Struggling to get things done? Here’s why novelty could be the solution you’re looking for.
I was scrolling through TikTok the other day when I came across a video that really piqued my interest. I’m not talking about the kind of interest where you like the video and move on to something else after, either. I’m talking about the kind of ‘I need to google this and show all my friends’ interest that only comes around every once in a while.
The video in question, by Kristen at @acentredlife, opens with a shot of Kristen grabbing a notebook and a rubber duck before she begins speaking to the camera.
“If there’s something hard you’ve gotta do and your brain doesn’t want to do it, do it in the tub,” she says, as the camera zooms out to reveal her sat in a suit in a bathtub.
“The sense of novelty can trigger a flow state,” she continues. “Scary email? Send it in the tub. Need ideas? Brainstorm in the tub. Complex task? Break it down into steps then do it in the tub.”
Now, of course, there’s a healthy dose of comedy involved in the video – including Kristen’s instruction to keep electronics out of the tub (crucial, I must add). But the idea that doing things in a new or strange environment can help you overcome a mental block was fascinating to me.
The thoughts shared by viewers in the comments only stimulated my curiosity further. “Is this why I can only make important phone calls in random parking lots?” added one. While another wrote: “The bus, on my phone, is peak productivity for sending scary emails and scheduling meetings etc”
While it’s not something you’d typically think about, chances are you’ve experienced the benefits of novelty at some point or another – especially if you’re someone with ADHD or autism who deals with executive dysfunction.
There really is something about being in a new environment, or doing things in a new way, which makes once impossible-feeling tasks feel a lot more achievable. But why is this?
According to the productivity coach Juliet Landau-Pope, the answer lies in the associations most of us have with specific places and routines.
“If you’re not getting things done at your desk, you start to associate the place with frustration and even failure,” she explains.
“Relocating to a different space – taking your laptop to a new coffee shop, writing an essay in the launderette or even reading a book in the bath – breaks the pattern and represents a fresh start. It can also make the experience feel more fun and lift your mood, which reduces stress and enhances motivation.”
In this way, while the idea of making a difficult or scary phone call at our desk may feel intimidating, taking that phone call outside – where we don’t have any negative associations clouding our judgment – can make things feel a lot easier.
The only problem, Landau-Pope adds, is when your novel place or thing becomes a part of your routine. For this reason, you’ll want to save this technique for times when you’re feeling particularly stuck – or play around with the ways you use this technique so things don’t start to feel so predictable.
Overall, however, it seems like doing things in a new or interesting way can make a big difference to our ability to get them done. So next time you’re finding it difficult to work through your to-do list, just remember – it’s time to mix things up.
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