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Tap Into the 5 Senses to Supercharge Your Work Productivity Cognitive triggers help you achieve greater focus and efficiency.

By Aytekin Tank Edited by Jessica Thomas

Key Takeaways

  • Sensory cues can shape your work habits.
  • Here's how to take an audit of your environment.
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Lush turquoise waves swaying back and forth…

The salty scent of the ocean…

Gritty sand and water between your toes…

Sweet piña colada on your tongue…

Our five senses ground us in the present. The right cues can transport us. Suddenly, we're no longer as stressed by looming deadlines or annoyed by distracting colleagues — we're immersed in the moment.

There's a reason why many people dream of working from a tropical island rather than at some dark, cluttered office desk. Taste, touch, sound, sight and smell — when in harmony, all of these are essential for creating a favorable environment that allows you to be more productive.

While researching my book, Automate Your Busywork, I discovered that our surroundings — at work or home — have a large impact on our attention and our ability to complete tasks.

Tapping into sensory cues is a potent way to refresh our minds and bodies. I'd like to share my findings on how specific sensory triggers can help you focus and save your brain for the big stuff.

Related: Want to Be More Productive at Work? You Need Better Hobbies.

How sensory cues can shape your work habits

"If you're sometimes frustrated about how little you accomplish during your work day, you're not alone," writes author Alice Boyles for Harvard Business Review. She notes that it's common to feel like you've been busy but haven't done anything important.

"Of course, life isn't about being a productivity robot in which every second is optimized," Boyles adds. "But most of us do want to feel well-organized and efficient in pursuing key goals and solving critical problems."

My goal in writing Automate Your Busywork was to help readers manage their time better and focus on what matters. And to do this, it's vital to understand the ways that cognitive triggers can help shape the way you work. For example, they allow you to do more "deep work"—where you're able to concentrate deeply on a difficult task for a prolonged period of time.

The right sensory cues can also help you eliminate perpetual distractions like chronic multitasking and constantly checking your inbox every few minutes.

"Small time and energy leaks can have a bigger negative impact than people perceive," writes Boyles. "Many of these instances can disrupt your flow, reinforce a negative sense of identity, and generally sap your energy."

Related: 3 Mundane Tasks You Should Automate to Save Your Brain for the Big Stuff

Take an audit of your environment

Different environments help us improve our focus and productivity, so it's important to shape our surroundings to suit our preferences. Owner of Indigo Organizing and certified KonMari consultant Amanda Jefferson argues that we need to declutter our minds at work so we can stay focused on the most pressing tasks at hand.

"Having a great workflow system leads to a clearer space," she adds. "That's because clearing out mental and physical clutter opens up enormous space and clarity."

Below are a few things to consider when auditing your environment.


Nothing sparks creativity quite like a clean workspace with bare counters and tidied shelves. At least, that's the kind of atmosphere that proved essential for me when writing my book. On the other hand, I have colleagues who are more comforted by an environment full of piles and collections (picture a small tower of books on the floor).

Related: Albert Einstein's Messy Desk Highlights The Surprising Link Between Clutter And Intelligence

That's why I urge people to pay attention to their unique preferences and what's uplifting to them. Ask yourself what contributes most to feelings of inner calm, focus and energy—and start from there.


Our brains are especially wired to be turned off by unpleasant noise. But keep in mind that different sound environments work for different people. Although energetic music might help boost your mood and performance, others might prefer the constant hum of a coffee shop or remain in total silence.

Once you know what you like, you can hack your senses by using a white noise machine to create a more consistent sound environment or use noise-canceling headphones to achieve a state of quiet.

What matters most is that you learn to identify and eliminate distracting sounds — and learn what works best for you.


My morning coffee routine offers me an ample dose of energy and refreshment. Not just because of the caffeine injection (which admittedly helps), but because my sense of smell, sight and taste are all indulged.

Certain foods can enhance our creativity. One recent study, for instance, found that the sensory experience of sweetness increases our performance on tasks that require cognitive flexibility. In other words, that sweet smoothie in the afternoon can be just the boost you need to keep your productivity in high gear.


There are myriad ways to invoke your sense of touch.

During one of our holiday parties, a colleague gifted me a fidget spinner that I've come to love. Another friend swears by weighted blankets when working on her book project. They're not just soothing — tangible objects can help us move through distress.

Picking up an item and noticing its texture in your hands can provide a quick sensory trigger. Even something as simple as keeping a stress ball at hand can engage your senses while working.


Perhaps there's nothing as relaxing or as off-putting as the smells that surround us. Bad smells like a smelly fridge or strong-scented cleaning products can drain our energy; while fragrant aromas provide us with sensory relief.

This has been especially true for me.

My wife gifted me a gardenia-scented candle that I've enjoyed using in my daily writing practice. I've used it when writing my book and also during my morning pages ritual. Not only does it boost my creativity, but it also helps prepare my mood for the day ahead.

Although I understand the allure of retreating to a tropical island, we can all take steps toward feeling more productive in the here and now. Though we all experience different sensory worlds, understanding our preferences — and incorporating these into our work lives — can be a powerful influence on how we experience our environment.

Related: Want to Break Bad Habits and Supercharge Your Business? Use This Technique.

Aytekin Tank

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur; Founder and CEO, Jotform

Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform and the author of Automate Your Busywork. Tank is a renowned industry leader on topics such as entrepreneurship, technology, bootstrapping and productivity. He has nearly two decades of experience leading a global workforce.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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