In the last post, we talked about how the concept of activation energy could help guide you to vastly greater motivation and effortless productivity. Today I want to dig into more specifics of things that artificially increase the activation energy (or, more informatively, the energy barrier) of a task.
It’s useful to distinguish between external and internal barriers.
Two Types of Barriers to Productivity
External barriers are things about your workspace or physical environment that make it harder to start the task.
Internal barriers are your own hangups about starting the task. Most of what we call procrastination falls under this category. We’ll talk more about those in the next post
Examples of external barriers include: your kitchen is dirty, your desk is cluttered, you have 473 open browser tabs, some of which have been open since you first got your computer 3 years ago, etc.
Not that this has ever applied to me or anything…
In any case, in the last post I described how these small things can make it just a little bit harder to start working but that this is very expensive over time.
Remove to Multiply
Framed more positively, for every type of junk you can eliminate, your productivity over time will double.
Squashing small impediments isn’t just a game for neat freaks – it’s exponentially productive.
How this works will look different for each person, but here’s what I do.
The easiest thing is to routinely purge my work environment of any clutter. I don’t do this during my peak productive hours but in breaks in the afternoon, when my energy is starting to drop.
This serves two purposes.
One is that it’s something productive I can do while partially resting my focus.
The other is that as I get tired, it’s easier to get overwhelmed by the sight of physical or digital clutter or to get distracted, for example, by an article I had left open in my browser.
Wrapping up the Workday
Right before I leave work for the day, I do it again, with a focus on closing browser tabs and making sure that everything important is saved so that I can easily resume what I was doing.
An important part of this is writing a morning note, which I discussed in an earlier post.
Having to decide what you should work on is a big drain on mental energy, so you should minimize it, especially during your most productive periods.
One way to think about this is that if my computer got turned off (remember when we used to turn computers off?) and all windows were closed, I wouldn’t forget or lose track of anything.
When possible, I maintain a dedicated workspace that I use ONLY for work.
This is useful for a number of reasons. One is that it conditions you to get in the zone for work as soon as you enter it.
I understand if you’re skeptical of this – I was too for a long time – but it is very effective.
If you think about it, this fits nicely into our theme of decreasing activation energy. Anything that supports your ability to get into work mode at will decreases activation energy.
This is especially true if at the beginning you’re disciplined enough to avoid non-work activities like checking social media or random web browsing while you’re there.
Eliminate Small Efforts for Effortless Productivity
Now, it goes without saying that this space should be kept tidy, but make sure it has everything you need. Having to get up and hunt for an eraser is a real productivity killer.
It’s worth spending a bit of money to do this. I’m a big fan of noise-cancelling headphones and for a long time I had a single pair I would carry back and forth between home and the office.
It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but having to track down an additional piece of equipment before sitting down to work can be enough to nudge me out of the zone.
You shouldn’t think of yourself as a fragile flower and get thrown easily, but transitioning into work should be as smooth as possible.
Like I said, over time, every bit of time and money you put into making your work transitions smooth – even buying duplicates of expensive equipment (within reason) – will pay huge returns.
This week, put in a little extra time to keep your workspace tidy. Pay attention to how you feel when you sit down to a tidier workspace.
It might be a big difference, or it might be a small one, but next week we will multiply it by layering it with advice on procrastination and removing internal barriers.