Can working in an unfamiliar environment, away from all of your everyday tools and resources, actually help you work more efficiently? I’m starting to think it does.
Instead of working late or using the Behavior VPN, lately I’ve been packing all of my working files onto a company “floater” laptop and bringing the whole computer home with me.
The laptop isn’t customized in any way for me. It doesn’t have any of my bookmarks, very few network drive shortcuts, I can’t check email except using webmail. There are no podcasts, no iTunes, no instant messaging. No ergonomic keyboard or dual monitors, none of my familiar interface widgets. When I use this laptop, it’s the workstation equivalent of, say, staying at a hotel or in a guestroom at a friend’s house: most of the essentials are in place, they’re just in unfamiliar places, or configured differently than I would have configured them.
But here’s the weird part: I’ve noticed is that I am noticably more productive when working on this bare-bones, foreign, unfamiliar machine. I am able to work on one project, even one document, for hours and hours without distraction. I get things done a lot faster. How can this be?
My theory is that the familiar environment of my normal workstation has become so clogged with distractions, both work-related and not, that it “enables” me to multi-task a little too much. By removing all of the distractions of an overly comfortable workspace, taking away all of the shortcuts, alerts, feeds, and messages, it’s easier to stick to the task at hand.
I think this is part of the reason why I like to completely wipe my hard drive and reinstall everything every six months or so.
Another, possibly disturbing, angle on this is that more and more of one’s computer “working environment” is becoming distributed, non-location specific. We are now able to have our distraction-laden work environments follow us wherever we go, via personalized news and information portal sites like MyYahoo, shared personal link repositories like del.icio.us, robust webmail apps like Gmail (now with chat!), web-based collaborative workspaces like, well, anything by 37signals, the list goes on and on.
So my big revelation has arrived a little too late. It won’t be long before I instinctively activate all of my web-based tools and resources within minutes of sitting down at any computer, transforming a healthy sanctuary into a multi-tasked world of distraction.
There’s only one ultimate answer, I guess: Unplug the Cat-5, disable the 802.11, and work off the grid.