Today I want to talk about something slightly different. Between university work and other freelance bits, I spend a lot of time working from home. Its something I’ve gotten used to over time, I have space which works for me. But with the introduction of lockdown many more people have begun working from home. So today I want to share some tips on how to create a productive workspace.
Now I am extremely fortunate in that I have a dedicated studio space that I can work in. I know many many people won’t be as lucky as me. I’m hoping these tips will still be of use to those of you who are having to make do working from a table or sofa. Having productive workspace can help you stay focused and get stuff done. So here are my tips.
How To Create A Productive Workspace
Have a separate area for working
Having a distinction between home and work can help your mindset. If you’re working from your sofa it can feel like you never really finish work. It can be good to set up a distinct working area, this gets your brain ready for work mode.
There’s a chance you may have to make do with a table or some other small space. The one thing I would say is if you don’t have a desk or other dedicated working space, whatever you do, don’t work from your bed. I know it might sound tempting, but you need to have separate work and rest spaces. If you work from your bed it can make it hard for your brain to switch off at the end of the night, making it harder for you to sleep.
If you want to take a break from work don’t just sit at your desk. You need to ensure that your workspace is just for work, this helps you get into the mindset to get stuff done. When you take a break get up and go for a walk, socially distanced of course. If you’re working from a table or sofa move so you’re sitting in a different spot.
Ergonomic Set Up
Part of creating a productive workspace is about creating somewhere which makes it easy for you to work. In doing so you need to think about how you’re sitting when you’re working. You don’t want to be sitting in a position which causes pain, this is going to take your focus away from work.
Ideally, you want to have some sort of ergonomic setup. It’s best to have a supportive chair with lets you sit with both feet on the ground. Your monitor or laptop screen should be at eye level. You can get neck pains from looking at a monitor from the wrong angle for a long time. An ergonomic set up doesn’t have to be expensive. At university, I’ve seen people raise the height of their laptop using library books.
Laptop stands start from around £20 on Amazon. My particular ergonomic set up was provided by disability funding, this has helped me massively and I am much more comfortable while sitting at my desk. I’m not sure if I could recommend my particular set up, as the items were chosen based on my needs. Just remember if you do get a laptop stand you probably want an external keyboard and mouse to go with it.
I think I should add here that I am not an expert in any way when it comes to ergonomic setups. The best people to talk to would be occupational health if your work or university/college has that sort of thing. Or do some research online. This all comes from my personal experience.
Having natural light can help you in several ways. It helps regulate your circadian system, which can help you sleep better at night. It can also help your mental health, this study shows that workers in daylight office environments have less eyestrain, headaches and feel more awake.
I know from experience that I work better in an environment with lots of light. In fact, on my university application, I specifically mentioned that I applied to a university because I liked their studio space. I don’t like feeling cooped inside all day, especially when I spend most of my time working on a computer.
If you know you’re the sort of person who works better in natural light there are a few things you can do. Firstly choosing a workspace which is close to a light source. Sometimes you don’t get a choice in where your workspace is located. If you don’t have a desk close to a window or have to work at night, you can always look into daylight bulbs. These bulbs give a close approximation of natural light. It’s not a perfect solution but can help.
De-clutter your space
I think having a clean workspace is a love it or hate it sort of deal. Some people thrive in the chaos, others need to have a tidy workspace. I know it’s a common cliche for artists to have a messy studio space, I know some people in my class who work in this sort of environment. I am not like those people, I like having a reasonably tidy workspace.
You don’t need to have a minimal workspace, with the bare essentials out on your desk. Having certain items close to had can improve your productivity. What can help is figuring out what items you use regularly. Once you have this you can start organising your space so those things are always at hand.
I have an entire post on how to organise your workspace, the basic idea though is that everything should have a specific place to be. Ideally, all your most-used tools should be close enough that you don’t have to move to get them. Now like most of the suggestions on this list, this will, of course, depend on the type of workspace you have, whether it’s at a desk or if you’re working from home at your kitchen table.
If you want to create a productive workspace it has to be somewhere you want to be. If you enjoy being there you are more likely to get work done. To do this you could try personalising your workspace.
I like having pieces of art or other things on the wall. I’ll buy prints from other artists and even hang some of my work on the wall. I realise this advice is quite specific if you’re a lecturer or copywriter chances are you won’t be able to hang your work on the wall (or maybe you will, I don’t know). The main point I’m trying to get is you want to have something which inspires you, maybe its the reason why you’re working. Or it could just be a print you like.
You could also try adding plants to your workspace. I’m not the best at remembering to water my plants but I have some cacti and a few other things which have done pretty well. You also have the added advantage that plants make oxygen which helps you think better.
Part of creating a productive workspace comes from figuring out how you work best. Do you thrive in a noisy environment with lots going on and people talking around you? Or do you work best in the quiet where you can focus on your work? I think out of everything on this list, noise is the thing we have the least control over.
Sometimes you have to work in an environment where you share a space with other people. It’s easy to get distracted if someone wants to talk to you, but it can also be helpful to chat through ideas with another person. Some might ask if it’s okay to turn the radio on, others won’t.
There are a few different ways to deal with this depending on how you work best. If you work better in a quiet environment you could look into noise-cancelling headphones. These can vary quite significantly on price and how good they are at blocking out noise. I know when I’m working in the studio I almost always have my headphones on. I currently use a pair of Bose headphones which work well. But I would advise getting something cheap, then investing in a more expensive set if you find they help.
Alternatively, if you find you work best with noise in the background there are some great apps you can use. There are many websites where you can choose what sort of sound you want on in the background. Coffitivity is a great website if you like working in a coffee shop (anyone remember when this used to be a thing?).
Youtube can also be a really good place to search for background noise. I like low-fi beats, but there are many others. If you’re a gamer you may like ambient game music. I’ve read that this type of music is particularly good because it’s specifically made to be played in the background while you’re off fighting dragons.
That was just some tips on how to create a productive workspace. I think one of the best bits of advice I could give is for you to first figure out how you work best. Then from that take the advice you need to set up your productive workspace.
We all work in different ways, some of the things I’ve mentioned might not be helpful for your particular situation. I know a lot of people are working in not ideal environments right now because of the pandemic. If you’re having to make do with a kitchen table because you don’t have a desk some of this advice won’t be feasible.
But I’m hoping everyone will get something from this post which is useful. Let me know in the comments what your work set up is like right now. Do you have any other tips I’ve missed? I’d love to know.