I’ve been working from home for over 10 years. I love it, but it took a while to figure out how to do it well. Millions of people who went to an office two weeks ago are now working from home as a way to social distance and stay safe(r) from the Coronavirus. If you are working from home for the first time, I’m sharing some tips I’ve learned over the years that will help you be more productive and creative. This first post is about your physical space. The next post is about your behaviors.
The biggest thing to know about your physical space is you need to intentionally design it to work well for you.
Plopping down on your coach with your laptop might feel good for a couple hours, but it’s not good over time. It’ll lead to a sore back, low energy, and decreased productivity. Instead select a table or desk as your primary work spot. Think about ergonomics. Your elbows should bend at approximately 90 degrees as you type and your monitor should be at eye-level. If you can afford it, get an external monitor so you aren’t hunched over your laptop screen. Experiment with standing and sitting options too. Standing at your counter may be the perfect height for you!
Along the same lines, spreading out on your kitchen table may not work if you have a family sharing your home. It’s nice to be able to have a dedicated space you can keep notes, papers, your computer, etc. If you are working from home during this Coronavirus then you might need to make some agreements with the family about space. You might need to think about a short-term solution and then a long-term solution later. For instance, mom gets this corner of the counter for working for the next two weeks. However, if you will continue working from home longer, you may need to plan a more permanent solution.
After 10 years of working from home I’ve finally honed a set-up that I love. I have a standing desk and an optional table for sitting. I find that I move between them with the majority of time standing. The desk is just a simple IKEA desk top mounted on metal pipes that I assembled together. It’s set up for my height and not adjustable. I have an external monitor mounted on a desk stand, again set to my eye level for when I’m standing. I also use an external camera that is at my eye level.
I have a separate table ($20 at a local thrift store) that I use as my “thinking table.” This is where I write blog posts, work on my book, or do work that requires more thought and depth.
I use a comfy chair or the couch for more reflective work such as reading or certain types of writing. I have found that moving between those three spaces throughout the day works really well for me.
Even in a time where we use less paper and have slim laptops computers, we still have physical objects we need. This might be a stack of books, a cup of pens, paper files, your external keyboard and mouse, etc. You need to figure out a way to keep all this handy and organized. For instance, I always need a stack of Post-it Notes near me. I even carry them in my backpack for when doing work on planes. Again, think in both short-term and long-term solutions. For short-term, it might be getting a large plastic tub that you keep everything in over the weekend and pull it out for the week. Long-term think about cabinets and drawers you might use. When I built my new office in 2018 I built in a row of cabinets and drawers with a long counter. It’s been awesome. I now have everything in one place for both organization and creativity. My files, office supplies, and Climer Cards shipping supplies have a home. I can also easily access my markers, paper, painting supplies to work on art projects.
Small, but Significant Elements
In addition, think about other small, but significant elements of space to maximize creativity and productivity.
- Lighting. You need quality lighting to work well. Ideally, you can change your lighting as needed. Bright lights help you narrow in and focus, where as more dim lighting helps you be more creative. Perhaps you use a desk lamp when you are in creativity mode, but turn on overhead lights when you are trying to be productive.
- Plants. Looking at plants and trees can increase creativity, they also filter carbon dioxide and release oxygen which is always good for us. If you are new at house plants, start with easy to care for plants such as Mother-in-laws Tongue or a Jade plant.
- Art. It’s no surprise that being around art can help us be more creative. What can you add to your walls or your shelves? The art could be as simple as magazine images or drawings from kids in your life.
- Dry erase boards. Dry erase boards or chalk boards are nice for generating lists, exploring creative ideas, or leaving notes for others. Either wall mounted or portable work well.
These are a few ideas for how to set up your home work space. Most of these ideas are based on trial and error of working from home. However, a I got lots of affirmation and a few extra tips from Architect Donald Rattner. He specialized in designing home work space for creativity. I interviewed him on my podcast (episode 103) and he shared great ideas and advised me on changes to make to my office.
The most important part is to be intentional when setting up your space. Put some time into designing a space that fits well for you. Spend at least half a day creating a space that will help you be more productive and creative. On one hand that might seem like a lot of time, but on the other hand it will help you be more productive in the long run. It’s definitely worth it. Space matters.
I’d love to see your home office set-up! Feel free to tag me on Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn @amyclimer or on Facebook @climerconsulting.
In the next blog post, I’ll talk about how to structure your day to maximize creativity and productivity.