Build a Productive Ecosystem

Workplace skyscrapers and tree branches

In nature an ecosystem combines landscape features, plant and animal inhabitants, and weather into an environment that manages itself into perpetuity. This principle of balance can translate into your workplace. While not everyone has total control over workplace environs, personalizing your space in a few ways can help your productivity. With the right tweaks and adjustments, anyone can turn a given work environment into a balanced productivity ecosystem.

The Landscape

The most basic element of an ecosystem is the landscape that serves as a canvas for everything else. If your desk drives you crazy, working at it—even with work you love—won’t make the crazy go away. If you can’t handle clutter, take the time to clean up your desk and go through all your drawers. If anything eye-catching becomes as a major distraction, transition into a more Spartan scene and leave your walls bare. If, on the other hand, a little color fuels your creativity, place a poster or two in an easy-to-see spot. Maybe you can change them out every so often too, just so you keep things interesting.

Building the landscape for your productive ecosystem won’t be a one-off thing. You’ll need to try some things out and see how they affect you. If you’ve never had any decorations, try adding a nice green plant. It may be that having another living thing in the same vicinity keeps you more awake. If it ends up being a distraction, take the plant back home. Give it a little trial and error to find the landscape that suits your workflow.

The Inhabitants

Within your productive landscape, you’re going to need certain tools in place to make your productivity possible. These ecosystem inhabitants also need to go through the trial-and-error process of the landscape; if something throws off the system’s balance in a bad way, simply make it extinct. Here are a few things you should consider populating your ecosystem with:

Organizational caretakers. These could be file folders in a drawer, trays on your desk, paper stacks, or simply different buckets or bins all in a row. They exist to keep your landscape intact. Sometimes you can’t easily digitize something to keep it out of the way, and if that’s the case, you need to have a destination for it in your workspace. It’ll keep your landscape pristine and you’ll be able to find what you need quickly.

Idea predators. Ideas are flighty, fleeting things that find any way possible to evade capture. Make sure you have predators in place that can easily capture ideas and keep them from escaping your ecosystem. You’ll often think of a new idea, task, or project at the precise time you are least equipped to act on it—when you’re neck deep in other work, when you’re in the wrong place to do anything, or when you don’t have the necessary resources. The fear of losing an idea and the distraction caused by trying to remember it can cripple your ability to perform whatever task is currently at hand. I use Power.ME to capture and organize tasks, projects, and notes for future use. I also keep one notebook and a pen nearby because doodling out ideas by hand helps me think. Afterwards I can snap a picture of my work and put it into Power.ME. Whatever your idea predators may be, make sure they’re easy for you to use and reference—that’s what makes them good hunters. If they aren’t, you’re not going to take the time to use them and your ideas are going to end up escaping. If your predators are good, you’ll be able to capture ideas quickly and get back to whatever you’re doing.

Information producers. Make sure that any source of information you need regularly is close at hand. For some, having a computer with an internet connection will be enough (though you may want to have your web browser open and already on the website you’ll need). Others may want a solid industry-specific book, like the Chicago Manual of Style for publishing. If it’s something you’ll be using a lot, make it as easy to get to as possible.

The Ambiance

In an outdoor ecosystem, there’s more than just inhabitants and a landscape. Just as influential to the system is the ambiance—the weather, the air quality, etc. In your productivity ecosystem you should consider the same sorts of things. Overall, the point is to make yourself comfortable so you can focus on your work instead of other things. If you can control the office temperature, set it according to your comfort level. Cut down on noise pollution by eliminating unnecessary noises and perhaps replacing some. Do you work better to music? Play some (using headphones if necessary, of course). Get the right amount of lighting so you can avoid design-marring glare on your computer screen or a squint-induced headache. Adjust things as necessary and make sure you can keep them the way you want them.

Setting up a productive ecosystem in your workplace takes some trial and error work, and it may seem like a lot of effort to go to that doesn’t actually get any work done. But when you’re environment is right and you’ve got your work ready to go, there’s nothing to stop you from keeping the balance you need to be as productive as possible.

How do you structure your environment to keep yourself productive?

Image by federico stevanin via

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