The Science of Productivity Cycles

Why we get tired of our workspaces, and why new environments stimulate productivity

Isaac Smith / Unsplash

A few months ago I wrote about productivity cycles — my experience of the regular fluctuations in my productivity levels.

Over time, I’ve noticed something interesting about these cycles: when I’m in a productivity low, it tends to bleed into my environment.

That is, when I’m not being productive it’s as if procrastination is in the air. Sluggishness is woven into the fabric of my seat. I can see avoidance reflected in the glass of my desk.

It gets so bad that I can’t even bear to think about my workspace. The minute I lay eyes on it my stomach clenches and my hands start to sweat, and I have to use enormous willpower to force myself to sit down in my chair and open up my computer. 

So I’ve developed a habit. When I feel like this, I’ll go somewhere else. I’ll work at my kitchen table, or on my couch. Or I’ll go sit outside at a coffee shop in my neighborhood and try to get work done there. Or I’ll go to my empty office and use the desk there.

For some reason going into a new environment seems to help me get a little bit of steam and overcome my avoidance.

I wanted to know… why is that? 

So I hired a researcher!

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