We’re working at home more and more these days. Some of us can work remotely so we roll out of bed and boot up. Others of us simply can’t get it all done between 9 and 5 so we bring it home.
Work is hard enough to do at home without enduring a physical environment that isn’t functional. If you want to be more productive in your abode, ask yourself, “Is my home office working for me?”
Last week I reorganized my “home office.” I put that in quotes because our place is small. The only true workplace (with fancy amenities like a desk and chair) has been bequeathed to my wife. For months, any work I had to do at home happened on the couch with our ottoman as a desk. I didn’t have any place to store files, no place for office supplies, and nowhere I could permanently store items. My lack of a consistent work space at home didn’t seem like a big deal until I noticed how much time I was wasting watching reruns of old sitcoms and checking social media rather than laboring. So I finally set aside a few hours and organized my workspace.
My home office is really just a bookcase in the corner of our dining room. I didn’t have much space from which to choose, but I really wanted a physical place in the house that was specifically set aside for work and productivity. Aesthetics and space hold a psychological power that, when they’re organized and functional, makes us feel like working.
Some Basic Tips for Setting Up a Home Workstation
I’m indebted to several productivity gurus like David Allen and others for the following suggestions. Their materials are a lot better, but here are some basics if you just want to dive in:
1. Set Up Your Computer Monitor Properly
I’m guessing that your work is solidly planted in the 21st century which means that most of what you do will require a computer. In addition to the basics like having a power outlet nearby and a strong Internet connection, make sure to set up your computer monitor properly.
Your monitor should be at eye-level and directly in front of you. You shouldn’t have to look up or down or to the right or left to see the screen, just straight ahead. This may mean adjusting the height of your chair in addition to changing the level of your screen. Also make sure your keyboard is in the right place. Maybe you learned the hard way (like I did!) that craning your neck for hours each day can create enormous problems for your neck and back. Costly trips to the chiropractor may be avoided if you set up your computer monitor at the right height.
2. Consider Using a Standing Desk
I used to be able to eat anything I wanted until two things happened: 1) I turned thirty years old and 2) I started working a desk job. While I can’t do anything about getting older each year, I can try to mitigate the negative effects of sitting at a desk all day. To that end, I’ve become a standing desk fan.
Sitting at a desk all day can be deadly. According to an About.com article, “If you sit for more than 23 hours a week you are 64% more likely to die from heart disease.” The same article reports that working at a standing desk burns up to one third more calories than sitting all day. And a blogger on Lifehacker.com says, “I lost 3-5 pounds in the first couple of weeks from standing alone. I’m way more active throughout the day, pacing, dancing, fidgeting.” And personally, it’s a lot easier for me to stay awake during the post-lunch lull when I’m standing and working rather than sitting.
3. Keep Everything in Arm’s Reach
If you have to go on a trek for the stapler, chances are you’re going to dog ear one corner and call it a day. If you have to hunt for file folders, those papers will probably find their way to a pile on the corner of your desk. If you make frequently used items like paper clips, calendars, pens and reference materials easy to access then you’re more likely to use them. This means a more organized workspace and more productivity.
4. Get Some Computer Speakers…if that’s your thing.
Some people need an almost completely noiseless environment to focus. Other people, like me, enjoy listening to music when they work. Complete silence actually unnerves or distracts them. If you are one of those people then consider investing in some computer speakers. You can plug the stereo jack directly into your computer and whistle, hum, or belt it out while you work.
5. Separate Your Work and Play Spaces
To the extent it’s possible in your home, try to separate your work and your play spaces. There should be a clear physical delineation between tools you use to work (e.g. desk, files, etc.) and tools you use to relax (e.g. computer, sofas, television, etc.). It’s easier for your brain to make the mental shift between productivity and leisure mode when there’s a visual distinction.
You could probably think of most of these tips given five seconds of brainstorming. I’m not trying to share any revolutionary tactics to increase your output. Instead, I hope you gain some motivation to clear off your desk, reorganize your accouterments, and set up your workstation in a way that’s pleasing to you. A satisfying workspace lessens the drudgery of the daily grind and may even give you fresh motivation and joy as you labor.