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The secret to getting ahead is getting started. But the secret to staying ahead is staying productive.

Being productive does not mean using every single five minutes of your day on something that “you have to do”. It doesn’t mean forcing yourself to sleep less and over-caffeinating a day later to make up for it. It doesn’t mean “not having enough time” to hang out with your friends. And it definitely doesn’t mean not having enough time to relax.

We often make the mistake of equating just being busy with being productive, but they aren’t the same thing.

Being productive means accomplishing important goals and doing it consistently. When you have created a habit of productivity, you obtain access to a state of Productive Flow. When you’re in this flow, you feel limitless. You’re focused, you’re clear, you’re unleashed. You’re able to jump into your work while time seemingly stands still. The world outside of your office space ceases to exist.

Your ability to enter Productive Flow depends on three key factors: the difficulty of your work relative to what you are used to, the stakes associated with that work, and your ability to focus on your work. Out of these three, you have the most control over is your ability to focus on your work. More specifically, you have a lot of control over your physical workspace, which significantly affects your ability to focus on your work.

In this article, you’ll learn how you can optimize your workspace so that you can experience peak productivity when you work.


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Eliminate Distractions

Research done by Microsoft, in collaboration with the University of California Irvine, indicates that eliminating distractions significantly increases productivity, facilitates deep focus, and reduces stress. Additional research suggests that workplace distractions cut productivity by as much as 40%, and increase errors by 27%. That is way too much!

The best way to become more productive is not to increase your focus, but to decrease your distractions.

Go to the designated quiet zone in your coworking space

The most common types of workplace distractions are your friendly but chatty coworkers, random office noises, and your very own smartphones. If you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur at a coworking space, the easy solution of eliminating two out of these three distractions would be to camp out in the designated quiet space. Here, you shouldn’t be exposed to any noise outside of the keyboard clatter that you can drown out with your headphones. One of the newest is Spark Tank. Visit Sparktank.co for low cost space. It is right in the middle of Downtown Riverside.

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Be strategic about where you put your smartphone

While they are the best tool that can fit in your back pocket, your smartphones can also be the biggest source of procrastination. At any given moment, there are dozens of new posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat that are begging for your “likes”. This is not to include the black holes that are Reddit and Youtube — where you get sucked in for hours on end before you are able to get yourself out.

One way to avoid getting too distracted is to physically add distance between you and your phone. Put it as far away as your Air Pods can reach it. While this doesn’t eliminate the sudden urges you have to check your phone, it does add a barrier from you acting on those urges. This will help you start building better work habits and increase the amount of time you are able to concentrate.

Control your ambient light

Ambient light is what generally lights up the entire room — whether it’s the light bulbs on your office ceiling or the sunlight that comes in through your office windows.

According to Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, “Our cortisol levels drop significantly under artificial or poor lighting conditions. That means that we’ll be more stressed, and have less ability to stabilize our energy levels.”

It turns out that windows are the number one determinant of a person’s satisfaction with a building. This is because natural lighting boosts our mood, energy level, and hormonal balance. It also helps prevent illnesses and work fatigue, allowing you to stay at your peak while at work. Want numbers? The Sleep Journal compared workers in offices without windows with those with windows. Employees with office windows received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours and slept for 46 more minutes per night, on average. Do yourself a huge favor and place your workspace near the window.

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Organize your papers & get rid of your clutter

Not only is clutter a huge waste of time, but it also increases stress, reduces concentration, and impairs creative thinking. The average person wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for paper. When unchecked, this will affect your ability to service your customers in an efficient manner as a result of mishandled paperwork.

Clear your desk. Start by grabbing the pile of papers that you have been digging through for months, and throw away all the outdated paperwork. Build an organizational framework that is fast and simple to use so that you can start getting into the routine of organizing yourself. Better yet, snip it at the root: start digitizing your work. And for the love of God, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — make a “Miscellaneous” folder in your Google Drive. That may actually be worse than a pile of papers on your desk.

Adopt office plants

They will help you keep your zen. This sounds a little hippie, but research says that plants are as essential as office supplies. Having plants around in your space significantly improves concentration and productivity. This is because of their ability to remove toxins from the air, which helps relax us and elevate our mood.

If you’re not fortunate enough to be in a coworking space that already has a plant sanctuary, here is an article that can help you build your own.


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The Takeaway

At the end of the day, no amount of desk plants are going to help you get into Productive Flow if you don’t have the other marks checked off. The most important factors of achieving Productive Flow are the difficulty of your work relative to what you are used to, the stakes associated with that work, and your ability to focus.

In the same way that clothes don’t make the athlete, the workspace doesn’t make the professional. But if you’re already used to performing at your peak — stepping into the right physical space will help you step into the right headspace.

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