Environmental psychology determines exactly how productive you can be in any setting. Have you ever noticed how we seem to act a certain way within certain environments? You might feel naturally more relaxed in your favorite coffee shop, or instantly focused when you walk into a library. On the other hand, when you're sat at your ergonomic desk, tapping away at a keyboard, you may feel ready for work, but you might be unable to achieve the same concentration sitting in a recliner at home.
These changes in behavior according to our surroundings come from "habit fields." If you've never heard of habit fields before, it's simply a term by Jack Cheng that refers to the way our environments interact with our behavior. He claims that every object, every environment, and every sensation we encounter inherently has its own habit field, which we can alter, or reinforce.
So, what does this mean in the business environment?
What are habit fields?
In simple terms, if you want to achieve great things, enhance focus, and be productive at work - then you need to create habit fields that support those outcomes.
Think of it this way, if you were on a diet, you wouldn't push yourself to spend every afternoon sitting on a bench outside of your favorite donut shop. You'd constantly want to go in and empty your wallet. Similarly, if you want to be more focused in your office space, then you need to make sure that the area you design for work cultivates concentration, and reduces distractions.
Jack Cheng tells us that everything we encounter has a different impact on the way that we feel and react. In other words, because you associate your bed with sleep, rest, and other non-professional activities, it's going to be a lot harder to concentrate on writing up a sales report when you're tucked under your duvet with a laptop.
That's why Cheng has adapted his working environment with a focus on habit fields - with a specific chair for procrastination, and another specific area for working and creating design masterpieces. In the same vein, if you can discover which environments you're most likely to thrive in, and which objects are most distracting, then you should be able to boost your productivity levels.
What does your environment have to do with productivity?
From a scientific perspective, it's easy to see just how important your environment really is when it comes to encouraging focus and workplace efficiency. Studies indicate that our atmosphere can impact the way that we feel and behave on a drastic level, and architects are constantly looking for new ways to enhance productivity with the office spaces they create.
It's only very recently that our society has started placing a real focus on the concept of environmental psychology, and the truth of how a certain space can impact our behavior. Until not so long ago, we designed most workspaces for nothing more than practicality. Office blocks crammed as many professionals into a single space as possible, factories were all about line efficiency, and the feelings of the worker never got a second thought.
Today, the increasing popularity of things like "workplace wellbeing", which focuses on ensuring efficiency, productivity, and good health within the workplace to boost business profits, and remote working has convinced us that we need to look at office design from a more emotional, human perspective.
After all, even if a company space is effective from a practical perspective, and has all the right tools to let your workers get the job done, if staff members aren't satisfied psychologically, they could suffer from a lack of inspiration, diminished creativity, greater feelings of fatigue, and lower productivity levels.
An experiment that examined around 600 programmers across 92 companies discovered that the most efficient workers in a team outperformed the average workers by a ratio of 10 to 1. The most surprising aspect of this result was that those employees didn't have a higher salary or better experience. What they did have was a more positive working environment.
Unfortunately, despite evidence like this, surveys still suggest that 90% of workers across the globe aren't totally satisfied with their work environments.
It's time to make some changes.
Step 1: Create a space for procrastination
If your ultimate goal is to improve productivity within the workplace, then you might consider this step to be a little superfluous, but stick with me.
In his explanation of habit fields, Cheng notes that because he does most of his work from home, he's had to find a distinct way of separating certain habit fields throughout his home. After all, working from your apartment means that you're close to a lot of objects that might distract you from work - whether it's a cozy chair or your television.
To help him cope, Jack Cheng created a "distraction chair" - a chair that he goes and moves to when he wants to read up on his social media account or unwind. The idea is that the chair allows him to set rules for where he should be when he wants to be productive, and where he should be when he needs to let his brain rest for a while.
You can create the same system in your own office, with a chair, a recliner, a sofa, or just a corner of the room that you move to when you feel the tug of procrastination. Not only will this help you to draw a line for your workspace environment, but you might find it so tedious to get up and move to different spaces in the room that you push yourself to focus for longer just to avoid the movement.
Step 2: Implement elements of locations where you feel productive
For some people, when you begin exploring habit fields, you'll discover that you naturally feel more productive in certain places, or when you're surrounded by particular items. While you might not be able to transport your work desk to your favorite coffee shop, you could potentially bring aspects of that coffee shop into your office to help adjust your existing habit field.
Pay close attention to the items, sounds, smells, and other elements that elicit emotional responses from you in different places. The more you understand which factors are helping your productivity, the more you'll be able to reproduce those elements later. For instance, if the smell of coffee keeps you feeling focused, you could fill some small decorative pots in your office with ground coffee beans. If you simply enjoy the colors and lighting, then it might be time to change the décor at your workplace.
Step 3: Make procrastination difficult
Another way to help condition your mind to respond in certain ways to certain environments, is to limit what's possible from the habit fields in your office. For instance, if you have one space for work, and one space for procrastination, you might put a lock on the things that you can do in each area.
An example might be to keep a tablet at your "distraction chair", that has shortcuts to your favorite social media sites and procrastination haunts. Alternatively, at your desk, you would make sure that your computer has no bookmarks to these pages, no quick links, and nothing that might tempt you to blend the boundaries between each space. In some cases, you can uninstall specific programs completely, or blacklist certain websites on your work computer. It might seem like a drastic measure, but it forces you to adjust your behavior depending on where you are in your office.
Additionally, as Cheng suggests, when you make it more difficult to access distraction-rich programs and applications, you mute the sound of your subconscious mind telling you to pick the "easy reward" instead of the hard work.
Crafting your own productivity habit fields
Because habit fields are highly personal things, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to designing the space that's going to be the most effective for you. The best way to start is simply to do some research. Discover which work environment is more likely to spur inspiration and focus in you, and which items are most likely to deter you from your goals.
As you learn more about how different things impact your concentration, you'll be able to create distinct areas in your office intended for set purposes. The tricky part after that is making sure that you push yourself to use only those areas for their designated tasks. However, if you can accomplish this, then you're sure to find that you're more productive, every time you sit at your desk.
Have you seen habit fields at work in your office environment? Or tried creating some of your own? How have they worked? Share your thoughts in the comments below.