Chicago Company Habits at Work Hacks Your Productivity

Trudging up three flights of stairs to the Chicago-based Habits at Work, I was immediately greeted by a placard detailing the number of calories burned on the way up. Through the front door, an open center atrium features a towering wall of hearty plants meant to foster creativity by replicating the feeling of being in nature.

Everything at Habits at Work is deliberate. Because the company bills itself as having the secret sauce to give businesses a competitive advantage in performance and productivity, it has to be.

I met with Andrew Sykes, Chief Habit Starter and Founder of Habits at Work as well as its Behavioral Research Applied Technology Laboratory, known lovingly as BRAT Lab.

Andrew let me choose the area of the office in which I’d prefer to chat – and the immediate thought that crossed my mind was, “This is a test.” Andrew, a student of habits and the contexts that drive those repeated behaviors, understands the choices that build success and those that lead to spinning wheels.

Andrew interjected that he’d like to stand. “Me too. I’d love to stand,” I said, knowing that I had my eyes on the coziest spot on the couch in the atrium.

As we settled in at the counter to talk, Andrew explained that habits are much more complicated than a single human repeating sets of behaviors. Through BRAT Lab’s research, Habits at Work found there are four contexts that matter to a person and determine the habits that make up their days.

Spaces: This is your physical space – everything from furniture to colors to space.

Systems: These are the rules, laws, policies and procedures that tell you how you should and should not behave. At work, that includes unwritten rules about “the way that things are done here,” which are distinct from HR policy.

Social: This is made up of the people around you, which includes real people and the perceptions of made up people – like the people in the sentence, “what will people think?”

Self: These are the stories that you have about the world and the way that you interpret information. This is also your concept of who you are.

Those four contexts, Andrew said, are never independent of the temptation and barriers that surround a person and try to pull them off-track from adopting a habit. In fact, Habits at Work has a formula for how barriers and contexts play into each other.

A person will be successful at adopting a habit, Andrew said, “provided motivation plus capability is greater than barriers and temptation, provided that that formula holds true in all four contexts.”

At aSweatLife, we often use the phrase, “in life and in fitness” to describe the way seemingly disparate areas of your life bleed into one another. Drive and determination shine the brightest, but according to Andrew and Brat Lab’s research, a person who seems to have it all together – from career to fitness – has four contexts that support success.

For example, someone who successfully adopted a fitness habit may have contexts that look like this:

Spaces: There is a gym nearby this person’s home or office.

Systems: When this person leaves at lunch to work out, their boss is supportive of that decision  – maybe even high-fives them on the way out the door.

Social: Their friends are supportive of their fitness addiction or they’ve found community that’s supportive at their gym.

Self: They believe that they are deserving of time at the gym and that they are capable of meeting their health goals.

And the companies that understand that everything works together – health, happiness and security – are able to tap into a new level of productivity that their competitors won’t understand.

“We think that the companies that invest in health to drive performance, customer delight and growth create this empowering context which is, ‘we’re doing this to win the game of business and ultimately win the game of performance,’” he said.


If your employer isn’t already building productivity into the fiber of all four contexts, you can start to look at the habits you want to cultivate with them in mind.

 Context  Support within the context  Temptation/Barrier

Try mapping out one of these productivity habits (that also can lead to greater health) next week:

  • Getting up earlier
  • Meditating before work
  • Taking a break from email each day to be more productive
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About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.