Note: This is a guestpost by Claire Askew of One Night Stanzas.
The space you work in is important.
It doesn't matter if it's your living room, a six-foot-square cubicle, or a corner office-suite; the space you work in makes a massive difference to the work you're doing. It can affect the creativity and quality of your work, and it can even affect the time it takes you to do it. We've all had days where we can't string two thoughts together coherently, and can't figure out why.
Well, it's highly possible that the workspace you've carved out for yourself is a contributing factor. Check out this list and see if you can't turn your place of work into a more productive environment…
1: Tidy up.
There's an old saying – which you've doubtless seen on fridge-magnets the world over – that dull people have tidy houses. Maybe that's true, but tidy people get the last laugh here. If you're a naturally messy person, you're probably less productive than your tidy colleagues.
Think of the times you've searched frantically through a totally un-ordered pile of papers looking for a particular document. Think of the times you've needed to email something out, only to find that it's lost somewhere in the depths of your hard drive. Had you been a natural tidy-freak, you'd have found what you needed within seconds, and your task would have been completed much faster.
Tidiness doesn't just add speed. It also removes some of the small stresses that come with having a job to do. You may not realise it, but the mess all over your desk is distracting the heck out of you every time you look away from your computer screen.
Thoughts like “I should rinse out that coffee cup” or “that's where my stapler went” can totally de-rail you from the task in hand. If you have a massive pile of papers teetering on the edge of your desk, it's only a matter of time before you knock them over – and mark my words, it'll happen in the middle of a crucial phone-call, or while you're video-conferencing with a client. And of course, a messy workspace is never going to endear you to your boss or a new customer, so knuckle down and tidy up.
Block out a day in your planner and spend it sorting, restocking, filing, binning and recycling. Get your workspace in good order, and then invest five or ten minutes per day keeping it that way. I promise it's worth it.
2: Change the furniture.
Now, you may not be a believer in feng shui, but sometimes the arrangement of your workspace furniture can make a massive difference to your productivity. Maybe the sun shines onto your computer screen at certain times, making it hard for you to read. Maybe your desk chair is too high for your legs to sit comfortably under the desk. Maybe you're close to the water-cooler and always have people coming and going right next to you.
Chances are, these things have never fully registered with you, but they're potentially impacting on your work. Something as simple as adjusting the height of your chair, or having a word with your boss about shifting your desk, can make a huge difference.
Sit in your workspace and look around you. Pay attention to anything you think might be distracting. Are you facing a door? If people are coming into the office all the time, chances are you're subconsciously looking up every few moments to see who's there. Is your desk littered with snapshots? If so, your mind may not be 100% on the job.
Being next to a window overlooking the car park is problematic – seeing your colleagues going home early on a Friday afternoon is guaranteed to put you off your work for the rest of the day. Think – are you physically comfortable, even at the end of the day? If not, what's the problem – your chair, the height of your desk, an unruly keyboard?
If you find that there are issues you can't change yourself – e.g., having the water-cooler at your elbow – then voice your concerns to your boss. If you explain that you think the situation is affecting your ability to work, chances are they'll act quickly to change it.
3: Surround yourself with inspiration, not distraction.
You don't have to get rid of every surplus or scrap of decoration, however. What you really need to do is turn distraction into inspiration – to surround yourself with things that gear you up to being creative.
Everyone likes to brighten up their workspace, but having eye-catching photographs and images in front of you 24/7 is asking for trouble. Rather than lining up family photos or holiday snaps next to your computer, grab yourself a photo album and spend an evening sticking your pictures inside. Keep the album in a desk drawer, and when you're feeling burned out, take five minutes to flick through the pages. This can provide a welcome break and stops you from just staring into space when a creative block strikes.
Another thing you can do is always keep your pin-board in the present. Many people still have things hanging on the wall that have been there since they started their job.
Post-its are great things, but if you have a million stuck all over your desk and covered in scribbles, I'm guessing you're not using them to their full potential! Look around your office and remove anything that's in your line of sight that you know you won't need or look at anymore. Anything you don't need now but might need in the future, file.
Only keep the things you use right now on display. Think about how to display them. Got a heap of post-its hanging around, each reminding you of a task you need to complete? Compile them into an easy-to-read to-do' list instead.
4: Change colour.
We've all read about colour being an important factor when it comes to creating mood. And of course, you'd carefully consider any colour for a room in your house – so why not for your workspace?
Most offices like to keep colours neutral, with white, beige and grey as sure-fire favourites. Grey is not a good colour for anyone – it's boring, depressing and it's perhaps the least creative shade in the spectrum, with beige not far behind. White can be relaxing, but not very stimulating, so if your workspace has been sapped of colour, it's time to make some changes.
If you have a great boss, sit down with them and discuss the colour issue. You may feel nuts doing it, but if your boss values productivity and creative output, they should be willing to listen. Do some research on colour psychology, and find out what colours stimulate and inspire.Produce your findings and make some suggestions for changes to your space.
Look around for the blank spaces in your office and suggest putting simple, vibrant art pieces into these gaps, or put forward the possibility of painting one wall with a vibrant hue – whatever you think works in the space. If you work from home or don't think you can approach your boss, customise your corner with a colourful painting, or pin coloured paper onto your pin-board to make a brighter background. Pick up some coloured post-its and trade in your cardboard-cover notebook for something a bit more snazzy. Brighten up your space, and it may well benefit your work.
5: Beat the clock.
Watching the clock is guaranteed to kill your creativity, particularly when you feel like you're at a low ebb to start with.Â The old saying “a watched pot never boils” rings true here – the more often you glance up at the clock, the slower time will seem to go.Â So take action. Get rid of your wall-clock or desk-clock.Â
If you sit in a position where you can see the office wall-clock, or the personal clock of a co-worker, ask about getting it moved, or move yourself.Â Yes, people may think you're weird, but yet again, if you're going to be working better for it, it's worth it. Leave your watch at home, and put a screensaver on your mobile phone.
Don't let yourself even think about how many hours, minutes and seconds you have left before you can stop working. Instead, set yourself other deadlines. Look at the letter you need to write, or the pile of files you need to sort. Tell yourself “when I've written 300 words, I can take a break,” or “once I've sorted A – G, I'll go grab a coffee.”
That way, you're not constantly looking at the clock thinking “only ten more minutes, only nine and a half more minutes, only eight and a quarter more minutes,” etc.Â Instead, you're doing something productive. And chances are, you're doing it quickly and efficiently, because you know that when you're done, you can reward yourself with a little downtime!
Claire Askew blogs at One Night Stanzas, a creative writing/personal development blog for young and emerging writers. She is also editor-in-chief of Read This, a monthly arts magazine currently on its tenth issue. Claire is a semi-professional poet and her work has won four major Scottish literary awards to date, and been published in numerous literary journals in the UK and elsewhere. She works part-time as a tutor for 11 – 18 year olds, teaching English, Creative Writing and Drama. Claire currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her partner, artist and web-developer Leon Crosby.
You can also check out these articles by Claire:
– 10 Commandments: What to avoid when sending your work to magazines
– The Importance of the Cover-Letter