Building a Productive Environment When You are Getting nothing Done

“… When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” — Alexander den Heijer

Photograph by Natalie Young via Getty Images

We’ve all been there. Continually exerting energy over and over again in a continual loop. “No results? Try harder!” you say to yourself. Yet despite all your efforts results seem to dwindle as your stress levels rise. This is disheartening, of course — the only solution: more of the same effort. Next thing you know you are to your wits end, yet still getting little done. This thought process has a fundamental error: confusion between busyness and productivity.

Next time this happens, consider the following: perhaps the issue is the environment you are in, not your lack of effort.

Research shows that there are 5 important ingredients for the optimal environment. While the study conducted by university of Chicago was specifically observing the family context, it is reasonable to extrapolate the findings to include all conditions. Experts noticed a common thread of 5 distinct components that foster productivity, a sense of fulfillment, and order. Lets label them “The 5 Essential C’s”.


The first requirement for a healthy ecosystem is clarity of goals. This includes unambiguous goals and rules. What is expected is direct, specific, and stipulated. In this environment our energies are directed succinctly, cleanly, and with transparency. This is essential in establishing a strong foundation of stability. It also fosters an internal sense of certainty.


This “C” is most similar to the idea of mindfulness. Centering refers to an environment that expects progress in the present moment and is not preoccupied with future or past events. Symbols that usually serve as benchmarks for success — such as a high paying job or high GPA — are not the emphasized element. Instead, a focus on that which exists now and within our control is priority. Within an centered environment, one fields opportunities and challenges as they come. It frees one up from obsessing over results and allows a more process-oriented model.


The possibility of not following the rules, of breaking out of the predestined goals, is key for any environment. Coercion just doesn’t work. As long as one understands clearly the consequences of such a choice, every step taken towards the goal will be self-directed. Think about it: if I can choose to pick up a different goal, yet I decide to continue on my path I will be infused with a sense of self-determination. Choice is the antidote to being willesley flung around by external conditions. We must establish for ourselves the milieu of choice.


The fourth characteristic of the optimal environment is that it must promote commitment. In such an ecosystem, self-consciousness that would otherwise prevent full involvement for fear of failure is dissolved. In such a context, one feels safe to dedicate energies fully towards his self-directed goals. This allows passions to flourish.


Finally, one who lives with a constant challenge always has the opportunity for growth. This is an essential aspect to human flourishing! With challenges, we have the resistance that is needed to develop. Without it in our environment, things can seem boring or routine. Challenges that develop the self leave it more complex than before. In fact, virtually all virtues we find meaningful in others has to do with that person’s ability to approach, cope with, and thrive because of obstacles that impede him. Challenge and growth are so intertwined that one can hardly live without the other.

Sum it up

So next time you get caught up in a counterproductive slump remember these five essential C’s. Refer to them and make sure your environment is one that encourages productivity.

  • Clarity of vision, purpose, and goals.
  • Centering of your attention on right here, right now.
  • Choice: Feel as if you are ‘opting-in’.
  • Commitment: Make sure our environment promotes full involvement.
  • Challenge: Make sure the task at hand.