zen habits : breathe

Ugly Productivity: 5 Steps to a Distraction-free Workspace

This is a guest post by Skellie, author of Skelliewag.org.

“… My study is so ugly, it leaves me no option but to try to forget about it by escaping into my work. There’s no more incentive to sit around admiring the externals of the writing life. My eyes are firmly on the computer screen. Beauty may be conducive to happiness, but it seems that a calculated dose of ugliness can do wonders for productivity.” – Best-selling author, Alain de Botton

I’m sure many of us can relate to this quote, or at least, to the distractions of beauty. A gorgeous workspace with a view invites longing glances at a sun-drenched lawn, a lingering visual tour across the spines of our book collection, and excessive fiddling with the trinkets and toys co-habiting our desk.

We put time and effort into making our workspace a nice place to be without realizing that most of what we add will serve only one purpose: to make procrastination easier.

Simplifying your workspace can help boost productivity by removing distractions.

1. Keep the light, lose the view. Natural light is essential to any healthy workspace, but an interesting view will have you staring blankly into the garden or out onto the street when work gets tough. During work-time, your computer screen should be the most interesting place you can look. During your breaks, however, a trip outside or a peek out of an open window can help reinvigorate you.

2. Move books into another room. In moments where our concentration is broken it can be tempting to reach up into a bookshelf and start thumbing through a book. Unless you need them for your work, it could be a good idea to remove books or magazines, and in doing so, remove the distraction.

3. Keep your desk focused. A productive desk contains the items and resources you need to complete your current task within arm’s reach. Photos, toys, figurines and other items can make our desks seem more homely, but also have the potential to trigger day-dreaming sessions and tinkering.

If you can’t bear to part with the items, consider placing them on a shelf behind where you sit. You’ll get the comfort of knowing they’re there without the visual distraction.

4. Minimize digital distractions. If your work doesn’t require connectivity, disconnect the internet while you work. You can reward yourself with some browsing during break-time. If games are a distraction for you, consider uninstalling them. If you have more than one computer, save one for work only, and use another for fun stuff.

5. Simplify decorations. My workspace — also my bedroom — used to contain one wall covered in a collage of photos. It was the wall behind my desk, and the time I spent poring over the images when I was supposed to be working began to eat into my productivity. I’ve since taken down the collage and have found I actually like the clean, uncluttered look better. I’d also much rather look at my computer screen than a blank wall!

You probably won’t have a collage, but you might have ornaments, paintings, wall-hangings and other decorations that prove to be visual distractions when you’re feeling uninspired. Consider simplifying down to one or two decorations, preferably out of your immediate field of view.

You may even find there’s a certain beauty to be found in your workspace’s new simplicity.

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