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How Tools and Environment Make Work into Play, Part II: Letting Your Environment Help You

Strategies and goals


On Monday, I talked about how especially well-thought-out tools can make work more enjoyable and productive. Today I’ll be moving on to the topic of work environments and how subtle differences in your surroundings can attract you to your work and help you work better. I won’t go into great detail with each item: I think you’ll get enough of the idea to be able to apply it to your own workspace from just visiting each piece of the puzzle.

The essential question is this: what could you do to the space where you work that would

  • make you happier or remind you of things that make you happy
  • make it easier to concentrate
  • put things more easily to hand or more conveniently out of the way
  • attract you to your work
  • remind you of why you do the work you do, or
  • put you in a good mood or frame of mind to focus?

In answer, here are eight elements you can look at improving to make your work environment work harder for you.

Light: Is there enough of it? Is it prevented from glaring in your eyes and reflecting off screens? Is there a way you could get more natural light, or a lamp with a quality of light that is more comfortable for you?

Space: Does your workspace feel open and uncrowded? Can you easily move in it without bumping into things? Can you see and get to things without being obstructed?

Music: If music helps you work, do you know what kinds of music fit your working habits the best? Have you experimented with different kinds? Do you have a convenient way to play music? If you don’t have a library of music available to you where you work (or even if you do), I highly recommend Pandora, a free sort of jukebox where you steer the music selections by naming artists and songs you like. In case your musical tastes turn out to be anything like mine (which are a little unusual sometimes, I admit), you can hear my Pandora stations at .

Comfort and ergonomics: Of course it’s more expensive and takes more trouble to get a good office chair or a drawing table that you can set to exactly the right height, but if you spend long hours in a particular workspace, problems like back pain or a crick in your neck can tend to make your work unenjoyable or cut your work sessions short, so some extra effort and expense might be worth it in the long run.

Neatness and organization: Your workspace only has to be neat and organized enough that you can easily get to everything you need to use, nothing’s in your way, and you’re happy. For me, having a place for everything and everything in its place is an ongoing process, but one that makes me noticeably happier to sit down to work whenever I make progress at it; for you, a little more disorder might be joyful–or like many people, you might find a little time spent on organization goes a long way in lifting your spirits.

Beauty and personality: Photographs, objects that make you feel at home, artwork that puts you in a good mood, or anything that makes your workspace more comfortable or beautiful is likely to make you more eager to get things done, as long as it isn’t distracting.

Refuge: Both in commercial buildings and home work areas, it might be an option to have privacy and peace or it might not, depending on the way things are arranged.

If you have some say about your workspace, you might consider whether you would be happier and more productive in a more peaceful setting than you have now–or in a setting where you get to interact with others more. If you would prefer peace but need to work in the midst of chaos, remember that it is possible to adapt. I used to be nearly unable to write in a room where I could hear anyone talking; after a couple of years of writing, by necessity, in a room that was also a playroom for two young children, I grew nearly immune to distraction. One large writing project was finished in the midst of a bunch of writers having a half-convention, half-party–and it was a lot of fun to work in that context. We’re adaptable creatures.

The directions of things: Though I was skeptical at first, I learned some valuable techniques from a feng shui expert who came in to talk to a group of us at a former job. Not all of the teachings of feng shui necessarily struck me as constructive for offices (though admittedly, I know only a little about it), but the ones I like are:

  • Avoid having things (corners of tables, pens, etc.) pointing at you while you work, as it can set you on edge.
  • Try to work in a position where you can easily see the door. This prevents having to wonder who might be behind you.
  • Arrange your workspace so that things meet in curves or open angles rather than corners. For instance, turn one piece of furniture 45 degrees where it meets another to create a more harmonious line.
  • Add plants to your workspace; some easy ones to maintain that are tolerant of offices include ficus and jade plant

I’d be interested to hear your suggestions on creating more inviting and productive work spaces. What do you do to make your work environment work better for you?

Photo by my friend, Diana Rowland, of her Writing Lair. Diana is the author of Mark of the Demon, which just came out in June from Bantam Dell

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Robin Dickinson  •  Sep 25, 2009 @6:54 am

    Hi Luc, I’m really enjoying this series.

    As someone who is obsessed about juicing the utmost productivity from each minute, I am more productive in a highly organized work environment.

    The key thing for me is tidiness and storage systems. It certainly removes the friction from work processes by having things where I can find them without having to hunt around. Everything I need to produce results is within arms reach.

    Aesthetics plays a lesser role for me. I’ve had industrial drills working across the street for months and maintained focus and output. My work is exciting and highly motivating and I get into the zone very easily.

    Best, Robin

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