You’re not the same as the person sitting across from you. You have a different history, different strengths and weaknesses, a different body, a different mind, and different preferences. So why would you expect to perform the same, given the exact same starting conditions and tools to do similar types of work?
The simple answer is, you shouldn’t. We all have different environments that allow us to be our most productive and least stressed, and if we want to maximize those values, we need to work harder to customize our own working environments.
Let’s look at some examples of how individual differences can add up to mean significant changes in productivity, stress, and workplace satisfaction:
- Working hours. Are you a morning person or a night owl? The difference here isn’t imagined; there are genetic differences that determine whether you’re better suited for demanding tasks in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening.
- Learning styles. People tend to favor one learning style over others; for example, you may find it easier to interpret visual information than information communicated verbally. This plays a significant role in not only how you accept and respond to new information, but how you learn and incorporate new tools and processes in your work environment.
- Management styles. There are many different management styles, and almost all of them can be effective, given the right setting. Some people simply prefer a more direct, authoritarian boss, while others respond better to hands-off, minimalistic ones. Unfortunately, this isn’t often a variable you have control over.
- The role of control. Finally, consider the fact that research has demonstrated workers are happier and more productive when they’re given control over their own workspace. This may be partially attributable to the fact that higher levels of autonomy (a person’s independent decision-making) is a high predictor of workplace happiness, but it also shows that we all prefer more say-so in where and how we work.
What to Customize
So what steps can you take to change your work environment and cater to these strengths and preferences?
- Dashboards and online tools. Choose business dashboards that allow you a greater degree of customizability. You should be able to change the layout of the dashboard intuitively and restructure the primary tools available to you in one or two steps. Working with a product that doesn’t make sense, or one that requires you to adapt your natural working style is only going to frustrate you and make your job harder.
- Working hours. You may find this one harder to influence, but try to adjust your working hours. If you find yourself more productive in the afternoons, see if you can push for later “in” and “out” times, or request a remote work position where you can set your own schedule. Maximizing your working hours has the potential to benefit both you and your employer, so they should at least entertain the notion.
- Environmental changes. Even if you can’t convince the boss to let you work from home, you likely will have at least some power to control your environment. Think about things that might make you less stressed; would you feel better if you had a more comfortable, ergonomic chair, or if you had a picture of your loving family members at your desk? What if you had a plant by your desk, or more interesting music playing in the background? Push for changes to your workspace that could help you be a better worker; it may even inspire others to do the same.
- Interpersonal changes. It’s the toughest change on this list, but it’s worth pursuing; consider talking to your bosses, coworkers, and other business contacts to change workflows and habits that work against you. For example, if there’s a better way your boss could provide you feedback, ask for it. If you prefer a different method of communication, ask your contacts to make it the preferred channel.
Don’t forget—it’s possible that you don’t really know which working situations will work best for you, or that the situation you think will work best would actually work against you. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to experiment with different setups, provided you have the time and flexibility to do so, and use both objective and subjective metrics to determine what works best. Take snapshots of your productivity, and keep a journal to note how you feel. Are you less stressed? Are you getting more done?
It may take some time before you find the right combination, but when you do, you’ll feel like you’ve started a whole new career. You should build the job around you, rather than building yourself around the job; the more you customize, the happier you’re likely to be.