Want To be More Productive? Go Somewhere Else

Before you suffer an acute case of desk-restlessness, get up and walk away. You may just find a fresh start on creating great work–and a new place to do it.

Want To be More Productive? Go Somewhere Else

Does this sound like anyone you know?


“You yourself may be more of the problem than your office and your co-workers are,” cautions Randy Murray. “Finding a new, temporary work place may help you get out of your own way and to complete a task, to get some work done.”

But why does the workplace shift work well?

Stroll with us, and let’s see.

Your space is a tool

Steelcase is the world’s leading office furniture company. Prescience bubbles out of their WorkSpace Futures think-and-do tank. They describe a palette of place. Think about a painter’s palette: an array of paints that allows you to select just the right color for the job. The palette of place is similar: an array of places that lets you select just the right space for the job.

Almost all jobs are collaborative, they say, but collaboration is a mixture between group and individual work, or, as WorkSpace Futures director Donna Flynn would say, a balance between “we” and “I” time:


Leaders can be strategic with “We” time by “focusing it on the hard work of aligning the team, creating together, and building trust during enriched and intensive periods of face-to-face time.” And while the team is distributed–giving lots of “I” time–leaders need their team members to ” focus that time on executing on milestones, and have frequent group checkpoints and reviews and sharing sessions.” Flynn uses herself as an example: she finds she’s way more productive working from home–she can protect her time there–and when she heads to Grand Rapids she can throw herself into “we” activities.

What that suggests, then, is that we should be in collaboration-prone spaces–like those long communal tables so popular in startup land–when we need to get group-work done. But we should place ourselves in solitude when we need to get focused, lest the open office drive us crazy.

For the “we” time

Now that we know when to we, let’s select the best spaces to get collaboration done.

  • When working around a table, make sure it’s round–people become more group oriented.
  • The Google Ventures sprint methodology encourages working in a space covered in writing materials.
  • A stack of index cards can get you way better ideas than brainstorming.
  • But be sure to get away from the table, too: A walk around the block, a stroll through the park, and a super-inclusive lunch are all ways to get more out of your day–and open up your palette of place.

For the “me” time

Me-type work tends to be the sort that requires deep focus.

If we’re frittering away that precious isolation by treadmilling through out inboxes, we won’t be deepening our skillsets, advancing our careers, or adding to our teams.

So if the function of isolation is focus, we need to give ourselves focus:


Finding the right place lets us load our insanely complex problems into our heads and have the space in our working memory to get them done, distraction free. But the sounds of a cafe don’t hurt, either.

Hat tip: First Today, Then Tomorrow

[Image: Flickr user Miemo Penttinen]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.