Updated: May 31, 2019
In this age of technology, distraction and pure darkness how can you be productive? We either work from chaotic offices or cubicles, our shoebox single bedroom in a shared household or from a Starbucks nearby. Okay, I know that most of us cannot afford to live on our own or we have just started doing what we want so maybe the company we work for has tiny premises. I can't change that (although I wish I could) but I can share the best tips to get the best out of your workspace. I can't complain, my room is not the size of a shoebox but I live in a shared flat. And the company I work for as a graphic designer moved to a bigger office a few months before I started so space is enough. But I still find myself lost, demotivated or distracted as the space size is just one factor in this equation.
Hit the lights!
Well don't take this literally, it's from a song. For me, one of the most important things in my every day and especially when I'm working on something is the ideal light. For productivity and good energy natural light is perfect. Find your nearest window and work from there. It will help you focus better, see things without squeezing your eyes and we all know that the energy rises because of it. But since it's not always easy to be in a space with natural light, or maybe it's not possible to move your desk there, a good desk lamp with daylight bulb will do the trick (my suggestions are this, this or this but there are endless options on amazon). And try to take a walk in the sun when it's possible. It works as a charger for your mood.
You can't sit (with us!)
Well if you have a terrible chair where you work, you don't wanna sit with you either. We've all been there where we had to work sitting on a basic IKEA plastic/wooden chair that costs £19.99. Your bum hurts in 30 minutes, there's no way to keep a good posture and if it has wheels, it just moves by itself. Usually, to buy a good desk chair is expensive, but it's an investment and trust me once you spend a whole day on it, it'll feel like you're getting your money back. I will list a few recommendations for you to check out:
Probably the worst thing that has happened to all of us and more than once is when the internet is slow as a snail and the laptop crashes every 20 minutes so we end up losing valuable time trying to fix it or we lose important work progress and our mood is that of a serial killer. Don't let this happen again. Do your research online about the best rates, quality and speed of broadband and change your provider. Make sure to read reviews and ask friends and colleagues. Then do your research for a good laptop that can handle your work essentials. For example as a designer, I need to have a heavy duty laptop or desktop computer so that it doesn't leave me hanging while I try to load a big Adobe Photoshop file or crashes every time I try to edit a video. Shopping for a good value laptop is a pain and most times expensive but it is an investment. I bought mine in January as my previous one was dying and I am very happy with it so here it is in case you are looking for a mid-range reliable laptop that's also elegant and very thin. Perfect to carry it with you everywhere.
Your desk is like your kitchen counter.
It has to be in immaculate condition to motivate and inspire you to "cook". Try to clean it every 2 days if not daily. Just a wipe will do. I think a white desk makes me more productive and doesn't distract me but I wouldn't say no to a gorgeous wooden one. Keeping it clean at most times will make you want to keep it clean all the times. When space is sparkling clean we feel kind of scared to mess it up (until we do). Easy tip, keep a pack of baby wipes in one of your desk drawers so it becomes a habit before you sit down.
Take a moment and observe your space. What do you really need so that it becomes more effective? What is essential to your every day routine? Depending on the type of work, of course, you might need different things, more or fewer things than me. But try to clean up your space before you sit down next time. Make yourself a cup of coffee, smoothie, or tea (whatever gives you energy and lifts your mood) and clear out your whole desk. Drawers, shelves and desk. Then organise them and ask yourself "What do I need this for?" for every item. After you have put the items into "purpose" sections, go section by section and ask yourself "How often do I really use this for work?" for each item. You will see that most things you don't use them every day. So they are really not important to your work (unless you have some monthly projects etc). Store them somewhere else or even throw them out if you don't use them at all. The worst enemy, in this case, is the phrase "But I might need it!". We N E V E R do.
It's no secret that when you add your personal touch to your space it just becomes warmer and more inspiring. You want to spend more time there and your work becomes more enjoyable. So add a few touches like a few motivational framed posters or just some colour. Colour theory suggests some yellow, blue or green for productivity. Just don't go for too many patterns and colours as this will result in distraction.
Go digital. We will always have paperwork and I honestly prefer to keep handwritten notes instead of digital ones. But try to swap most of your paperwork to digital versions. Especially your bills.
Find your routine and stick to it
You will notice that most things you do throughout the day are the same as you did yesterday and in the same order. This is because our brain works in patterns and turns moves into a routine. Track these moves of yours and make a routine that helps you become more productive. If you prefer to plan your day early in the morning set your alarm 30 minutes earlier than you used to and write down your list. If on the other hand, you prefer to plan from the previous day do so. Set aside some time at the end of your day and plan your next. Some of us work best in the morning when others are night owls. No time is wrong, and what works for your friend might not work for you and vice versa. But I would suggest to try both for a few days and see for yourself. And if you want to add some habits into your routine make a list of them and try to stick to them for a week without exception. The first days might be more difficult but trust me, it will be worth it.
Planning is key
Before you end your shift or go watch Netflix, use the last half hour to plan the next day. Make a to-do list, set your goals, set up meetings on your calendar and anything else that you will have to work on tomorrow. That way when you sit down again you can start by reviewing your daily goals and start checking things out of your to-do list. Sometimes it seems that if you both plan for the same day and work on these projects overwhelms us so with this trick you will feel more organised the next morning.
Extra tip: One more thing I feel helps to motivate me is at the end of every day I make a list of the things I achieved and sorted out that day.
Silent night holy night
There is an endless debate about the background sound while working. Even when I was in high school and I had to study, I remember classmates having a variant perspective over this. Some needed radio silence to get the best results, others wanted relaxing music, or their favourite kind of music. There are also people that are into white noise when they need to focus, and nowadays there are many people that listen to podcasts while working. I am not sure if there is only 1 "correct" way to be productive but I work better with some relaxing piano music in the background or complete silence. What about you?
Hey look ma, I made it
Celebrate every tiny win and achievement. I know it may sound silly to most of you but it works like a charm. From finishing to read your emails in the morning to huge team success, celebrate everything. The small wins will make you feel like every little thing matters (because it does) and the big wins will keep you wanting more from yourself. So make sure to say "I did it" and make a 3-sec dance party (literally or in your mind) and keep on rocking!
Organise your space
This is key. We've all been in situations where we are desperately looking for the stapler or a specific piece of paper that we had an important note written on it and we couldn't find it in a chaotic desk or drawer. Make sure that everything has its place on your desk or in the drawers. Get some containers, and find a filing system that works for you. Separate your bills, important papers, notes, and organise the files for each client or work project. Get a stand for your phone (one that also charges it is the best), a pen holder to keep all your writing materials together. Remember to have one notebook for all your notes, plans, to-do lists and find your perfect organisation system for it so you can always find the things you are looking for. It could be a bullet journal kind of system, with sticky bookmarks and different colour pens. But it is really up to you. I prefer to have an index in the front of my notebook and bookmarks.
Don't be tempted to have 8 different notebooks for 8 different reasons. One or 2 notebooks max will do. You can just divide them into sections and subjects as I mentioned above, and have everything in one. That way you don't clutter your desk or drawer and you can't forget that one notebook that you happened to need in a client meeting. Also try to have no more than 5 items on your desk at all times, including your laptop. You will see that you don't really need 3 pencil cases and the sellotape visible at all times. Just store things in your drawers.
There are days that a friend of yours will not stop texting you or tagging you on memes and although it's very fun it distracts you from your work mood and you end up being less productive. We all love our friends but we also have different schedules. So the best way to stay focused is to mute your phone and notifications until your break or end of shift. You can check your phone when you have these small breaks too but remember to get back to work after a couple of minutes.
Take often breaks. Set a reminder for every one hour and take a small break. Stretch your body, walk around the office/house. Drink some water or make a coffee. It helps to recharge and also when you take a step back and review your work again in a few minutes you tend to see things more clearly. Don't have a visible clock around you though as it distracts and stresses most people out.
We're 70% water & 30% snacks
Well at least I know I am, are you? I am a person that craves food every half an hour. And I mean it. Especially now that I work in an office and everyone brings cookies it's inevitable. But for a healthy work environment, we need to hydrate often and have snacks throughout the day to give us energy. Remember to drink about 6-8 glasses of water, if you can drink more that's great too. That way you also have a good reason to have a small break every hour to go to the loo.
How many icons are on your desktop right now? Come on, check and tell me that there are less than 10. If there are then well done. If not, it's time for you to declutter. Organise your folders and files in a way that you can find everything at any time and make sure to separate your work from your personal files. Ideally, store everything on cloud storage instead of your device. That way they are never lost and you can access them from anywhere at any time.
Studies have shown that the ideal environment consists of:
Sunlight (natural light)
Lots of white space
No dark corners
If you are able to have all of these, then it is more likely that you are closer to the ideal work environment. But even if you can have 3-4 of them will work wonders.
GOALS GOALS GOALS
Write down all your goals. Yes, even the scariest ones. Or the ones that people heard and made fun of. No goal is stupid or not achievable. But there are steps and stages until you get there. So write down your goals as clear as possible. Make sure that they are tangible and when you get there, even if it's the smallest achievement ever celebrate it alone or with friends.
Write everything down. Make 8 different lists if it makes it easier for you to organise your day to day planning but make it happen. Use markers or stencils if this makes it more fun to look at and just start ticking boxes. You can do this, I know you can, otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this post.
It's getting hot in here, But don't take your clothes off
The right temperature is a big deal when it comes to your workspace. If it's too cold, your mind can't focus as much because it tries to find ways on how to get warmer so you don't tremble. Or you end up wearing so many things that it is uncomfortable to move the mouse. But if it is too hot you also feel uncomfortable as you sweat and you feel sleepy. No productivity chances there. The most comfortable temperature is around 22 Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Remember the big picture
Are you struggling to keep up with all these goals you've set up? Or maybe you are working on a big project but it's not in your favourite field of work. Try to remember why you're doing it. And I'm not talking specifically about the money you will get once you finish it. I am talking about the bigger picture. If it's just money you are thinking of, you need it for something more specific like a trip or a house or a gift to your beloved ones. So think of that. And even if you are not going to get that many financial benefits out of it, it might be the perfect opportunity to meet important people in your expertise or a big step in your dream career etc. So stay focused on these and it will seem almost like something you love doing.
Try to socialise and don't stay alone all the time. If you work with other people try to join them on your launch breaks or even after work. If you work from home try to meet some friends or even people at the coffee shop you're working from. It helps to take your mind off of work for a bit and when you get back to it feels more pleasant.
The main idea is to want to be more productive and then to be willing to invest some of your time and a couple bucks to make your workspace as ideal as possible. Feel free to bookmark this post and come back to it again and again until you are satisfied with your space.
Thank you for reading this and I hope it helps you reach your goals. Maya