The power of environment
Most of our daily decisions are automatic, and most people do not even realize that. The brain is a very efficient machine, everything becomes a habit after a while, meaning that who you are today is mostly habits and a small part of it is your active thinking. If you do not believe me, go back through your day and try to find at least three events where you stopped, thought about what are you doing, or you questioned your decision, then did that thing.
So why do we ignore our habits when we want to change and reach our maximum potential?
Do you check your phone every 5 minutes while you work? Do you check your emails every 10 minutes while you work? If you do something without thinking about it, that is a habit you built over some time, and if you stack multiple bad habits on a daily basis it may be the biggest cause of your low productivity and stress. You know you have to improve your work, but you simply can’t, you end up on the same level you were a month ago, or you descend few levels.
If you do not feel any progress in quality of your work from month to month, it is time for you to seriously reconsider changing your current work environment.
Environment by design
As with anything in life, you can passively receive things, and wait for someone to shape you, your life, or you can be proactive, a habit worth acquiring, and shape your environment so you can shape yourself the way you want to be.
I used to catch myself sometimes spending few hours on browsing facebook and youtube without realizing it and I don’t know how I got to that point at all! I do not remember the point where I decided to open facebook or youtube, so how did I end up wasting the last few hours on pointless entertainment?
I realized I need to proactively block my access to those sites, so I edited my hosts file and redirected facebook and youtube to 127.0.0.1. So every time I want to open facebook or youtube, I have to open hosts file, remove the redirect command, close the file, restart all browsers and access facebook and youtube. And that process cannot be automatic, I need to do that intentionally, and that was enough for me to prevent that habit of opening facebook and youtube without even thinking about it.
The next thing I did was to leave my phone in the other room, so I don’t even see the notifications when they pop up, I am free to focus on my work.
I did leave facebook or youtube available on my old laptop, so when I want to watch youtube or open facebook, I would take the laptop and access those sites, but that would be on my own terms when I am satisfied with the work I did, and I want to take a longer break.
Prevention beats cure
You can not trust yourself, your brain is on autopilot most of the time, don’t count on your brain ignoring phone notifications, don’t count on not opening youtube or facebook, you are driven by habits, facebook and youtube specifically exploit that by creating the dopamine loop that forces you to go back to those sites and engage with them frequently.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
The quote above is from Annie Dillard, and there is a great article on brain pickings about her book The writing life, a great piece of worldly wisdom.
In summary, place systems that produce environments that nudge you towards high focus and productivity, and you will be more consistent with your work quality, otherwise, you are just responding to outside stimuli.
- Environment has a stronger impact on your productivity than you think
- The only way to make sure you are focused is to eliminate the possibility of a distraction (leave your phone in the other room, block sites)
- Purposely create environments for your self that nudge you towards productivity (turn of wifi on your phone, leave a book on your living room desk, sell your TV)
- How I constrain my internet usage
- If you feel like you need to relax, don’t open youtube, take a walk or go talk to someone
- Avoid instant gratification to get used to low dopamine input and to increase your ability to focus, deep work
- Be aware of your decisions when you perform your work, question everything to produce quality work