How your environment affects productivity and learning
Last year’s Magnus Academy attendees got a special treat when they came to visit us in Raleigh, NC. They received an all-access pass to Magnus HQ! From our bright orange walls to the holiday lights that hung around until late July, our clients saw our office in all of its glory – and all of its distractions.
They saw the gong that our Client Services team rings each time we implement a new school, and they listened to pop music blaring from behind our Sales Team’s desks. Sometimes I wonder how the Magnus team gets so much work done with an abundance of distractions – but then I remember that most of us grew up in environments where multitasking was a revered skill.
This type of a distracting environment isn’t for everyone, though. I know plenty of people who need silence in order to focus, and who enjoy being isolated while studying or working. Which brings us to the question we’re about to explore: How does a person’s environment affect their ability to learn and work?
Music and background noise
Let’s start with the first distraction people notice: sound.
I’ll be the first to admit that I listen to music when I work. It helps me stay calm, and it also helps fill an eerily quiet room. Not everyone feels as fondly about music as I do, though. And more importantly, some types of music are more distracting depending on your musical taste.
In a classroom, music is certain to cause commotion, as well as arguments about which Taylor Swift song should be played next. But when students are studying or you’re catching up on work, having a little bit of soothing noise can block out other distractions and boost productivity.
Technology as a distraction
When’s the last time you were determined to respond to your email backlog, but then found yourself scrolling through pictures of friends’ vacations on Facebook? I’ll answer that one: This morning.
Technology can be wonderful when we need it, but it’s also one of the biggest distractions facing students and adults, alike. Schools can try to control technology usage by using strict cell phone policies, but the fact remains that students and teens will usually find a way to use Facebook and Snapchat when they should otherwise be learning or studying.
To combat distracting technologies, try a combination of these tips:
- Schedule your day and include time for mental breaks (scheduling actually helps you save time).
- Silence cell phone notifications.
- Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.
- Don’t beat yourself up! Distractions and procrastination are part of healthy living.
Too much comfort
Getting settled into a comfy chair while brushing up on American History or prepping a presentation sounds like a good way to stay comfortable and focused, right? Well, maybe not. The more comfortable you get, the more tempted your body will be to slip into an unplanned nap or wander into an elaborate daydream.
Keep tabs on how different settings (classrooms, libraries, your couch at home) make you feel when working or studying. Then, just like Little Red Riding Hood, choose the environment that’s “just right.” Not too comfortable that you’ll forget what you’re doing, but not too stiff so that you’re distracted by the discomfort.
Temperature and lighting
I know I’m not the only one who starts to feel groggy after sitting inside for eight hours, especially with limited natural light. After all, it’s scientifically proven that natural daylight keeps us more alert compared to artificial light. As a solution to lack of natural light, try scheduling a daily walk into your schedule. For students, regular recess and walking outside between classes could be the ticket to a more productive day at school.
It’s a two-way street
Each of the environmental variables we’ve talked about play an important role in keeping us on track when we’re learning and working. But it’s important to remember that distractions and environments aren’t a one-way street. Instead of environments soley affecting us, we actually interact with our environments. That’s why schools are investing in the structure of their learning environments to allow students to more easily interact with each other and with their surroundings.
“Researchers and designers of learning environments often debate whether the learner should adapt to the learning environment or whether the learning environment should adapt to them. Arguably this is the wrong question. A better question is: how does the environment shape the learner and, in turn, how does the learner influence the learning environment?” – Peter Lippman, Architect
So now, instead of setting up a classroom with each desk facing the teacher, some schools opt for more open group stations that promote fluidity of learning. As someone who has studied, worked, and attended school in both types of environments, it’s a welcome change to see more schools and workplaces embracing interactivity with their surroundings.