Ever notice how we tend to do similar things in the same environments? Wonder why we’re able to focus much more intensely in libraries or in coffee shops? Or why it’s so much more difficult to accomplish that same output of work from the comfort of your recliner?
It’s because our minds have associated certain environments with specific behaviors. Designer and writer Jack Cheng has a theory it’s about what he calls, “Habit Fields.” Each object inherently comes with a habit field, which we continue to reinforce or alter.
This is why Cheng chooses to have a specific chair for procrastinating and getting distracted. He writes on A List Apart:
I do most of my work from home, and 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. Before I had an iPad, I unplugged my laptop and moved to the chair, and it worked just as well.
At first, it may seem like a nuisance to get up and move every time, but that’s exactly 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 prolonged work periods.
Likewise, the lounge chair’s habit field turns into a “leisure zone”—one that I know to stay away from if I have a deadline and need to focus. Sometimes when I realize I’ve been spending too much time in the chair, it’s easier to snap out of it: all I have to do is stand up and leave the zone.
By isolating the distraction field, Cheng is able to make it easier for himself to focus when he needs to. Similarly, if you figure out which environments you thrive in and which objects have more distracting habits associated with them, you’ll have a greater control of your output.