I put a high premium on being master of my own destiny, which is why when I graduated with a master’s degree in journalism four years ago, I decided to work from home.
Certain aspects of this appealed to me immediately: the endless snacking; cleaning the house at 11 a.m.; exercising during the day; quitting early to read Twilight when the mood struck me. (Quiet, you.)
But over the years I’ve come to realize that my boss – me – didn’t always make the best decisions regarding my working environment. They often led to distraction rather than flow, the state of deep and blissful concentration that the happiest creators report.
I wanted more flow, more creativity, more immersion and more happiness in my work, so I began to read about how workplace design affects productivity, stimulates ingenuity and enhances focus.
… and I learned it was time to make some changes.
I used to, for instance, intentionally cultivate a Fortress of Solitude whenever I needed to get any work done. While some science backs up this approach, finding that background noise disrupts concentration and heightens stress, other studies indicate that moderate background noise can be helpful.
Turns out I’m in the latter camp. Now when I really need to pound out a tough assignment for a client, I head to a Starbucks, where background convo provides the perfect level of burble. When I can’t get out of the house, I put on some quiet music.
Similarly, my break-any-time-I-want-it mentality allowed for all sorts of unnecessary extracurriculars. Exercise: sure. Sitting on the porch staring at the neighbor cat: no. Lunch: yes. Making an elaborate baked dessert because I feel like it: not so much.
Yet sometimes I just felt the urge to get up for no reason. My distraction may have stemmed from clutter: While messiness can encourage creativity, tidiness boosts healthy choices. I now keep a spare workspace, with only my laptop, notebook, glass of water and Chapstick. Boom: automatic productivity boost.
Next up: color. Research shows that soothing blues and greens enhance performance. Unfortunately, when we moved to our house, my workspace was originally a bright rust orange. Ick. I painted it a cool cream, put up gauzy curtains, and scattered wellness-boosting plants throughout.
While I have no definitive proof that these steps have made a difference, I do feel more productive at work. I spend less time looking for ways out of work and more time looking for ways to deepen it. My pay rate has risen.
I’m still no paragon of productivity. I frequently get up and snack, take long walks at midday, and occasionally succumb to Stephanie Meyer’s siren call.
But I’m happier. And, I think, better at my job. For me, a little attention to workspace detail was absolutely worth it.