5 February 2013

Is It Good For You? – Your Environment, I Mean!

Some years ago I realised that ‘how to manage the paper war’ had to be another book – the silent scream on people’s faces, the empty laugh, the embarrassed shrug of shoulders when the topic of paper and how our offices look was raised – all this cried ‘HELP’! And the lift of shoulders, the huge increase in energy, the excitement when people learn they can control the darned stuff, learn they can create a smoothly functioning environment (and more importantly, maintain it!) – all these were prompts.

I still have a copy of the hand-written note from an Auckland principal to one of his senior teachers. She’d waved it like a bright flag as she walked proudly into the second half of a Win the Paper War course with me, way back in 1994!

Dear Roz

The staff and myself are very impressed with the area to the North of the foyer, as we can now recognise it as your office and not a second hand dealers yard containing a treasure trove for bargain hunters. The organisation is awesome, and the definite spin off is in the process of organisation we found that caretaker from 1987 whom we thought had travelled overseas.

Did you know your teaching style affects how you work your paper and run your office?

I know many of you know about VAKOG, but let’s recap in case there’s a beginning teacher or anyone unfamiliar with it.

Human beings have many ways of accessing and processing information, using a variety of filters or methods. One of these is known as our representational system. We have five ways of processing information neurologically, at both internal and external levels. Three of them are very common as dominant preferences – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. The other two are very unusual as our primary processing method, but they underpin many of our actions as secondary processing tools. They are olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste).

Almost all of us have one dominant sensory preference, and most of us experience elements of the others to a lesser degree. If we’re blocked from processing our experiences in our preferred sensory style it dramatically inhibits our ability to function, hence the impact on how we manage our paperwork. Ask a visual to remember something and they’ll see a mental picture before they answer you. An auditory will mentally recap what they heard or read, and kinaesthetics will connect with their feelings to bring back the meaning and sense of the matter.

Let me explain.


This includes what we see or even the way someone looks at us. A sterile environment closes down a visual processor. They need colour and interesting pictures. Their thinking is stimulated and expanded by colour, movement, shapes, and what they can see. They learn by observation. Neither visual nor kinaesthetic processors like having to study a manual to discover new information – faced with lots of tightly written material their eyes glaze over, their brain shuts down, and most of them go ‘this is too hard’.

So, if you’re visual, make sure you’ve got your ‘Action’ items where you can see them. That doesn’t mean a messy litter. Try coloured folders, attractive upright periodicals boxes, lists in coloured pen on a whiteboard, flowers and plants in and around your desk, photos of your loved ones or artwork of your kids or whanau where your eyes rest. You might like ornaments around you (but be careful they don’t take over!).

Notice how good you feel when everything looks tidy – and work to keep it that way.


Auditory processors seek logic and understanding through what they hear and/or read, and learn best by reading or listening, and/or writing things down. When they stand in your foyer they look for something to read. When they walk into your office they look at the books on your shelves and read the titles. Sounds influence them – they’ll eavesdrop on your receptionist’s conversations without realising what they’re doing. Some auditory people read computer manuals to understand them (and the rest of the world shake their heads in amazement!). Others need to talk through a problem – they don’t know what they mean until they hear themselves say it.

This sense breaks into two sub-sets – auditory tonal and auditory digital.

Auditory tonal involves sounds and hearing – the words we hear and the way people say those words to us. Broadcasters, theatre and television people sculpt sound to weave magic.

Auditory digital is more internal. It includes reading – what we read, the words in our heads, the logic behind the words, and the way they look on the page. Many writers, journalists, and publicists would describe themselves as wordsmiths. They’re just as much craftspeople as a sculptor, a weaver or an artist. Their medium is words, sentences and paragraphs – the shape, look, sound and meaning. They need to see something written down in order to make meaning and logic of it, to remember it.

If you’re an auditory worker you’ll find other people’s noise distracting – you work best in quiet and calm (unless you’ve chosen the sounds or are making the noise!). If you’re a classroom teacher you can’t eliminate the daily noise of children, but make sure you have quiet times to do your concentrated work. Have music around you – it can also help to block out unwanted sound. You might find a headset with your choice of music a helpful signal to others that you’re in ‘concentration mode’, as well as a sound filter. Notice the times, places and people around you who help or hinder your focus and find tactful ways to create your choice of sounds and your level of quietness.

One of my clients, an outgoing and quite enthusiastic man, found his desk near the front entrance of the building was way too distracting. He was lucky enough to source another location, at the back of the office away from passers-by. He was troubled with two issues – his outgoing nature as well as his auditory style.

Kinaesthetic or Tactile

Touch is the external, and feelings the internal methods of learning for a kinaesthetic processor. A kinaesthetic will walk into your environment and immediately ‘feel’ comfortable or uncomfortable, depending on how it looks and the unspoken atmosphere. Their tactile sense enjoys the texture of items in their workspace. They often fiddle with their hair or their clothes, often without awareness of what they do. They need to doodle, or play with a stress ball or toy on their desk whilst they listen or think. Other people mistakenly assume they’re not listening because their heads are down and their pen busy. If you force them to keep their hands still their eyes may look at you … but – their minds are travelling the world. If you teach a kinaesthetic something their fingers need to be involved. If it’s a task, their body needs to discover it. They learn through experience – a handbook or demonstration leaves them cold. If they can watch others do something and practice immediately they will model their teacher with great success.

Many kinaesthetic children are regarded, quite unfairly and inaccurately, as slow. This is because the western education systems, especially in the higher grades, don’t cater for kinaesthetic learners. However, many of these people, when they can (literally) ‘get their hands into something’, become very wealthy and successful business people. They just need the chance to learn in a different way, without being rushed. Once they’ve ‘got’ something, they’re really anchored it.

In my training courses I place koosh balls (colourful rubber pom-poms) on the tables. Not everyone uses them, but one woman spoke for all the tactile learners when she said, ‘Robyn, I usually find it very difficult to sit still in a training course. But today I had no trouble.’ (She’d played with a koosh ball non-stop for four hours!).

Another of my students told of working for a man who wouldn’t let her doodle in meetings. She found it incredibly difficult to concentrate on what he was saying, and left his employment quite quickly. (Through a whole day of training she doodled non-stop, and gave an enthusiastic evaluation about how much she’d learnt).

If you’re kinaesthetic, make sure that you and your environment feel comfortable. At a gut level you’ll know what you have to do – it will certainly include a pad to doodle on, and some stress balls for when you’re on the phone or listening to someone. You may have to be quite firm with yourself about clutter – it’s easy to slide into a mess, but you’ll find it annoying as you struggle to get your hands on things quickly.

The look of your environment matters. Make it work for you and you’ll be far more efficient than if those who wallow around in a paper-cluttered imitation of a pigsty.

A caution – consider the VAKOG needs of your fellow workers

The boss of one of my client companies, a very auditory man, has a very low tolerance to extraneous ‘stuff’ in his office. Neatness and uniformity are paramount to him. This even extended to the pictures on the company walls – in the main office all he allowed were posters of company product information. The staff were not allowed personal pictures or even plants on their desks. His visual workers found it a very difficult environment in which to flourish. My advice – clutter is not OK, but appropriate visual stimulus is.

Are your days too short, workload too large and work-life balance a pipe dream?

Take a look at these Books, E-books, CDs/Teleseminars, Online Courses/Webinars and Tools. They provide practical, effective and easy to implement ways for you to free up your time, improve your productivity and reduce stress from overload.

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Robyn Pearce CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is the Time Queen. She mastered her own time challenges and now helps people around the world overcome theirs. She can show you how to transform your time challenges into high productivity and the life balance you desire.

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