We’re onto the second video lesson in this second module ‘Space’. In this lesson we’re going to start with getting your physical work space in order, with the goal of setting you up for a purposefully productive day and we’re going to talk about topics like work space needs, layout and design, energy flow, light, scent, ventilation, decoration, cleaning up and decluttering, storage and organization.
I think many people underestimate the important role space has in being productive. Have you ever walked into a room that you instantly felt was ‘off’? It could be the people, the space, the layout of the room, the temperature in the room, the busyness, the acoustics… most of the time it’s difficult to identify what exactly causes this feeling. Whatever it is, I think everyone of us has experienced stepping into a space that made you feel uncomfortable right away.
A space can also make you feel sick. That was the case in one of my previous work places. On some days, about an hour after my lunch break, I would start to feel sluggish. I’d also start to yawn and get a headache. Sometimes my eyes would feel dry and get irritated. At first it was annoying and uncomfortable, but over the course of a few months this started to occur every day. When I came home it took an entire evening to recuperate and there came a time when I even needed the weekend to get my energy back and feel better. I think it had something to do with bad ventilation and a low oxygen level in the building, but whatever it was I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Sick building syndrome is a real thing yo, and it’s something you don’t want in your living or work space at home.
So, here’s what we’re going to be working on in this lesson: we’re going to be talking about what makes a good physical space (that is both healthy and comfortable) for you to work and be as productive as possible in and, then, you’re going to put that into action through the exercises in the worksheet that will help you create an optimal working space for yourself.
You’ll see that creating physical space for your work and life will also put you into the right mental space for the ideas to start flowing. A tailored space will allow your mind to hone in on what needs to be done without getting distracted by all the other pretty things. We’ll talk about this more in the next lesson in this module.
With all of that being said, as important as a physical space can be to your work or creative process, it doesn’t require a shopping spree to fill your room with trendy furniture and the best organizational systems. All of this doesn’t have to break the bank. Work with what you have. Most likely, a few tweaks here and there and moving one or two pieces of furniture will be all you need to create the best possible physical space for your work and life.
Starting off on the right foot is important.
The first step is to identify your workspace needs. What work will you be doing in your workspace? Will you be using this space for one main purpose? Or do you have lots of different types of work you want to be able to do in that one space?
Identify what work stations you need to allow for you to do your best work and for your creativity to flow easily, for instance: an easel, a ‘wet’ desk for things like painting and sculpting, a ‘dry’ desk or table for things like for drawing or brainstorming ideas, a separate or designated place for your computer/laptop/printer and other electronics, a drafting board, a visioning or mood board, a board for long term planning, a yoga mat or meditation cushion, a comfortable chair or couch. Write all of this down in the worksheet.
Next, create a list of all the types of work you do or want to get done, like researching, administrative work, cleaning, organizing, self-care, writing, reading, social media, business or house maintenance and your creative work of choice and all of its different processes. You’ll find that they naturally begin to fall into the different work station categories.
Then think about how these work stations could fit in the space you have available. They could all be in one room, or they could be in different places, depending on the size of the space you have available. Perhaps you want to separate the different types of work that you do: a designated space for work that is separated from your living space or separate areas for creativity and business, for so-called left-brain and right-brain activities. Work through all of this in the worksheet that accompanies this lesson.
The second step in this process is to figure out the best possible design and layout for your space. Let’s bring a little feng shui into the mix here, because this step is as much about the layout itself as the energy of your work space. Remember earlier, when we talked about a room feeling ‘off’ and that it’s difficult to figure out why? Going through this step will help you set up your space in such a way that this doesn’t happen.
Ideally, all of your work stations are in what is called a commanding position. This means you face or can easily see the main entrance to your space. If your back faces the entrance or you cannot see the entrance from where you sit, your mind will subconsciously yet constantly check what’s behind you. And that makes it hard to be productive or get into the zone. If possible, make sure that your work stations aren’t in the direct path of the doorway, because this disrupts the flow of energy in the room. When this isn’t possible, you can place a mirror to help you see the doorway and, if your workstations is in the direct path of the doorway, put something like a plant next to it to help deflect some of that energy.
I just want to say that, by no means, am I a feng shui expert. If you want to dig into this topic even further I highly encourage you to pick up a ‘Feng Shui for Beginners’ book in your library or bookstore. These are just some very basic tips to create a physical space for your work and life that doesn’t only look good but also feels good.
Another thing to consider here is light. Light obviously plays a big role in where you want your work stations to be. Seek out natural light but try to avoid direct sun light. Think about sitting perpendicular to a window rather than directly under it, but watch out for monitor glare. Don’t forget to think about lighting: some desk lamps and spots that light both your work stations and the dark nooks and crannies of your work space.
Something you might not think about but is hugely important for creating the right atmosphere in your space is scent. Lighting a scented candle, burning incense, or diffusing essential oils can make your space cosy and inviting and totally yours. It really does help with productivity too, because you’ll start to associate that scent with your work station and you doing the work there.
The best thing you can do for the energy in your work space and your energy is to make sure that your room is properly ventilated. Keep a window open and let some fresh air in. When it gets chilly, you can wrap up in a blanket.
Next up on your list of things to consider is decoration. Some people work well in a sparsely decorated room because it poses no distractions. Other people need the cheer-me-up of their favorite color on the wall or some photo collage on a visioning board for inspiration. I think it’s really important for you to know which category you belong to. Don’t put up an entire wall of pictures and posters, if you know this will leave you distracted or overstimulated.
The point of decorating your space is to inspire you to be who you want to be (a world map of places you want to visit or a piece of art that you love) and to invoke the feelings you want to have while you create (a relaxing shade of blue, a passionate red). Paint your walls a color you absolutely adore. Also remember that the way you decorate your work space should be in line with your values and priorities. Your space is an important contributor to working towards your purpose.
One piece of advice I want to give you is to not to ‘decorate’ your desk or the wall around you with post-its with to-dos or small notes to yourself. Create one space for your to-do list or other important information, either digitally in an app (more on that in module 4), on a dry erase board, or in a notebook. What’s really helped me stay focused when I’m working is that I make sure my to-dos are not the first thing I see when I look up from my desk. When I want to remind myself of my to-dos for the day, I open my notebook, take a look, and close it again. I find that mental clutter is as much a thing and a distraction as physical clutter.
Step three in the process is to clean up and sorting through your stuff. This is the part that many people dread, but I promise you that it’s worth the one-time time investment to get your space cleaned up and organized.
I’m not going to tell you how to clean up, but I am going to tell to be ruthless when it comes to sorting through your stuff and clearing things out. If you feel bad about throwing stuff out or you feel like you need permission to ditch that thing that you haven’t touched in a year, then let me tell you… you have permission. Consider this your permission slip from me. Throw it away or donate to Goodwill if you want to.
Now let’s go a little deeper into setting up your work station, whether it’s a table or a desk, for a purposefully productive day.
Having a good desk is crucial. It needs to be functional and comfortable. If possible, pick a desk that you can adjust in terms of height, so that you can set it up in a way that’s perfectly catered to your height and proportions. Other key things to think about when picking a new desk is that it’s stable and durable. It also needs to have enough room to work on yet the desk itself shouldn’t take up too much room in your work space. And finally, it needs to look pretty too. Your desk should be be inviting and have you excited to get to work.
Keep these things in mind when you’re going to purchase a new desk. If you already have a desk that you’re happy with, ask yourself how you can optimize your desk in terms of functionality and comfort.
A good, comfortable chair is also key. You’ll hate working when you’re uncomfortable the entire time. Pick one that’s adjustable, that has the right back support, and that you can set to the correct height, both the seat and the arm-rest. If you have a simple chair, think about how you can customize and adjust it with cushions for example.
I also swear by my foot-rest, which is great. It helps me to have my feet and legs in different positions and sort of stay ‘active’ in a way. I got mine at IKEA.
A desk lamp is a must-have. Don’t go for romantic mood lighting, but make it a functional and bright desk lamp.
Storage and organization
We talked earlier about cleaning up your space and sorting through your stuff and supplies. Now we need to think about putting the remaining things away. Estimate how much space your supplies take up. Do you need a shelf for these items? Or would drawers work better? Shelfs are better for bigger items and things like books and notebooks. If you have lots of smaller supplies, like tubes paint, drawers would work better as they make the supplies easier accessible.
Most of us still have lots of, sometimes important, paper documents, bills, or contracts that need to be stored. Claim one shelf for these documents or get a filing cabinet and use separate drawers for business and personal files.
It’s important for all your remaining items to have a home, so that your work space is easy to clean and use when it’s time to work or when inspiration hits you. The items you use most should be the most easily accessible. Things you use only occasionally can go on the top shelf or bottom drawer. Ideally your desktop (or any horizontal surface) will be easy to clear off entirely after a day of work, so that you can keep a clear desk policy. Clearly label all of your storage locations so things get put back where they belong without any effort.
Keep in mind that your desk or work station is meant for exactly that: for work and not for storage. There are actually just a few things that need to be on your desk: computer or laptop, a lamp, a candle, a notebook and pen, and that’s about it. Everything else is either a distraction or it can be put away. We all use things on a daily basis that don’t need to be on show all the time, but you still want to make sure you’ve got easy access to them. Having everything close by saves times and keeps you more efficient too.
Simple organizational tools can make all the difference. Think about things like file folders, pencil holders, and drawer organizers. These things cost barely nothing, but they’re huge lifesavers. Who wants to spend 5 minutes hunting for a pen that works in your messy drawers?
Now, a word about clutter. The point about all of this cleaning up, putting things away, and labelling is to make it as easy as possible for you to keep clutter at bay. If an item doesn’t have its own home, it quickly becomes clutter. And clutter attracts more clutter. Before you know it, you’ll have to clear your work space before you can even get to work. Clutter appears easily on horizontal surfaces (like desks, table-tops, or the floor), so be mindful of that.
The thing I’ve found is that there’ll always be random things that don’t really belong anywhere, but that you still use on occasion. I’ve designated one drawer to be my junk drawer. Once that drawer is full, I’ll clean it out and throw the things away I don’t use anymore.
Hopefully I’ve given you lots of things to think about when it comes to creating an optimal physical work space. The purpose of your work space is, obviously, to work, live, and create. But your space is also where you relax, escape, ponder, explore, dream, and strategize. These tips are meant to make it easy for you to be as efficient and productive as possible. Your space is there to support you in being purposefully productive, so make sure your space is designed in a way that keeps this in mind.
If you haven’t already, use the worksheet and work through the exercises and questions.