Productivity Hack: Context Zones

Ever searching for ways to streamline my efforts and up my productivity in this weirdly slow-yet-also-chaotic time in my life, I recently came across this idea of “context zones,” conceptualized by an 18-year-old whiz kid, Kunal Shandilya. (He created a successful app at 16.)

The basic idea is that having dedicated spaces for specific activities will increase your productivity.

The longer concept is rooted in the theory of environmental design. I have always had an interest in design. I thought it was just about aesthetics, but I’ve learned a bit more about how the design of things we function within or interact with impacts our lives in meaningful ways–for good and bad. (See Bruce Mau.) And I find it totally fascinating, this idea that we can design our way into better outcomes.

Life Hack: Context Zones on the self-styled life

“design sketches” by Andrew Turner on Flickr (Attribution CC BY 2.0)

Shandilya’s context zones are about harnessing the power of our surroundings to prime our brain for whatever tasks we want to do in a given time. It’s a sort of automation for our mental functioning–by using the environment as a trigger for a certain activity, it takes the pressure off of the brain, leaving us with more time and energy for the work itself.

To create these context zones, he confines specific activities to a corresponding location. I’d heard that you should save your bed for sleep and sex, which was the same advice that got Shandilya thinking about this topic. But the he went further. Sleeping, eating, reading, writing–all of these activities have a dedicated space for him. He even distinguishes between fiction and non-fiction reading! Taking it even further, he also looked into how light and sound can be used to deepen the environmental trigger. These ones are also useful because they can be portable. (For example, you can use a specific type of white noise for a specific activity when you are on the go.) Read more about Shandilya’s experiences here, or listen to the interview on CBC.

In our current house, I don’t have a dedicated desk or workspace. I tend to work at our dining table or I go out to a cafe. When I first read the interview with Shandilya, I realized that I’ve been unconsciously creating a context zone for myself: when I sit at my dining table to work, I tend to sit in a different seat than the one I use for meals. Power source locations were likely the initial reason for this, but now I definitely have a feeling about a certain spot being the “work spot.” Boom. Context zone!

But I’m at amateur level, here. I rarely listen to music or sounds when working, but the idea of using sound is intriguing. I love that you can take it with you, and that you can get quite specific. For example, when I’m working on my biggest writing project right now (the one that takes me away from writing self-styled life so much these days!), I could use a specific soundtrack. When I’m doing SEEK work, I can use a different one. What a simple tool for honing focus!

Though I can definitely dive deeper into these tools, I love just having more awareness about this phenomenon. As with so many things in life, a little bit of awareness can be a powerful force for taking more control over a situation.

In my dream home, I will have a beautiful, inspiring workspace with a clean, simple desk, maybe a mood board, and a view. But even then, having a way to get more specific about my effort within that space will be amazing. And until then, this is a really neat little way to give myself that kind of focus without the dedicated square footage.

Have you inadvertently been creating context zones in your life? Do you see this as a potentially powerful tool for yourself? Tell us about it!

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