Productivity: The Power of a Dedicated Space

This post is part of a series in Productivity and Getting Shit Done. You can read the original introduction article here and part #1 here, part #2 here, and part #3 here.

I’ve already explored the concept of multi-tasking being a myth, and how the very best in productivity comes from complete focus: focusing your time; focusing your attention; and focusing on the end, rather than the start.

To best leverage the concept of focus, a dedicated space will go a long way.

We already do this in other regions of our lives. Our bedrooms are – or should be – for sleeping: if your bedroom isn’t optimally setup for sleeping, you’re doing your health a disservice. Block any light, remove your digital devices, ensure a supply of clean air, etc.

Our homes are a little more open-plan these days, but generally the kitchen is for cooking, the lounge is for relaxing, the bathroom is for hygiene, etc, etc. You get the idea. Dedicated spaces, ensuring you apply the right level of focus.
We need to learn to apply that same “space” focus to our business and our creativity.

Your office – your working space

If you tell me you’re trying to work from your kitchen bench, or using your laptop in your bed, I can tell you exactly why you’re not smashing your goals and achieving your dreams.

A little more brutal and honest than you might expect from me, but true. I’ve never found a single story of a successful entrepreneur who actually achieved great things from their breakfast bar. Pieces of greatness, sure. Little eureka moments, of course. Bits & bobs of productivity, yep. But nothing truly great comes from your couch.

I’m sorry. But you needed to hear it.

I’ve got myself an office. We purposely bought this very house because of the office, slightly detached from the living areas, downstairs, beside the garage. It’s not perfect – I’d rather a studio space outside, whereby I need to leave the house – but the act of moving downstairs still separates me from my “home” life, and my family.

My office isn’t glamorous. It’s not insta-worthy. And I don’t care. It’s my productivity hub. When I step into that office, I’m in “do” mode.

And that should mean, no working from the kitchen bench, no laptop in bed.

No children allowed

I learned this the hard way. A very, very, painful way.

Today I make no apologies. When I’m working, I’m working. My kids are not allowed in my office. I don’t mix work and family. I don’t work at the dining table. I don’t work when I’m bathing the kids. I don’t work when we go on holiday.

Years ago, I had a vision that I could work alongside my children playing. They could be rummaging through the LEGO table, and I’d be seated at the dining table getting stuff done. They’d be watching a movie, and I’d be focused on my work.

This. Does. Not. Work. For. Me.

No apologies. The kids disappear (school, daycare, parties, walks, grand-parents) and I focus like no other time. The kids return, and I’m a dad.

Switch.

My kids are the most important thing in my life, and everything from this point forward is to ensure they get the best opportunities to live their best life. But to help them, first I need to help myself. Put on my own lifemask.

Some days I might get 6 hours maximum of productive time. But those 6 hours better be the greatest 6 hours they can possibly be.

Headphones

Simple magic. These Sony noise-cancelling headphones are one of the smartest things I’ve ever purchased. I’ve spent a lot of money on a lot of things, and this is $500 I wish I’d spent years and years earlier.

brain.fm

Another secret. There’s science to back this up (‘Dynamic Attending Theory‘ anyone?) but I can simply confirm from personal experience: functional music directly optimised for focus really really works. Music with lyrics? No. Podcasts? NO.

Non-binaural modulation? Yes.

Confused? Just try brain.fm – their free trial is, well, free!

A tool for each job

Single purpose. A tool for each job. With a few exceptions, you should consider a single tool for a single role.

Xero works far better for your accounting and invoicing than a spreadsheet ever will. Photo Mechanic is still a better tool for culling than using Lightroom (don’t @ me). If you’re serious about videography you really should have a dedicated video rig – yes, your SLRs and mirrorless work, but they’re not the greatest. You should have a dedicated bag for your wedding gear that doesn’t get picked apart and upended for other jobs, only to find you left something at home for the next wedding. Your speedlight batteries should be for your speedlight only, not for your remotes and your kid’s toys. Your email shouldn’t be used as your TO DO list (see article #2 for more on that). I could go on and on – but you get it.

In my office, I have 3 computers. THREE! I now have a dedicated computer for my Zoom calls and video recording. I have a dedicated computer for my photography culling and editing (with a massive array of hard drives). And I have a laptop for my more creative work, like writing, emails, building workshops, etc. The tools can be similar across the machines, but the overlap is pretty minimal.

This ensures that when I sit down to record a video, I’m not distracted by Lightroom. When I decide to write this article, I’m not distracted by my latest Powerpoint.

A task that requires specific focus should have a specific tool, along with a specific place.

(I’m not even writing this post from my home office, I disappeared to a cafe – change of task, change of environment.)

A purposeful uniform

During our country’s 5 week COVID-19 lockdown period, I made a habit of getting dressed every. single. day. And not just anything, but a shirt (with buttons!!!), pants, even shoes.

I wasn’t leaving the house much. Very few people were seeing me.

Yet, the very act of being “dressed” for work, helped with that mindset shift: I’m working.

Some people call it a ‘uniform’. It’s a specific set of clothes for a specific activity. It tells your brain that you’re about to become focused on a particular activity. You put on your overalls to work in the garage. You put on your painting gear to paint the house. You put on your gardening gloves to tend to your weeds. You put on your exercise gear to tell your brain & body that you’re going for that run.

Same with your work. Define a work uniform. Put it on.

So, have you a dedicated space, routine, tool, and uniform for your tasks?