If “productivity” were a house, what would you put at its foundation?
A clear vision?
Well-defined goals and outcomes?
Solid systems for getting things done?
All of these are worthy contenders, and all are necessary. But there’s something even more fundamental that needs to be laid down first. Without this element, you can’t even get the other foundational pieces.
The core foundational element to productivty is safety.
The Safety Scan
According to neuroscientists, your brain scans your environment for safety five times a second. This happens on an unconscious level. Below the surface of your awareness, your brain is constantly asking one question:
Is it safe here?
Your brain is scanning both your physical environment and your social environment. Although your evolved brain may realize that there’s a huge difference between the threat of a physical attack or teetering off the edge of cliff and social threats, this ancient part of your brain doing the scanning doesn’t make that distinction.
It only distinguishes between danger and safety.
When Your Brain Senses Danger
When your brain senses danger, you move into threat response mode. Your amygdala, the ancient, unevolved part of your brain, gets hijacked. This is also known as the fight-flight-freeze-faint response (the 4Fs).
In a threat situation, your body shuts down all systems other than what’s essential to keep you alive. Senses shut down except as absolutely necessary.
What this looks like in a works setting includes:
- black-or-white, all-or-nothing thinking that leaves you unable to see the nuance of a situation
- creating drama, assuming that everyone else is against you
- being more combative and controlling — “my way or the highway” thinking
- focusing on the irrelevant details and missing the big picture
- analysis paralysis and indecisiveness that keeps you stuck
- tunnel vision which creates difficulty in making connections between things
- avoiding issues
- inability to hear others’ ideas, opinions, and messages — a phenomenon one of my friends calls “fear-muffs.”
You back away from your work and become less engaged.
When Your Brain Feels Safe
When your brain feels safe, you are more open and receptive to others and to ideas. You operate at your highest potential, including:
- seeing nuance in approaches and thinking more creatively about solutions
- being more approachable to others
- appreciating the bigger picture and how you can contribute
- seeing patterns and connecting dots
- assuming positive intent of the people around you
- navigating uncertainty with greater ease
- tapping into collective wisdom
Overall, you show greater engagement and motivation. You’re creating, connecting, collaborating, and communicating with ease.
The Challenge: Negativity Bias
Here’s the big challenge: we are wired with a negativity bias.
If there’s any doubt about a situation, our brain interprets it as dangerous. It’s how we stay alive.
Times of change can be particularly turbulent, because change always feels dangerous.
And, of course, every period is a time of change, because change is the only constant.
How to Create Space for Your Best Work
If you want to create that ideal productivity scenario, you must create a safe environment for yourself and the people you work with. This goes for safety on all levels: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
Safety is the cornerstone of productivity.
Creating space for your best work — your optimal productivity, flow states, fulfilling your potential — begins with a foundation of safety.