Do you sometimes make excuses for your lack productivity? Do you find yourself saying things like:
I can’t concentrate when I’m hungry.
I can’t think when I’m cold.
I can’t focus on paperwork details after dinner.
Maybe it’s just an excuse.
Maybe it’s more. It could be your excuse contains a kernel of truth.
Because environmental factors affect our productivity. We each have certain preferences and conditions that help us perform at optimal ability. Do you know what helps you concentrate the best? What distracts you the most?
Common environmental factors that may affect your concentration:
- Light level. Does it matter if the room too bright or too dim?
- Noise level. Do you think best in total quiet, or do you need a certain amount of background noise in order to concentrate? Perhaps you work best when listening to music?
- Tidiness level. Does it matter if your desk is pristine or piled? Some people thrive when everything around them is straight and orderly, others thrive when they are surrounded with inspiring materials that spark ideas in their subconscious. Which are you?
- Temperature. If you are too hot or too cold, will it distract you from your best work? I get chilled easily, and when I am cold I have less enthusiasm and will-power to push through tasks, especially those I would rather avoid.
- Hunger. Does your brain run out of energy when you are hungry? Science tells us protein is important for optimal brain function. Maybe you really do think better when you include healthy snacks in your workday. (Just FYI, donuts are not high-protein. *Sigh*)
- Thirst. It may be that you concentrate best when you are sufficiently hydrated. Or perhaps feeling thirsty simply distracts you. In either case, keeping a water bottle at hand is an easy fix.
- Time of Day. Are you an early bird or a night owl? We all have certain times of the day when we are most productive and other times when we drag. Ideally, we should aim to do our most challenging work when our brains and bodies are at their most alert and energetic.
Please note that for all the above categories, there will be some that matter more than others. For example, I prefer bright ambient light when I am reading or working, but a dimmer light level will not seriously affect my concentration. In contrast, human voices and activity (especially the TV) have a significant negative impact on my concentration.
Also, you may prefer different conditions depending on what you are trying to do. The environment that helps you concentrate on a thorny work problem may not be the best one to help you chug through boring-but-necessary paperwork.
If you are not sure, try tracking your energy, stress, and mood throughout the day for a few weeks, and jot down whatever environmental factors apply at that time. Look for the patterns that emerge.