computers have too many apps, too many distractions. If you want to take a note on a computer, you have to open up your note-taking app, wait for it to load, create a new note, and navigate to the text area before you can start typing. That’s too much… too many things to go wrong.
Pen and paper is best.
Okay, it doesn’t have to be a pen and paper. It could be a mini whiteboard and marker. It could be a Boogie Board (these are pretty cool for taking down misc notes that you can quickly erase at the end of the day). It could be a stone tablet and chisel for all I care.
Just have something to write with, within arms reach, handy at all times. The small moments you will save by not having to go on the hunt will add up throughout the day, making you more productive.
16. Layer Your Lighting
To be productive in your office, you have to remain comfortable for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, staring at a computer too long causes eye-strain, which kills productivity. So does sitting in an uncomfortable, uninspiring space.
Lighting can make a huge difference.
First, you need overhead lighting to illuminate your entire office. Incandescents are best as fluorescent lights can cast an irritating glare.
Second, you need a desk lamp to shine focus on your task at hand. While overhead bulbs will provide light for your desk when writing, typing, etc., they aren’t focused specifically on your work and can cast distracting shadows. A desk lamp solves that problem and provides a second layer of light to warm the room and give it depth. I use a halogen desk lamp similar to this one.
Third, put a light behind your computer monitor. This will help reduce eye-strain by minimizing the drastic difference in the amount of light between the foreground (your monitor) and the background.
Finally, and try this only if you want to get really fancy, get some wall lights. Illuminating your walls will give your office space a very sophisticated, warm look. It can even make your room look bigger. Here is a great Pinterest feed on office lighting to inspire you. Notice how the lighting in most of these offices is layered.
Copy what works best for you and layer your office lighting to enhance your work-mood, reduce eye strain, and ultimately make you more productive.
17. Create a “Focus Zone”
My favorite spot in my office is what I call my “Focus Zone.”
It’s the place where I work on important things... writing, thinking, studying, whatever.
You need one too.
Your normal working zone is full of distractions. Your computer, papers to file, notes to review, pictures to look at, and anything else you keep in your workspace... It’s a recipe for never finishing anything but the most trivial of tasks.
It’s not just about the distractions though.
It’s about your mindset.
Your focus zone is where you go when you want to get real work done. It’s where you train yourself to get real work done. Your focus zone is reserved only for getting real work done.
If you need to check email, sit somewhere else.
If you need to take a phone call, take it elsewhere.
But when you need to work on the things that matter, go to your focus zone, light a candle, don your headphones, and make it rain.
18. Keep a Stable Temperature
When your fingers are turning blue and hard to bend, it’s too cold, and you’re not going to be very productive.
On the flip side, if you’ve incubated a case of swamp-crotch after typing an email, it’s too hot, and you’re not going to be very productive either.
Too hot or too cold is not good for productivity. No surprise there.
But is there a perfect temperature?
In 2006, Helsinki University of Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory set out to discover just that. They tested a range of temperatures on participants and found that productivity peaks at 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Program your thermostat for 71 or 71 degrees during the day, and you’re good to go.
19. Don’t Keep Everything You Need Nearby
Don’t keep everything nearby?
Sounds like bad productivity advice. But there’s more to productivity than focusing, hustling, and being “on” 24/7.
If you don’t rest, your productivity will only last so long. If you don’t rest, you can’t consistently maintain forward momentum toward your goals.
Rest doesn’t have to mean taking a nap (though it can). It can often be as simple as getting up, walking around your desk, and taking a moment to think about something—anything—different.
The problem with keeping absolutely everything on hand is that you get into hustle-mode. You never leave, never see a change of pace, and therefore, never rest, which is a problem because, well, you’re human.
You don’t have an endless supply of energy or patience. Nobody does.
Take the time to rest, recharge, even if only for a minute. It will pay dividends for your productivity throughout the day.
About the Author
HUSBAND, FATHER, ENTREPRENEUR, BUSINESS STRATEGIST, AUTHOR, FITNESS NUT, ORGANIZATION FREAK, PRODUCTIVITY JUNKIE
I help high-achieving entrepreneurs organize their brain and schedule so they can organize their life and business.
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