Creating a Shift in How and Where You Work

How often do you get asked, “How do you like to work?”

As students in school, we may have never been asked how we like to learn, but over time we most likely figured out our preferred “learning style.” My older brother skipped many of his graduate school classes, preferring to watch lectures in the quiet of his apartment, using a technology platform to fast forward the slow speaking professors so that he could digest the information twice as fast as if he were sitting in class. In college, I preferred to take my homework to the quiet basement of the biomedical library adjacent to campus; as I’ve grown older, I like the hustle bustle of local cafes stirring in the background; the noise and music blurring together helps me to get into the zone.

Over time, we figure out how we learn best through trial and error; whether it’s visual, auditory or tactile (a laFleming’s VARK model) or through concrete experience, abstract conceptualization, reflective observation or active experimentation (a la Kolb’s model based on Experiential Learning Theory); we all learn how we best learn.

But how do we learn how we best work? Or translate our preferred learning style into our preferred working style?

Often, we’re at the mercy of the organization we work for and we have to fit into a way of working that matches the people around us (which may have been a reason for choosing where we work in the first place). There usually is a choice involved and it’s important to recognize how you work best: by yourself, with a thought partner, as a part of a team? Focusing on one major project or multi-tasking? Using PowerPoint, Excel or Google Docs?  I’m not aware of a leading model to describe this phenomenon (maybe I’ve gotten too lazy to go on an extended search) but I have recently started to read David Rock’s book “Your Brain at Work” which talks about how you can effectively organize your work to maximize on your brain power. After having read only one chapter, I’m already rethinking how I organize my workdays.

Moreover, it’s not only about how you work, but also where you work that can contribute to your success; what environment do you you need to spark your thinking, or creativity, or focus? With so many collaborative and open work spaces popping up around the world, an additional question may get asked – what “add on’s” would not only help you in your work, but also more broadly contribute to your success; for instance, does your work space offer new friends? Thinking partners? Office supplies? Delicious snacks?

We focus on learning style and that can very well lead to our preferred work style; however, when I stop and think about  how and where I thrive (as opposed to deferring my coworkers’ preference and the standard work environment), I’ve been able to change the way I organize my tasks, the days/time when I work and the physical location of where I work to be able to achieve the results I want.

If you have or haven’t been able to get into the work flow, take a step back and start noticing what’s going on… and “show me what you’re working with.”

Shout out to Andy Scott (check out the latest film she edited – “A Place at the Table“), whose conversation in Denver inspired my thinking around this topic. As usual, thanks to Shelley Danner who provided feedback and Katrina Gordon for posing (unknowingly) for the blog’s photo during an afternoon creative painting session.