When Opportunity Looks Like Work

Part II - how to get Things Done

In our last blog, we talked about why it's important to optimize work environments to boost productivity. We also discussed the strong tie between working spaces and rewarding work habits. Today, we will look at the first set of actions you can test, break, or modify to find a way to get things done!

Customize Your Workspace

(1) Make it easy to access the tools you need. 

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. According to Henry Ford: Critical Evaluation in Business and Management, by John C Wood and Micheal C Wood, Ford discovered that he could boost productivity by storing tools near work stations instead of having them in tool rooms.

For someone who wants to get things done, procrastination is less likely when tools are easily accessible from the grindstone.

For example, if I workout in the morning, I place a gym bag next to my bed the night before. Personally, I do not clean my workbench; so when I return, I can easily pick up where I left off. I place all the ingredients I need for preparing a meal on the counter instead of looking for ingredients as I work through a recipe.

(2) Place the tools you need most often at the shortest distance.

Having your tools next to you is key for a desirable outcome. You are less likely to be disrupted by constantly searching or reaching for them while working.

For example, when I am lifting, I bring the weights to me in-between sets instead of walking to the racks. 

When you do not have the right tools in front of you, you convince yourself that it's ok to spend time looking for the tools instead of actually doing the work, because now getting the right tool disrupts your flow by putting new demands on your time and energy. 

(3) Make the most frequently accessed tools easily accessible.

In a 1915 article in the Factory: The Magazine for Management, C Bertrand Thompson wrote that the tools most frequently used should be placed near the point of issue. This guiding principle was widely used to improve operability, quality, and speed of performance. 

Microsoft products use the same principle with the ribbon design: to provide easy access to the most frequently used controls. The deeper any information is hidden, the less likely someone will go looking for it. 

Searching for information is not a burden if you do it only a few times, but if you have to continually search for the most frequently used tools, then your frustration levels will be directly proportional to the amount of searching you do.

(4) Find working positions that vary.

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety offers great tips on good sitting positions for work. However, even the best recommendations cannot be sustained forever. We need variety. 

Repetitive motions and static postures add muscle fatigue and often postpone work further than organized short breaks.

If you sit at work, try to move around because static postures restrict blood flow to outer extremities.

To reduce the forces felt by arms, bring your work closer to your body. Why? Because, basic physics tells us that the further out your work is from you, the heavier it feels. Thus, it becomes more difficult to get the work done. 

So, if I am holding something, I don’t extend my arms away from my body. Instead, I bring it closer to my body. When I travel, I lift and move my luggage closer to my body. Since I use a trackpad with my laptop, I place it next to me so I don’t have to hold my arm out for extended periods of time.

(5) Personalize your workspace to your level of comfort.

Create a space in which you feel comfortable so that your workplace is not a distraction. 

For instance, resting your arms on hard surfaces after an extended period will become a distraction because it will force you to take a long break and possibly disrupt your workflow. 

Muscles in your body are not designed to withstand postures in the same position for long periods of time. 

For example, to reduce eye fatigue, I stare at things at least 30 feet away every 30 minutes for more than 30 seconds.  

The Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Toxicology in  Netherlands did an interesting study that showed that surgeons in operating rooms experience work posture stresses more than other doctors or nurses due to static posture during surgery. 

When our bodies are subjected to prolonged experiences that are not in the natural posture, it becomes easier to postpone work.  

Setting up your workspace ahead of time may not feel productive, but the idea is to help you get things done at a better rate in the long run.

“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and it looks like work.”

 Thomas Edison