How To / Leadership & Coaching

5 Tips to Maximize Productivity. Anywhere.

Originally posted on

Software developers, designers, writers and other creatives reach their maximum productivity in what some call “the zone”, a state of mind others call “flow”. One consistent environmental factor helps everyone maximize their ability to get into and stay in flow: zero distractions.

For folks sharing a physical work space, whether that’s a coworking space or coffee shop, that can be a challenge—so here’s a few tips on how you can protect your zone and maximize your productivity when working anywhere.

First, let me start with a story: I was working from my uncle’s apartment, happily coding away and surely building something awesome. I was younger then, able to tap into my zone on a dime. Without knowing how much time had passed, my uncle’s housemate walked up to me and asked if I was wearing headphones. “No,” I replied. “I must have rapped on the window for a solid 15 minutes trying to get your attention.” He had been locked out on the deck and my uncle had to come home to let him in … I was completely unaware of my surroundings. I could go on about melted water kettles at home, but at some point my ability to drown out the world has waned as I’ve aged.

1. Wear headphones to minimize the risk of audible interruptions.

Some folks prefer quiet and can use noise-cancellation headphones. Others prefer music with no lyrics and others, the bustling noise of a cafe. If you’re in the camp of the latter, and can help give you the noise w/out the risk that you’ll hear your name or an interesting topic float by, pulling you out of flow. A few years ago I created a playlist “enter the code cave” that I can reliably play anytime I need to drown out a world of distractions. With Rdio shutting down, you won’t have long to listen to it. Luckily, there’s several other resources for creating, discovering and sharing playlists including SpotifySoundcloud and Last.FM. Anything without ads!

2. Pick a space you can occupy for a while.

When you pick a work space that you can stay at for a while, you’re setting yourself up to enjoy a sustained period of flow. There’s nothing worse than finally getting in the zone only to be interrupted by someone asking you to move, or to make a new purchase. Many coworking spaces give you the peace of mind that you can stay put and won’t be interrupted to re-up your food or beverage. If you choose to work from a coffee shop, pick one that’s known to be more mellow (so you can dial in your background noise/music via headphones) and pick a spot away from the door and counter traffic(Bonus: spots out of the line of traffic are also less prone to theft.)

3. Pick a space that’s comfortable.

There’s nothing worse than getting into the zone only to realize your freezing every time someone opens the door … or sweating through your t-shirt! The minute we think about how uncomfortable we are, the minute we’re out of the flow … and we have to start all over. Posture fits in here, too. Whether we’re at an office, home or another space, ergonomics matters. If you’ll be sitting, make sure you use a comfortable chair and that your table/desk is a comfortable height. If you’ll be standing, make sure you have a place to rest between stands and that your counter/desk doesn’t cause your wrists or neck pain. Laptops are not ergnomically friendly. Luckily, several companies create beautiful and portable laptop stands including the Roost and Green Tuna Design. We’ve collected some of our favorites on a Pinterest board.

Ergonomic insights from ElevationLab

4. Turn off email, Slack and other IM notifications.

One of my favorite compliments I’ve received professionally was “you were the greatest project manager I’ve ever had.” #humblebrag. What made me great? I taught his team how to block out distractions. For the first time in the company’s history and this developer’s history, they had a time protector—someone to prevent last minute meetings from popping up and who wasn’t going to IM them in the middle of a coding session for something I could get later. If you’re thinking, “I wish I could get a time protector,” guess what? You can be your own. Take the time to customize your notifications and turn OFF your email, Slack and other IM notifications when you’re wanting to get into the flow. If you’re a remote manager, encourage your team to do the same. If you use the Pomodoro Technique to break up your working sessions, you can check for alerts in your “in between” time. When working remotely, if your team doesn’t have “zone blocks” already scheduled, make sure you let your team know before you go offline to build their trust that offline doesn’t mean off playing. (Though I hope that you’ll have more time for play with the efficiencies you gain removing distractions.)

5. Use Workfrom

Our environment greatly impacts our productivity. Workfrom is a productivity boosting tool for remote workers to find the perfect place that meets our needs. Not only does it save time in the hunt, it helps reduce the risk of interference when it matters most. Find and filter coffee shops and coworking spaces by noise, busyness, seating options and other ambiance factors. What kind of space are you looking for? Let us know!

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