In the last... hmm... ten years, my work environments have never been stable and its been difficult to optimize for best results, but I've learned a little something along the way.
In high school, I used to hole up in my room after coming home from play practice (little known fact in the blog world, I did four musicals in high school...). Doing work in your bedroom is probably the most distracting thing you'll ever do. I was unlucky enough to have my own phone line, too (well, the other extension on that line was my dad's fax machine), so that didn't help. Still, I only had a few hours a night to work and so time pressure helped. I work much better under time pressure.
Also in high school, I took an architecture course. Anyone who is building anything, be it a still life water color or a web serivce, will tell you that doing creative work is the most time consuming thing you'll ever do--because you can always put more time into it. I spent every single moment of free time I had (and in senior year of high school, that was a lot) in the art room. I had picked out the best drafting table. It was tucked away in a corner behind a dividing wall and I had my back against very high windows... great light. Most of the time, the room wasn't being used, so I had dead silence. I got a lot done.
In freshmen year of college, I have to be honest... after coming out of Regis, the work seemed sort of easy, so I didn't have a lot of time pressure. I mean, I had class three times a day, no commute... gobs of free time. Again, I went with an enclosed space. In my room, I built a "cubby". I took the bookshelf from my the back of my desk and attached it to the end of my bed over in the corner of the room. The cubby was great... I could go in there and people wouldn't even know I was in the room even if the door was open. I miss the cubby. I need some walls.
Sophomore year, I was in a huge room, but with three other guys. The TV was always on, so doing any work whatsoever in my room was just a no go. So, everyday in the first semester, I spent some amount of time at a cubby-like library desk with my laptop. (That was 1998... first time I ever had broadband.) I also used to go into the lounges in the dorm to work at random hours. That was when I really started to learn how to wake up early. I would wake up at 6AM and get two solid hours of work done before most people on campus even woke up. That's one thing about the way I work... I don't fare well on a normal daytime work hour schedule. My best times are 6AM-9AM and 3PM to 8PM. If I could basically work those hours, I'd be very happy. All this forced quiet time let to my only 4.0 semester... that was an abberation, but it was fun while it lasted.
Junior year was a disaster, relatively speaking. I was an RA (stupidest thing I ever did) and so I had my own room. I should have learned from high school that I can't work productively in my own room. Lots of wasted effort there.... too many distractions. I should have went to the library.
Senior year, I had mostly finance classes, so the amount of work I actually needed to do, after interning for a corporate pension fund for four years, was pretty minimal.
When I was at GM, I learned about my afternoon boost. At about 3PM, I used to kick myself for not being as productive as I could be... partly b/c of my own lack of concentration and partly because of all the co-worker interruptions I'd get in a day. So I started pounding stuff out like a mad man for four hours or so and would leave at 7 or 8. Funny how I can't get my mind to work exactly when I want it to.
At USV, the work was really just so different. When you're networking, researching, trying things out, its hard to figure out exactly where your work ends and just your overall interest in the area begins. So, I'd sort of work a little bit 18 hours a day... continuous partial attention. If I was IMing some guy who worked at another venture firm about what verticals could benefit from aggregation, was that productive work? I think so, but it sure felt different from writing 12 page papers in high school. I don't remember networking much in high school.
So, here at Oddcast, I've been here a little over a month... I'm a couple of weeks away from finishing all the design work that will go into our consumer product, and I'll tell you, its been like herding cats to get my brain working correctly. Like, this morning, I woke up at 6AM, drove into the office to get work done, and was going very well for a few hours before this blog post. Now, why I couldn't manage that on Friday morning, I have no idea. I was going to go kayaking, but its raining again, so hopefully, I can get another spurt like that.
One thing that is very helpful.... unplug once in a while. Turn off your IM and e-mail while you're working. I'm going to do that right after I click publish...