Do not, I REPEAT, do not have your office in your bedroom
This happens to me every single morning!
I get up. Do my morning routine. Have breakfast with my mother. Wish her adieu for a couple of hours, and head back to my room, where my desk is. I turn on the computer. Crack some knuckles. And get to work.
*30 minutes later*
I can’t keep my eyes open. I am yawning. Whatever I write is making no sense. After some more minutes of struggle, I give up and promise to work after lunch.
The joke’s on me because I don’t function at all after lunch. And this vicious cycle keeps going on and on every day.
One such morning, I sat back wondering what exactly is the problem.
Lack of sleep? No… sometimes, but not always.
Confusion over “what to do”? Nah, that’s not a problem. I know what I need to get done. My overflowing to-do list is proof of that.
Maybe it is the overflowing to-do list? But no matter what I do with it, it doesn’t seem to get done. I don’t have a solution for this problem yet.
Am I hungry? No, Rubina, you are not hungry. You just had breakfast.
Am I bored? No, I don’t think boredom is a issue here. I am pretty excited to see where my work-in-progress leads me.
So what is it?
“It is the environment you’re in is the problem.” The voice in my head made a comment.
Environment?… Ah, environment! Yup. That does contribute to this problem.
“Remember Atomic Habits by James Clear?” the voice said.
Oh yes! Atomic Habits! That chapter on the environment!
“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”
When I read this, I wondered what James Clear meant by it. I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Chapter six of Atomic Habits — Motivation is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More explains it all. Here’s what I learnt from it.
“Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out.”
This is my first problem — my bedroom.
When I enter my bedroom, what stands out is (duh) the bed. When I see the bed (cue), my subconscious says — Go lie down (habit).
So even though I’d make myself sit at the desk to work, my brain would continuously prompt me to go to bed. Let’s just straighten our back for a minute, it would say. And that is what I did.
Bed — 1 Work — 0
2. “One Space, One Use”
“Whenever possible, avoid mixing the context of one habit with another. When you start mixing contexts, you’ll start mixing the habits — and the easier ones will usually win out.”
This is my second problem — the multi-purpose nature of my bedroom.
Here are the roles my bedroom plays -
bedroom — for sleeping
library — for reading
study — for writing and imagining
office — for other odd jobs
personal theatre — for entertainment
classroom — for studying
gym — for exercising
No wonder none of the habits related to these activities get done because my brain is confused about what to do and when to do them.
When I want to write, my brain wants me to watch YouTube.
When I want to study, it wants me to sleep.
When I want to read, my brain wants me to write.
And when I want to work out, my brain wants me to walk out of the room.
The main culprit here is entertainment. Entertainment wins above all. The slightest inconvenience in work and, within seconds, I’ll switch to entertain myself. After all, YouTube is just a click away.
I have found two temporary solutions to this problem.
First — I shifted my entertainment to the living room TV.
Netflix, Disney+Hotstar, and other entertainment avenues are now not on my computer in my bedroom but in a completely different room. Out of sight, out of mind.
Second — For the other roles, I have given them each a time slot.
Two hours in the morning — my bedroom is my office.
Two hours in the afternoon — my bedroom is my study.
One hour in the evening — my bedroom is my gym.
Half an hour to an hour in the day where I can fit — my bedroom is my classroom.
Half an hour before bedtime — my bedroom is my library.
Bedtime — my bedroom is my bedroom.
I say temporary solutions because the moment I get a chance to change my environment according to the habits I want in my life, I will do so. So far, these two solutions are helping me make this work, so I’ll stick to it.
If we want our habits to stick — to get work done, to get that healthy body, to enjoy our leisure time — we have to give ourselves a stable environment. The environment where everything has a place and purpose, and which helps our habits stay on track. Only then can we hope to make any progress.
(There’s another trick that has double my productivity recently. But I will talk about it in a separate essay some other time. Stay tuned!)
Still, there may be some of us who have very limited space. Here’s what James Clear has to say to them -
“If your space is limited, divide your room into activity zones: a chair for reading, a desk for writing, a table for eating. You can do the same with your digital spaces. I know a writer who uses his computer only for writing, his tablet only for reading, and his phone only for social media and texting. Every habit should have a home.”
As long as we can do anything to make the good habits stick, that’s all that counts.