These days, we demand everything from our workspaces: privacy, personality, hospitality, flexibility. We want sitting desks and standing desks, napping areas and play areas. We expect our workspaces to be all things at all times, such that we forget their essential purpose: for thoughtful, productive work. How do you create a workspace where actual work happens? These six tips will make any workspace feel perfectly yours and will ignite your most creative ideas.
1. Look for productivity clues in the mirror.
Trends have come and gone, but I’ve found one piece of advice that always holds true and leads to satisfying results: Design a space the way you design yourself. Your clothing and what you carry on your person tells you a lot about what kind of workspace you need. What accessories accompany you everywhere? If your inside jacket pocket hides a Moleskine notebook full of to-do lists, then you need a large white board on the wall. Do you prefer unconstructed sport coats, a classic shift dress or other perfectly comfortable clothes and fabrics? Then your space should privilege ease of movement. Authenticity begets your best ideas.
2. Put your ears to work.
If you share a common workspace with others, you’re probably no stranger to earbuds. Research has shown what most of us already know: Listening to music encourages efficiency and creativity. Deep thinking — reading, writing, analyzing long documents — is best aided by more narrative compositions, sonatas, film scores, just about any track from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue or your preferred white noise via YouTube (one of my colleagues prefers a 10-hour video of an idling polar icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean). If your work requires quick bursts of energy — say, if you’re emailing a dozen clients every half hour — then find music that suits that activity; perhaps Chance the Rapper?
3. Find reasons to move.
Productivity is often about creating good conversation with clients and colleagues. Create seating arrangements that require you to stand up and move out of your primary work area, which will make your guests feel important and will increase your blood-flow, perhaps the most effective aid to productivity. To encourage communication, place comfortable chairs at oblique, friendly angles. Too many straight and perpendicular lines can make a space feel unwelcoming to guests (think of your dentist’s office waiting room).
You needn’t create a living room in your office; anything can work for seating: narrow perches, pull-up stools, hassocks, even floor cushions. If you don’t have enough office space for a sitting area, then face your desk near the wall and use an Aeron chair, which can be turned to face your guests, without the obstruction of a desk between you. Now creative conversation is flowing.
4. Don’t allow windows to distract you.
We all love a beautiful view, but in a workspace, pleasant vistas are almost always an invitation to distraction and daydreaming. As one designer memorably told me, “Windows belong above the kitchen sink.” In my own office, I have arranged most of the seating turned away from the windows, which face east. Over the center of the windows hangs a suitably large painting, letting in just enough of the fantastic Lowcountry light to do its work. For the university’s recent micro-housing project, we created windows that allowed residents to adjust transparence at will, obscuring the view when they need extra privacy or deep focus.
5. Pick a color scheme to match your workflow.
Make sure to use color to your advantage. Do you find your workday includes frequent episodes of stress and intense feeling, such as difficult conversations or urgent phone calls? We’ve long known that low-wavelength colors like blue and green induce calm, and recent research suggests that workspaces using these colors can improve efficiency and focus, also. Do you spend much of your time engaged in deep creative thought, like writing, concepting or creating new proposals? New findings suggest yellow may stimulate creativity, perhaps evoking the productive urgency of the sun.
6. Don’t forget to dress the walls.
Creative ideation is about more than work — it’s about life and observations. Nothing gives you and your guests something to talk about like great art on the walls. Curate your workspace like a gallery. Rotate works often to elicit fresh responses to the space and stimulate novel ideas. Find your statement, either cerebral or punchy, that reflects what inspires you. The key to my office is no desk! I do most of my writing at home, in the morning and evening, and most of my workday is spent in meetings — the desk simply isn’t necessary. The color and unique art work on my walls keeps me in a creative headspace.
The most productive workspace is a space in which you feel comfortable and confident. We all know that sense of comfort we get when we lose ourselves in our favorite soundtrack, or that boost of confidence when we wear our best outfit. Create a workspace that gives you that feeling every day. Your best ideas are sure to follow.