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PRODUCTIVITY

Why You Should Have 2 Workspaces in Your Office

It might sound frivolous but it could make you much more productive.
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You only have one body. Why would you need two desks or two chairs?

The answer to this question lies not in the fevered dreams of office furniture makers, but rather with one busy entrepreneur who claims to have found a way to manipulate his physical workspace to cut down on distractions, boost concentration, and be more productive.

Habit Fields

When Jack Cheng, the founder of Steepster, looks at his desk and chair, he doesn't see a mere place to work, but a space full of memories that subtly cue him to behave in certain ways.

"The desk, the computer on top of it, the chair you sit in, and the space they comprise are all repositories for memory. But these things don't just store our memories; they store our behaviors, too. The sum of these stored behaviors is an object's habit field, and merely being around it compels our bodies and minds to act in certain ways," he writes in an in-depth post on A List Apart.

Of course, your office chair didn't come out of the box emitting some magical "habit field." This web of associations develops over time as you use an object (think of how experts recommend that you don't use your bed for nearly anything besides sleep so that your body learns to associate the space with rest and begins to unwind as soon as you lie down).

The same goes for your work setup or your sofa. "When we sit down at the desk in our office to work, we shape its habit field into a productive one. When we sit down in a lounge chair to watch our favorite TV program, we nudge the chair's habit field toward relaxation and consumption. The more we repeat the same activity around an object, the stronger its habit field gets," Cheng says.

Putting This Insight to Use

All of which is a nifty and unusual way to think about your furniture, but does this concept of habit fields have practical applications? Cheng thinks so. He notes that habit fields can work for or against your productivity. For instance, if every time you sit down at your desk, you immediately start messing around on social media, playing games, and otherwise failing to concentrate, "even if you have the most powerful processor, work-ready desk, and posture-supporting task chair, these items will absorb your behaviors and, over time, their habit fields will shift in an unproductive direction," Cheng insists.

Your desk, in other words, can become associated with scattershot attention rather than deep concentration over time. The solution? Two desks (or chairs).

"In my apartment I have a comfortable chair reserved for email, checking status updates, and leisurely surfing the Web. I call it my 'distraction chair.' I try to reserve my work desk for actual work--writing, designing, and coding--and when I feel the inclination to read Twitter or check e-mail, I move to the lounge chair," Cheng reports.

Is getting up to switch chairs a pain? Yup, he says, but that's the point: "As long as you adhere to the rules you've created for yourself, over time you'll find that the strength of the habit fields keep you in place--the act of getting up, walking over, and getting situated in the chair becomes just tedious enough to keep you at the desk, leading to a prolonged work period." Meanwhile, the chair will presumably take on a relaxing air that will help your brain unwind when you need a break.

Would you be willing to give Cheng's idea a try?

IMAGE: thenakedsnail/Getty
Last updated: Aug 22, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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