Suraj Deshmukh

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Unchanging Contexts and Degrading Productivity

How doing everything from the same place has affected the the productivity of everything.

Suraj Deshmukh

4-Minute Read

cafe

Photo by daan evers on Unsplash.

Everything feels like work since the pandemic began. But the feeling has been more gnawing for the last couple of months. I have been working from home since 2018, but that was different! The work from home since the pandemic began is pretty adverse.

The Tragedy of Lost Contexts

Everything happens from the same place, things like work, seeing friends, entertainment, conferences, meetup, reading for fun, side project, etc. Earlier, there was a context and a place for each and everything. All of these other things have encroached on my workplace. Seeing friends in person is replaced by meeting them on Zoom. Watching movies in theater has been replaced by Netflix or Prime Video. Conferences had a special place for them in big convention centers in distant places. Now there are online platforms for organizing that too. A different company would host us for the meetup. There was a novelty in seeing new company spaces, a joy of talking tech for hours, that was fun. But now that too is only on Zoom, and it feels like yet another meeting. Cafes were for side projects and reading, but alas, that too happens in the same room, the same place.

Due to all this mashup, the context for everything is the same: the same room, the same desk, and the same screen! Aargh!

flip table

Thus everything feels like work. All the aforementioned experiences had different contexts. Hence they felt like they contributed to my overall experiencing self in varied ways. And after the pandemic, I am more or less stuck in one place doing either meeting (work or otherwise), and this month feels precisely like the past one.

The Hidden Power of Cues

A particular environment evokes a certain type of behavior out of people. Like a bar is designed so that you drink more or at least order more. A library has a vibe of reading and being quiet. A casino is flashy, and you can hardly think straight. A conference is a place to network with people and pollinate ideas leading to serendipitous discoveries and inventions.

As described by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits, any behavior or habitual action is triggered by a cue, and then you crave for it, you respond to that cue using some action, and finally, you are rewarded for that action. Almost all behaviors have this cue-craving-response-reward cycle. Hence environment plays a significant role since it is filled with various cues. If a work environment gets filled with new non-work cues, you are more distracted while doing work.

James also propounds the idea that you form a relationship with things and places. If the couch in your living room is where you spend time reading books, you will feel like reading every time you are around that couch. At the same time, if someone else spends time watching TV on their couch, then that couch will provoke them to turn on the TV. Depending on your relationship, you will behave differently.

Whenever possible, avoid mixing the context of one habit with an other. When you start mixing contexts, you’ll start mixing habits and the easier ones will usually win out. — Atomic Habits, James Clear (Chapter 6)

The Principle of Single Association

I am a big fan of single associations. A place for a particular type of action, a device for specific digital work, etc. To give you an example of digital usage, I like to use different apps even if they offer a web version (albeit there are some exceptions). I use the Kindle for reading ebooks and iPad to read anything that isn’t available on the Kindle or can’t be read on Kindle e-reader. If everything is accessed from a browser, that is a huge source of distraction, and you may feel overwhelmed.

Read more about this here.

Way forward

As things are opening up after the effects of the second wave (in India) have subsided, I now have a chance to alleviate some of those harmful effects of the mashup. Since cafes are opening up now, I will do my side projects and reading from there. Meeting friends is also possible since restaurants are open for longer hours.

Thanks to the pandemic, I could deliberate on this problem and realize how I function. Let me know what works for you!

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I am a Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft, working on various tooling around container technology like Docker, Kubernetes, etc.