Productive Environment Blog
Have you ever noticed how much you seem not to notice about your everyday environment? Look around yourself right now and you’ll probably “see” many things that have become invisible to you on a daily basis because you have trained yourself not to see them.
There are those three towering stacks of articles and newsletters you intend to read as soon as you have time. Or the star-shaped stress toy someone gave you at a meeting. Then there’s that second calendar. You didn’t really need another calendar, but you liked the black ebony holder it came in, so you put that on your desk too. And then there’s that mug from your sister with the funny picture of her dog, and you always smile when you see that. And the warranty card for the cell phone you can’t remember if you still have or not. And the pen set they gave you when you won the award last year.
Somehow all this stuff seems to have arrived on the top of your desk and you can hardly see the surface of the desk any more. You just know you can barely find any flat space to work.
The choices you make for your surroundings and environment hand the world an amazing array of clues about you. “But I don’t live my life based on what other people think,” you may respond. Even so, you might occasionally be surprised at what your setting reveals—sometimes it reveals secrets you were keeping even from yourself. Here’s a story from one client who tells about discovering her own secret. After she shared this story, we had some important clues about what this woman wanted us to help her create in her work setting.
I RECOGNIZE THE SECRETS THE WHOLE WORLD KNOWS ABOUT ME
“My first year in a new community, I visited the annual House Tour. Ten of the local homes offered tours to the public as a charity fundraiser. I remember being impressed at what I saw in these lovely homes. About five years later, I got a call from the committee inviting us to show our home on the tour in the coming spring. ‘I’m flattered to be asked, but give me a day or so to think about it,’ I responded.
“I mentioned the invitation to two of my friends while I was seriously considering accepting the honor. Each of them greeted the news with one of those pauses saturated with caution. ‘Your home is wonderful, Peggy, but the house tour format is that they walk through and ogle every inch of your home,’ Alice observed. ‘One of the women last year even decorated an extra closet as a computer station, installing an Apple computer, painting the walls apple green, and applying a red and white apple-print border. Both the host houses and the people buying tickets are deeply interested in ‘themes’ and ‘looks’ and ‘vignettes.’ I’m not sure you really want to invite that level of scrutiny into your home.’
“I stepped back for a moment. I never look at my house objectively, and in a single instant, I recognized that others would not see my home the way I do. I see the three-foot wooden pig planter in the corner of the foyer not as the holder of a slightly dusty silk plant, but as a jaunty reminder of a farm vacation years ago. I see the faded family-room couch as a comfortable lounge area, scene of many great family wrestling matches, bowls of popcorn, and scrabble games. No scattering of bright throw pillows would make it look entirely fresh for objective display.
‘I don’t mean to say your home isn’t lovely,’ another friend assured me in the kindest possible voice. ‘It’s just that decorating is not your primary life focus, and you have chosen instead to focus on family, work, and friends, and to use your considerable gifts elsewhere.’
“The minute she said that, I could see that it was true. I had never before considered that my home spoke so clearly of my values and my focus, and also of the things that I don’t put too much stock in. While I am not overly concerned with how others see me, it was refreshing to get such a clear glimpse of the kind of telegram I was sending to the world around me.
“I turned down the offer to show my house, volunteered as a guide at one of the other houses, and enjoyed pointing out the Faux-painting ‘treatment’ in the kitchen to all who visited.
“Once I recognized the secret I was communicating to others, I realized it was exactly the message I would choose to send. I am more focused on energy than on elegance, more on comfort than on classical styling, and more on what-you-see-is-what-you-get functionality, rather than on formality.”
It’s time to take an honest and unflinching look at exactly how things are at this very moment, and what telegram you want to be sending to the world. While this unflinching assessment is especially valuable in a business setting, it can also provide valuable insight into what gives you peace and pleasure at home.
This does not have to be an overwhelming task. Decide on one area you want to focus on first. This might be one closet, one desk, one countertop, one wall.
Don’t be too ambitious. Avoid choosing an area larger than one room. Go to that area and assess exactly how things are now. Let the images, textures, smells, light, and sound come alive vividly in your brain. Ask yourself:
“Is this setting inspiring me and supporting my ideal life?”
“Is this the story I want the world to know about me?”
“I thought I’d be really smart and pick just one drawer in the kitchen. This is the drawer that holds all the small gadgets like bottle openers and cheese slicers. How bad could one drawer be? I was amazed at the useless stuff in there.
Not only was it taking up space and offering stray kitchen crumbs a perfect hiding place, but some of it was literally dangerous. One cheese knife and server had a curved point I could easily hook an innocent finger on while reaching for my favorite bottle opener.”
Tim offers another way to take a fresh look at your surroundings.
“About six months ago, we decided to become a ‘virtual’ company. We gave up our office space, hooked up our computers, and committed to working from home. Everything seemed fine for a while. Then I scheduled two clients to come by for a strategy session. I looked around at my den/office and at the half-bath down the hall. Suddenly, they weren’t just convenient family spaces where I could work all night in a bathrobe and leave a half-empty yogurt container on the desk. Now I noticed the drooping wallpaper trim and the magazines cascading onto the floor.
“The setting that had seemed fine when I was working there alone now seemed cluttered and confining as I looked at it with the imagined eyes of my clients. Having an occasion to see the area with new eyes was a giant step toward improving it.”