By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC
Since I launched my own business several years ago, I went through several iterations of what it looked like to work from home. In our little Brooklyn apartment, we didn’t have space for a proper desk, so I typically worked on the couch (not recommended), or at the dining room table (only slightly better). When we moved to our lovely new home in Santa Monica, I finally had a little corner dedicated entirely to my work, and I set about creating the workspace I had been wishing for. What I found astounded me — a dedicated, healthy, and mindfully created workspace made me more productive, happier, and less stressed out during my work day! I actually looked forward to my work and settling down at my little desk. The difference was mind-boggling.
So whether you work from home like me, have a traditional out-of-home office, or hunker down at a shared co-working space, there are definitely some important steps to take to make your work, in whatever form it takes, a more enjoyable experience. After much trial and error and, of course, those failed attempts in Brooklyn, I’ve narrowed down these 5 key elements to creating a healthy, inspiring workspace aligned with how you want to feel throughout your day.
1. Get clear on how you want to feel while working.
When I set about creating my new workspace, I knew I had to clarify what feelings I was trying to elicit during my workday. As always, I turned to my core desired feelings as a roadmap (check out The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte for more on this). My CDF’s are calm, inspired, radiant, and luxurious — when I experience these feelings, at work or otherwise, I feel fulfilled, joyful, complete. How awesome would it be to feel this way throughout the workday?!
From there, I used my CDF’s to create elements of my workspace. A few personal touches, some inspirational elements (see tip #4 below), vibrant colors (see tip #5), healthy tools (see tip #3), and a complete and total lack of clutter (tip #2) helped me to create a workspace that feels totally aligned with my core desired feelings, and which drastically increases the level of fulfillment I get from my work. Gaining this clarity allows you to customize your workspace to suit your unique needs, personality, and desires, which is a beautiful thing!
Action step: Write down 3-5 ways that you’d like to feel while working. Under each feeling, jot down a few elements that you can incorporate into (or remove from!) your workspace to help elicit those feelings.
2. Eliminate distractions.
The biggest reason why my couch-working antics were such a failure was that the couch faces the TV. This meant that I always had the TV on while working… A big productivity suck. Even when I turned it off, I was facing it, and sitting in my living room, where my husband and I relax and hang out together. The energy was all wrong for being productive. When I subsequently moved to the dining room table, which naturally had no drawers or storage for my work stuff, I was surrounded by papers, notebooks, and clutter. This, too, created an environment in which it was super hard to get focused and inspired.
The biggest distractions in your workspace are clutter, non-work related items (the mail, magazines or catalogues), the TV, and anything that takes your attention away from what you’re trying to create or accomplish. Find a place to stow these items, or position your desk in such a way that they are no longer in your direct view.
Action step: Identify the biggest distractions in your space and brainstorm some ways to get them out of there. Can you stash things in a drawer? Streamline your desk accessories? Add a magazine rack, bookshelf or organizational system to your workspace? Do what you need to do to make your workspace about your work.
3. Emphasize your health and wellbeing.
This one is huge, guys. Most of us spend the majority of our work day at our desk or workspace, and if it’s not set up to maximize your health and wellbeing, well, you’re kinda screwed, aren’t you? Enter the back, neck and headaches, the eye strain, the dehydration, the stress snacking, the fatigue… The list goes on and on.
When I worked at my dining room table, sitting on a lovely eiffel dining chair, I constantly suffered from a sore, stiff neck. When I first created my new and improved workspace, I put aesthetics over my health, and kept the pretty white chair (it just looked so good!!), but lo and behold, the stiffness and aches followed me across the country. I knew it was time to put my well-being first.
I replaced my pretty chair with an exercise ball, and let me tell you, my life has never been the same! I can sit on this thing for hours while still staying energized, loose, and aligned. Even in my third trimester of pregnancy! Using an exercise ball as your chair helps you to strengthen your core, align your spine, and burn 4 times more calories per hour spent sitting! Plus, it makes it a lot easier and more fun to incorporate movement and stretching into your day. (Note: If you suffer from a bad back, an ergonomic chair may work better for you.)
Mindfully creating a workspace that emphasizes your health changes everything.
The steps you take will be unique to your situation and body, but some general action steps are:
Upgrade your seating — I’ve used exercise balls in a chair base (like the Gaiam Balance Ball Chair) and ones just on a base (like the Incline Fit Anti-Burst Yoga Ball with Base), and have found that I personally prefer the latter. The ball on a base allows me more freedom of movement (yay hip circles!) which helps me to stay limber and active while sitting. But it’s all a matter of preference!Keep water at arm’s reach at all times — I always have a tall glass of water and/or tea right next to me. And every time I empty a cup (typically about once an hour), I have a great reason to take a mini-break to go refill! So this practice also encourages you to stand up every hour — a double whammy!Bring in some natural light — being cooped up without natural light for hours on end leads to depression, fatigue, and generally hating your job. If you can’t move your desk near a window, consider getting a sun lamp (especially in the wintertime) to use throughout the day — I like the Verilux Compact Energy Lamp, which is small enough to fit neatly on your desk. Or, better yet, get off your booty and take a walk around the block several times a day!Improve your air quality — this is huge. Stale or unclean air can contribute to fatigue and headaches, and is generally bad news. If you’re near a window, open it to allow some fresh air in. Otherwise, a small air purifier is a great option! (Check out the Himalayan Light Natural Air Purifier, which works as a natural ionizer!) Some plants will also do the trick. Having plants in your workspace is very calming and can definitely boost your mood while working!Mind the snacks — stashing food in your desk leads mostly to one thing: stress eating. Instead of surrounding yourself with food that you’ll mindlessly overeat while staring at your screen, I recommend carving out time in your day for a real lunch (not at your desk!) that will keep you satisfied throughout the day. If you find that you get hungry later in the day, take a break, get up and walk to the kitchen to have a healthy snack like an apple with almond butter or some carrots with hummus. The break will actually do you just as much good as the food, and will keep you from overeating! For more on this, check out Why Snacking Is Making You Fat.
4. Foster inspiration.
This is related to tip #1, but deserves a bullet all it’s own. Your workspace is where you create, build, lead, and connect. With some mindfulness, the space itself can help foster more productivity, inspiration, and excitement for the work you do. After you declutter all that’s distracting, messy, or disorganized, add back in a few elements that truly inspire you. For me, that meant things like an inspiring print, my favorite wellness books, great office accessories (thank you Kate Spade!), a plant, candles, natural products I’m reviewing, and my big beautiful Buddha statue — all of which inspire me to create new and meaningful tools for my clients and readers to use in creating the joyful life they crave, and remind me to walk the walk and practice what I preach in my own work and life. For you, it might also mean some family photos, music that gets your juices flowing, art, design objects, or motivational text.
Action step: Think about what inspires you in your work. What excites you? What drew you to this career path in the first place? Find some objects that you can add to your space that remind you of this and what you’re trying to create.
No matter what you do for a living, a beautiful workspace will help you do it with more joy. Taking the time to beautify your space — with color, accessories, and your personal style — does wonders for your mood, energy, and inspiration. On the other hand, a dim, dull, monotone, and purely utilitarian workspace can really suck the joy out of your work. When you select items for your workspace, anything from your desk and shelving, to your daily planner, pens, and other accessories, don’t diminish the power of good design. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to ditch my lame old stapler and file folders for beautifully designed and coordinated items. Keep fresh flowers on your desk, upgrade your equipment, invest in your own happiness at work! When it comes to your workspace, it definitely pays to embrace both form and function… there’s no need to sacrifice!
Action step: Create a Pinterest board of workspaces that you love (here’s mine). What do they have in common? Is there a particular color palette that attracts you? What design elements can you employ? Give your space a makeover to reflect your own personal style.
Really taking the time to create and foster a work environment that let’s you be your healthiest, most productive, and happiest while working will drastically improve your quality of life and fulfillment. If you’re looking for creative and inspiring spaces outside your home or company to set up shop, there are tons of amazing co-working spaces out there that have been mindfully designed to with these same goals in mind. Check out WeWork, which has gorgeous locations all over the country (and even a few abroad!) that just scream “come create amazing things here!”
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