How to create the optimum working environment and improve your time management

4 minute read
Your workspace can boost or dampen your productivity and success while time is one of the most precious resources you have. Award-winning entrepreneur and author of Don’t Burn Out, Stand Out Bethany Ainsley offers her tips for improving both

Chaotic working environment

The design of your workspace can play a significant role in your productivity and business success. How your environment makes you feel can influence your mood, motivation, creativity and interaction with others, so it’s essential to consider how your workspace may be influencing your current performance and wellbeing. Making just a few small changes can make a significant difference:

  • Natural light: The weather can play a significant role in how we feel, so it’s unsurprising that the level of natural light in our workspace can have the same effect. Poor levels of natural light in your work environment can lead to problems such as headaches and eye strain, whereas a good level of natural light can help keep the brain alert as well as improve mood. Research has shown that carefully considered lighting can help improve productivity, so if possible, work close to a window or under a skylight. If you’re unable to do this add light where you can and get outdoors during break times.
  • Indoor plants: By bringing plants into your workspace, you can experience numerous health benefits. They oxygenate the air while removing pollutants and bacteria. Research has shown that plants also help increase humidity and moisture in the air. This can help prevent sore throats and irritated eyes as a result of dryness, particularly during the winter months when we turn on the heating. Bringing plants indoors can offer similar benefits to being out in nature, such as helping to improve blood pressure, reducing anxiety and promoting feelings of vitality, which ultimately help improve productivity.
  • Pictures and prints: Create an inspiring environment that can help you to stay motivated by adding pictures that help inspire you. This could be a picture of your favourite landscape or travel destination, past achievements or inspirational quotes. In my home office I have all of these on display while sticking to a coordinated colour theme so that my walls don’t feel too ‘busy’ or cluttered.
  • Aromatherapy: I’m a big fan of aromatherapy and all of the benefits it brings. Smell is one of our strongest senses, with the ability to influence brain activity. An uplifting smell can not only change the feeling of your surroundings, but help you to be more productive. Add your favourite candle or diffuse essential oils to start seeing the benefits. 
  • Music: Can you list a handful of songs that help boost your mood? Perhaps there’s a song that helps you to get motivated for the day ahead or a big event. Pop these in a playlist to help you feel more relaxed or productive throughout the working day, on your way into the office or on your journey home.

Time management 

Time is irreplaceable and one of the most important things we have. It’s one of the few things that can’t be bought and holds such a high value when spent doing the things we most enjoy and with the people we love. As a new mum, my time feels more precious than ever. Conscious of not wanting to waste precious time that could be spent with my baby boy, my focus each week is on my work priorities with little to no deviation. More focused than ever, staying assigned to these priorities and tackling the most essential tasks helps me to increase productivity while also allowing me the time to recharge. During my 14 years in business, I have also found these techniques to be useful:

  • Planning is key: By regularly reviewing your diary you can analyse if you’re using your time as effectively as possible. Plot both work and leisure time into your diary and make a note when work overflows into leisure time. This will help you to make a thorough analysis at the end of each week of what has worked well and what needs improvement. Remember, your leisure time is just as important as your work time. Having a detailed schedule of your week ahead based on your current priorities can help increase productivity while also reducing stress and overwhelm. Depending on what works best for you, this could be a breakdown of tasks hour by hour, or just a bullet list of tasks for the day. Once your plan is in place, stick to it as much as possible and avoid unnecessary distractions – often easier said than done - but practising this discipline will help.
  • Delegate where possible: As the founder of a business you know it inside out, what works and what doesn’t. You’ve worked hard to get to this point, building a brand and product or service that your clients value and trust. Letting go of elements of your work can feel like a challenge, but what are the potential results of not doing so? Perhaps your business growth is halted? You struggle to take downtime? Face the possibility of burnout? Recognising your strengths and weaknesses can help you to identify how a person with a differing skill set can create a stronger team for greater productivity. Successful entrepreneurs know that if you hire people that are better than you in their area of expertise and give them the work you don’t have time for or you’re unsure of, they are likely to do this much quicker than you can and even help you to learn in the process. Outsourcing and using freelance contractors could be another option to help free up your time for the things that only you can do. 
  • Find automating solutions: With the development of technology and the software as a service business model, it has never been easier to use apps and online services to automate and often streamline your business processes. From scheduling social media and generating invoices to keeping on track with a project and up to date with employee documentation, software can free up time as well as create efficiencies within the business.
  • Avoid multitasking: How often do you find yourself multitasking throughout the day? It may feel like an efficient way to save time while getting as much done as possible, but research has shown that focusing on one task at a time is better for productivity and performance. Giving yourself the time to fully focus on the task at hand – giving it the attention it deserves – can prevent careless mistakes that may need correcting later. It also saves time that would otherwise be wasted by continually turning your attention from one activity to another.
  • Take regular breaks: When you’re running low on time and feel like you have a million and one things to do then taking a break can feel counterproductive, but taking a short break to properly recharge can help increase focus once you return to your task. This improves productivity while also helping your wellbeing. A well-known technique for this is the Pomodoro technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.

I find the Pomodoro technique is a great way to stay focused and work on the current priorities for the day. Practising this technique also helps you to become more aware of the distractions around you which could be impacting on your daily level of productivity

Suggested Task: Pomodoro technique

First, set a timer for 25 minutes. During this time focus on a single task. Once the alarm goes off, take a five-minute break before starting your next task for a further 25 minutes. Repeat this process four times before taking a longer 20 to 25-minute break. If the task you’re aiming to complete is going to take a longer period of time, then break it down into smaller, manageable chunks.

Productivity is key to the success of any flourishing business. To be as productive as possible you need to set the scene. This includes setting up your office or workspace in a way that makes your work easier, is relaxing and benefits your health. Make sure there’s lots of natural light, plants dotted around the room and comfortable furniture. Manage your time as effectively as possible to help reduce stress and create a lifestyle that works for you. Finally, surround yourself with positive and supportive people, while also knowing when and how to deal with individuals having a negative effect.

Bethany Ainsley, pictured below, is a corporate wellbeing specialist, coach and entrepreneur. She is CEO of OptiMe and author of Don't Burn Out, Stand Out

Bethany Ainsley CEO of OptiMe

Published 19 April 2023
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