Environmental preferences influence productivity. Eleven years ago, I had some very frustrated, but now very grateful parents attend a seminar I was hosting on environmental preferences. Supervised by a nagging mom, her kids would spend the entire evening sitting at the dining table, in total silence, doing their homework. Homework was a dreadful time for this family. Mom was determined to have her kids do their homework the way she did hers as a kid. It’s natural for us to have our children approach studying (and other tasks) the same way we do. However, whether doing homework or working, we all have environmental preferences that are influenced by our inborn learning style. These preferences impact how we concentrate and remember information as well as communicate.
Where? It’s traditional to sit and work at a desk, but we all have a preferred position. You might prefer to sit on a chair, stand at a desk, or, sit or lay on the floor. There was even someone on my team who preferred to work laying on her stomach with her head under her work desk, particularly when the task required high levels of concentration. Not the most dignified approach, but it worked! Productivity and efficiency improve almost immediately when someone has the luxury to work in the position of his or her choice. If the goal is to increase concentration, consider accommodating differences in ‘where’ homework or work can be done.
Lighting: When I was young I recall my mom nagging me about turning all the lights on while I did my homework. If I didn’t, she would turn them on and it would really bother me. I prefer working in an environment that has natural lighting. And I will avoid turning on overhead lights as long as possible – it helps me concentrate. One of my co-workers prefers to turn all the hallway and common workspace lights on, even though she has her own office. Do you favor brightly or softly lit spaces? Do you prefer using overhead lights or floor lamps? Catering to differences in lighting preferences also reduces distraction and increases productivity.
Temperature: This environmental preference has the most impact on my ability to concentrate and be productive. I prefer to sleep when it’s cold but struggle if I have to work in the cold. I have sweaters everywhere – at work, in all our cars, and in different rooms in the home all year. Some kids in school or people at work adapt easily to varying temperatures, while others in the room have to be comfortable before they can concentrate.
Food and Drink Intake: It’s hard for students or employees to concentrate when they’re hungry or thirsty. But for some it’s more than that. Traditional classrooms don’t allow food or drinks to be consumed while kids are working. This wouldn’t be an issue for those who are distracted by food or drinks while they were engaged in an activity. For some, it would help them keep their minds focused on what they were doing. Personally, I’m distracted if my desk doesn’t have a coffee cup, full or empty, on it. I don’t always finish my coffee and at times, might have multiple half empty cups sitting on my desk because it helps me concentrate. I’ve even experienced a coworker who nibbled her way through the workday.
Time: We all have an internal clock that determines peak productivity. My son was naturally energetic in the morning while my daughter is a night owl. Homework after school was a lot easier for my daughter than my son. One of my co-workers prefers to work late into the night and start the day later in the morning. On the days she comes in early, it takes her longer time to get focused and get into the task at hand.
The mom who attended my class decided to give my suggestions a try. It changed their household. Every time I see her, she is quick to share her gratitude. Changing your idea on how homework gets done or work is accomplished based on an individual’s environmental preferences has the potential to decease tension, increase productivity and even make homework, or even housework and work fun.