How to set up a productive working environment

“After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you’re a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.” – Paul Graham (Great Hackers)


I don’t think you can even get started down the path of building something for the internet without the right working environment. Having the right place to work from has long lasting implications. Maybe five or 10 years before you start a business, it’s your work environment that becomes conducive toward tinkering and learning the technical skills required to get started.


Every developer knows what I’m talking about. Everyone with proficient technical skills (and design skills) has spent hours reading stack-overflow, books and Photoshop technique tutorials. You need to be able to concentrate for hours on end to be productive.


Having the right environment early on sets the stage for a faster learning and growth in the long-term. I’m referring to the stage of life where Steve Wozniak would tinker in his garage or the environment in which Bill Gates was able to get enough code under his belt (10,000 hours according to Outliers) before starting Microsoft.


It’s this early stage environment that enables the seeds of success to be planted. If you’re constantly being distracted and can’t find a peaceful working environment in your office or home, do something about it. You need a place where you can spend extended periods of time focusing on tasks without distraction while hacking away at stuff. This is how it all starts.


When I started building Lind Golf, I had an awesome working environment. I was working from home at the time. I was on my own, no distractions during the day and I was able to punch out serious amounts of work. I took it for granted at the time and assumed that that level of productivity was the norm. That was until I moved into an office.


Moving into an office slowed down productivity dramatically. Probably because I had people around me, distractions nearby and I was continually being asked questions. We had an open plan office and everyone sat quite close to one and other. The business was in an operational state at that point, so it wasn’t in start-up mode. I didn’t need to be super focused and creative all the time, as is needed when you are building a product or something from scratch so I dealt with the situation. However, the thing I learnt from that experience is how important having the right environment is when you are starting something.


I find it incredible that companies like Facebook sit their engineers in an open plan office. Engineers often escape by putting on a pair of headphones and cranking the music so that they don’t get distracted. It’s hard for anyone to get into the zone when they are surrounded by distractions.


While building BuyReply I’ve been in my own office, with no distractions whatsoever and I’ve managed to be really productive. As a result, I am able to get a lot done in a relatively short amount of time. Our developers work in the same kind of environment.


Both times I’ve started web businesses, they’ve been from relatively peaceful environments without distractions.


It’s also wise to invest in the best equipment. Dual screens for all staff, super-fast computers and internet, etc. You need this stuff. It’s a great investment if you are coding, designing and building for the web. The second most important pieces of equipment are chairs. It’s better to spend $1,000 on a chair and $50 on a desk if you have to choose. Get one of these. It will last forever and be super comfortable.


Here are two videos that illustrate how to achieve the right environment:


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