Creating a kickass workspace

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.” -Dr B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford’s Persuasive Tech Lab (1)

I am fond of the concept that a person can be your “happy place” or that happiness lies in non-tangible things, but in this sense I’m going to literally talk about a happy place to be productive: a good home workspace.

Ask yourself: Where do you go to feed your creativity? Where is the place you can write, draw, read, type, program, design and draft those unique ideas of yours? In order to produce wonderful content of any kind, you have to have a wonderful place to do it. Makes sense right? Sure, ground-breaking projects have come from garages and spare bedrooms, but it’s certainly not ideal. If you haven’t considered this notion before, it’s a great time to do so. Many people need a space out of the office to get things done. Whether you’re in school, run a business out of your home, contribute to a blog, occasionally take work home, have to manage schedules and expenses for your family…the reasons continue, and ultimately, most of us require a computer-based work station at home.

I used to solely work out of coffee shops, under the impression that work shouldn’t be done at home, because for some reason occupying a Starbucks table would make me focus better than occupying my own kitchen table. This comes with a small handful of flaws in exchange for the tabletop surface: 1) Hopefully you’re sitting next to an outlet, otherwise your laptop battery life dictates your time to work, 2) Better yet, hopefully you remembered your charger, 3) Hope you packed snacks! Otherwise your appetite will stop your progress and if you’re anything like me, my stomach starts growling far before my computer dies, 4) You have to buy coffee (or something) at the establishment, 5) If you have to go to the bathroom, you have to pack up all your stuff and get it all out again. Or, leave it out and hurry through your business and bolt back out, crossing your fingers the people in that shop are of good morals, or don’t want your outdated laptop, 6) You’re risking how comfortable the chair is, how noisy or distracting the people in the shop are that day, and if there’s even a table available. (Saturday morning? Forget about it!)

Still think a chain coffeehouse is the best option? Don’t take my word for it. In 2010 a study done in London showed that employees who were given the opportunity to make decisions about the appearance of their workspace gained a sense of empowerment, making them 32% more productive with an increased sense of teamwork and job commitment, compared to those who weren’t given that same freedom(2).

Now, that’s not to say I don’t ever work at coffee shops. I enjoy meeting new people, trying different brews and a good change of scenery now and then — but for far too long I relied on this option because working at home didn’t feel like a productive option.

Someone told me back in college to never study in bed and that’s always stuck with me. Granted, I accidentally fell asleep on the couch or other places while studying so it didn’t stop me from snoozin’, but it did assist in not blurring the lines between work and relaxation.

After an overdue period of trying to get my elbow in the right position on the couch so I could still use the mouse, I decided I needed to invest the time in a happy place to work.

In Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, habit seven is named “Sharpen the Saw.” This title comes from the analogy of a woodcutter sawing for several days straight, becoming less productive each day as the act of sawing dulls the blade over time. Periodically stopping to sharpen the saw makes the action significantly more effective.

So, by driving to coffee shops all around town, only to work for an hour or two before an obstacle got in my way, or working on the couch where I was uncomfortable, I wasn’t working as efficiently as possible. Taking time to create a great workspace took time out of my day that I could’ve spent doing other things that needed to get done. I think you see where I’m going with this. So, by stopping to intentionally create an awesome workspace, I’m going to get so much MORE done. Sharpening my saw.

Now you’re probably wondering: “What can I do to improve my workspace?” Well, you’re in luck! I’m here to offer the guidance I recently sought, undergoing the same task. Not every suggestion will apply to every home office, but I hope you’ll find something useful to takeaway.

  • The great outdoors!

I sure would love an outdoor work space, but Phoenix gets really hot. So, bring the outdoors in.Adding a plant or two to your work area has been shown to lower stress levels (2). Similarly, try and set-up shop near a window with access to natural light and a view of the beautiful landscape, if possible. If that’s not an option, slightly pricey LED lighting mimics natural light, and while it’s not completely comparable it’s significantly better than dull, yellow lighting. If your house doesn’t offer an ocean-front view, try to situate yourself close enough that it’s convenient to grab fresh air and near good ventilation.

  • Where’s the desk?

If you’re unsure what color your desk is, that’s the first sign you have a problem. How can you get anything done if your space and materials are cluttered? This brings us back to sharpening the saw; take the necessary time to organize your things to set yourself up for success going forward. Need suggestions of ways to organize your papers and pens and everything in between? I like this article from CNN and this one from WikiHow with steps to declutter your work area.

  • A comfy seat

I don’t consider myself a chair snob, or a snob of any sort really. I’ll eat, sit, drink and talk almost anywhere. But if you say you’re not happier when you’re in a seat  that’s cozy on your back and rear-end, compared to an old, wobbly bar stool, well then it’s time to get off the bar stool.. Out with OfficeMax chairs and in with chic. No offense to the office supply retailers, but you won’t feel your happiest in a chair that looks like it came from your corporate office; I scored my comfy, decorative chair on sale at a department store. Places like JC Penney, Kohl’s, Hobby Lobby and Ross have mark-downs on attractive single chairs all the time — take a look!

  • Assume the position

A continuation, really, from picking a good chair, but deserving of it’s own separate thought: make sure you’re set up in a good position. Meaning: eye-level to desktop, elbows aren’t too low, back isn’t rounded, your feet have space to tap and your knees aren’t crowded. If you’re an ergonomics nerd, or do better with diagrams, check out Mayo Clinic’s article on setting up a healthy work station as it relates to body position here.

  • Get colorful

I suppose if black is your favorite color, I’m probably not talking to you. But for most us, colors boost our mood. I found a wealth of information on the different feelings and behaviors triggered by and associated with a variety of colors. Realizing there’s some science to support that blue is calming and red is good for focus and so on, I think the take home point is that color has a physiological effect on us and should be utilized to our benefit. Without crowding the walls and creating distraction, find a good balance to incorporate pictures, colors and design into your workspace. If you’re interested in learning more about colors impact on mood, givethis article a read from The Huffington Post.

  • Set the tone, literally

If you haven’t tried working in total silence, I recommend it. It’s really a breath of fresh air to take a break from a world constantly bombarding you with sounds. Furthermore, you could listen to music prior to working to get you pumped up for the task at hand. Still not sold? Feel free to keep your tunes on while working, but consider this interesting article I found on the types of music best for getting stuff done.

  • Make it personal

Figure out the small things that bring you joy, and incorporate those in your space. I love coffee and candles; so I invest in a pretty, sensational smelling candle and grab my favorite coffee cup before even considering settling in to work at home. I also try to eliminate distractions; I bring water to my desk so I won’t have to get up to get water, because once I get up I’ll see things to clean and do, other than working, and never make it back to my laptop. Your workspace is yoursand should reflect your likes, preferences and personality with things that remind you of pleasant memories and make you happy.

I hope you find one or more of these tips applicable to your life and workspace, and that you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to cultivate a place that makes you feel good and work well.

I’ll leave you with this:

“Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right.”

– Peter Drucker