In order to do your best work with the least effort, it helps to have your workplace arranged so it fits your personal needs and preferences. You can’t always create a perfect work environment, but adjusting as many factors as possible might make a big difference.
Of course you want your papers, supplies, and such to be uncluttered and organized, but what else might help create a productive environment?
If you spend any significant time on a computer, it’s essential to ensure you have an ergonomic set-up. If you’re in pain from a repetitive stress injury, you’re certainly not going to be productive. And harming your body is just generally a really bad idea.
Cornell University has some good ergonomic guidelines, including a summary diagram. For those who are sitting rather than standing, note that the old “sit totally upright” advice has been modified to encourage sitting at a somewhat reclined posture, with your back at approximately 110 degrees.
Getting the right set-up can be especially tricky with a laptop. You may need to use external input devices (keyboard, mouse, etc.), a laptop stand, and/or an external monitor to create an ergonomic workstation. The University of Michigan has a document about laptop ergonomics (PDF) that summarizes the problems and solutions.
While there are studies that try to define the best office temperature, an article by Rose Eveleth at Smithsonian.com concludes that there is no universally perfect working temperature. But you probably know what temperatures work well for you.
I don’t work well when it’s hot, so I’ve invested in a good fan I can bring into my home office when need be, and that solves my problem. (My home doesn’t have air conditioning.)
If you aren’t in control of the thermostat in your workplace, you may still be able to bring in a fan or a space heater, as need be. Warm clothes, a lap blanket, and fingerless gloves are all options for keeping warm. And dressing in layers if the temperature is unknown (for example, when attending meetings outside your normal workspace) is usually wise.
You may work best with music, white noise, or pure silence. Some people even work well with the background chatter of a coffee shop.
But in many shared offices, noise can be a problem. TED speaker Julian Treasure says that if you work in an open plan office, your productivity is only one-third of what it would be in a quiet room. For those who work in such offices, he recommends using headphones and playing a soothing sound such as birdsong. Bose noise cancelling headphones are expensive, but get lots of raves. Less expensive choices might work fine for you, too.
I’ve written before about the importance of well-lit spaces, and that certainly applies to the workspace. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has a number of fact sheets that explain the importance of proper lighting in the office and how to achieve it.
If you care about aesthetics — not everyone does — then making your office space more visually pleasing will make you happier, which means you’re likely to be more productive. As the Herman Miller website states, “The effect of beauty may be hard to measure, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling — or important.”
If you have a home office, you can choose wall colors that appeal to you. Other options include incorporating artwork or plants into your space. Cut flowers might also be an option, but you’ll want to make sure you aren’t triggering someone else’s allergies. Even attractive office supplies such as staplers, mouse pads, and desk organizers can make a difference.