Mattress companies like to sell the importance of a good night’s sleep by reasoning that you spend a good one-third of your life sleeping. And it’s true. But what about that other third of your weekday life—the time you spend at the office? Is it possible that even small changes to your workspace can add up to major boosts in productivity—and decreases in stress—over time?
As Natalie Clarkson noted for Virgin.com, simple changes like personalizing your workspace have a demonstrated effect on work-related stress. Think of your command center as the mattress of your working life: the results are worth the investment. Here are some basic steps for de-cluttering that stressful workspace into a personalized patch of productivity that leaves you feeling empowered:
Step One: De-Hoard
The first step isn’t to add anything—not a scented candle, not an air purifier, not a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
Instead, this step is all about what you don’t need.
Author Stephanie Winston of “The Organized Executive” points out that a manager can lose an hour per day simply to “disorder.” Mess, clutter, excessive distractions—these are all enemies of a productive workspace that need to be eliminated. Immediately.
The simplest way to get started is scorched-earth: bring out a garbage bag and throw away everything you don’t need. Chances are, however, you’re still going to need a few of those papers and documents for later. But since we have yet to arrive at organization tips, keep things simple. Make a yes or no decision: keep something or throw it away.
If you need help making individual decisions, try to keep the KonMari method in mind. Do you need the item in your hand? Does it bring you joy, decrease stress, or make you more productive? If you can’t answer yes to any of those questions, you might want to think about tossing it.
Step Two: Get Comfortable
As noted by MarketWatch, a recent study found that in schools lacking air conditioning, every degree in Fahrenheit correlated to a 1% decrease in learning.
It only makes sense. Who wouldn’t want to study or come to work in a comfortable place, removing all physical distractions so the mind is free to focus? These are the little differences in our lives we may not be aware of, but which add up to major changes over the long term. Here are a few suggestions for making your workspace a more comfortable place:
- Your chair. Do you find yourself constantly adjusting its height and position? It may be time to upgrade. Think of your chair as the mattress of your working life: it’s where you may spend up to a third of your weekday, and it’s worth the investment.
- Lighting. How is the lighting in your workspace? Do you need something a little warmer or a little brighter?
- Keyboard and mouse. Consider getting a mouse pad with a hand rest if you spend a lot of time at the desk. You can also acquire keyboard rests to reduce the strain on your hands as you type.
- Posture. Do you find the level of your monitor comfortable, or are you constantly hunched over in your chair? An adjustable monitor stand is a simple investment, but it can have long-term implications on the way you feel.
Step Three: Organize
The art of organization can be tricky. On one hand, you want to reduce clutter. On the other hand, you want to add things to your workspace that make it easier to sort through your work documents and devices—without adding to your clutter.
The goal here is not to take a random walk down Office Depot and purchase anything that looks appealing. It’s to come up with specific solutions to the organizational problems you face at your workspace. Here’s what you should do:
- Jot down a list of your biggest problems. What about your workspace bothers you the most physically or mentally? The height of your monitor? How many devices you have to deal with? Finding a free USB port?
- Seek out the solutions. In just about every case, there will be a device or app you can use that will take care of these problems for you. Using too many devices? Use Synergy to combine them. No free USB ports? Invest in an inexpensive USB port hub.
- Create a way to sort and save your old clutter. If you’re anything like Albert Einstein, you don’t have to wait very long before your desk fills with papers and random clutter. The key to avoiding this for the future is to create a system for sorting. Whether that’s a simple file system or labeling one of your desk drawers “misc,” you’ll likely find that putting everything in its proper place reduces mental strain. Here’s a good rule of thumb: when in doubt, let the labels do the thinking. You’re here to work.
Step Four: Personalize
Enough with the work stuff. Let’s talk about you. Specifically, let’s talk about what you can do to make your new high-powered workspace more engaging and welcoming.
The key here is personalization. Put up pictures of people you love. Tack up that inspiring quote that you keep forgetting to bookmark. Slap on a Hodor bobblehead. There’s really no limit here, as long as you stay within the bounds of H.R.: feel free to customize until you feel like this space is yours.
If you really want to be nerdy about it, you can invest in a miniature bulletin board at your local supply store and segment all your personal items there—that way, if you ever need to switch spaces, you won’t have much hassle. But the rule here is to make your workspace somewhere where you like working.
Your workspace shouldn’t feel like a trip to the salt mines. If you want to reduce stress and increase your production, you’ll find the ways to eliminate clutter, organize files, and get a sense of joy and comfort where you sit. Think of your workspace as your own personal garden—and take the time to maintain it every once in a while.