Creating a Productive Workspace

How would you like to permanently boost your productivity by making some simple changes to your work area? If you’re going to spend so much time at your desk, then make sure it’s going to be a pleasant experience.

How does your workspace make you feel?

If you’re at your desk right now, take a moment to clear your mind, and think about how your work area makes you feel. Take a deep breath and get a sense of the subtle energies you pick up. How does this place make you feel?

Do you feel stressed? Worried? Relaxed? Peaceful? Fired up? Motivated? Energized? Drained? Happy? Depressed? Overwhelmed? Busy? Important? Insignificant? Bored? Excited? Rushed? Angry? Creative? Aroused? Come up with a few words to describe the feeling you get from your environment.

I recommend you leave your work area, go someplace else for a few minutes, and then re-enter your work area so you can pick up a fresh impression. Notice how your feelings change very subtly as you enter your place. What do you notice about this change?

Get a second opinion

If you have a hard time sensing your work area objectively, get a second opinion. Grab a coworker who has a fairly different work area than yours, and invite him/her to sit down at your desk. Ask him/her how it feels to enter and to sit in your work area. Get several opinions if you like. Have some fun with your co-workers, and hop from desk to desk to see how each person’s work area feels. Sit in each chair and imagine what it would be like to work there for a day. Whose work area do you like best? Whose do you like least? Maybe even rate each one on a scale of 1-10.

Notice how each environment makes you feel. Also notice that no two are quite the same.

What’s different about the work areas you rated most highly? What did you like about them?

What if you don’t like how you feel?

If you realize your work area makes you feel lousy, that’s OK. Changing the way your work environment makes you feel isn’t too difficult. There’s always a way to improve it.

All you really need to do is follow this simple rule: If it feels right, it is right. If you use that as your guiding principle for making changes to your work environment, there’s no need to bring in a feng shui expert. I spent a good bit of time studying feng shui and ultimately felt that this simple rule covered about 80% of what I wanted to remember.

Imagine your ideal space

Identify how you’d like to feel in your work area. What mental state would you consider the very best to have as your daily default? Pick two or three words to describe it. When I did this, I chose relaxed, peaceful, and focused.

Now picture what kind of work environment would help to create the feelings you’ve selected, even if it doesn’t seem realistic to work in such a place. For example, if you chose to feel peaceful, what’s the most peaceful place you can imagine? Create a mental image of the ideal place for you to work.

Alter your space

Now take your imagined ideal space, and project it onto the reality you have to deal with. Maybe you can’t work on a mountain lake, but perhaps you can bring part of that vision into your real space. Make a list of simple changes you can make to your work area. If you’re not sure they’ll work, that’s OK. Think of these changes as experiments. If you don’t like them, you can always undo them.

One by one take some time to implement these changes. Add a poster, a fountain, a candle, a plant, or some photos. After making each change, notice how your feelings change. Remember to follow the rule, “If it feels right, it is right.” If a change feels wrong or neutral, then undo it and try something else.

I want to emphasize that the rule is, “If it feels right, it is right.” Note that I’m not saying, “If it looks right, it is right.” How your environment makes you feel is more important than how it looks.

Commanding position

The most valuable idea I got from studying feng shui was the concept of the commanding position. This is the position where you feel supported from behind (and optionally on the sides too) and open in the front. For example if your house has a mountain or hill behind it, then your home would be in the commanding position, much like a highly defensible castle. In workspace terms, the commanding position ideally means that you work facing the entrance to your work area and have a wall right behind you.

The commanding position creates a feeling of security. It makes it easier to relax when you work. When you have your back to the wall and you face the entrance to your workspace, your focus is forward, and a forward focus contributes to high productivity. You never have to concern yourself with someone approaching you from behind. If part of your focus is on what’s happening behind you, you’ll be more distracted, and your productivity will suffer.

I used to work with my desk against the back wall of my office, so my back was towards the door. That just seemed an efficient layout for my office. But after studying feng shui, I decided to give the commanding position a try and rearranged the furniture so that my back was to the wall and I could see the door. It made a noticeable difference even before I’d made any other changes. I felt more comfortable and relaxed. There’s something about the feeling of being supported from behind that makes it easier to work productively.

If you think of the layout of a top executive’s office, it’s almost invariably in the commanding position. The person sits facing the entrance to the room. You don’t walk into an executive’s office and see their back.

If you’ve never worked in the commanding position, find someone else who has their office setup this way, and go sit at their desk. Notice how different it feels versus if your back is to the entrance and you have to worry about people coming up behind you. Even if you have a door behind you with a lock, the commanding position is still better.

If you make only one change to your work area, this would be the one to make. Once you’ve tried it for a few months, you’ll never want to go back.

My experience

Several months ago I altered my home office with the intention of creating the feelings of relaxation, peace, and focus. It wasn’t difficult to do, and I made most of the changes in the first week. I gave myself a budget of $200 for the alterations, but I spent less than half of it. I wasn’t sure these changes would make any difference, but it was worth a try — even a small increase in productivity would be worth it. When I made these changes my office was designed with functionality and efficiency in mind, so I wanted to keep those benefits while changing the way the location felt to me.

Currently as I sit at my desk, I’m facing into the middle of the room, so I can see the door. On the wall behind me is a poster of a mountain forest (which further reinforces the commanding position). I count nine scented candles within reach of me, some in decorative candle holders with small rocks. The room smells of cranberry, since that’s the candle that’s burning right now. There are three plants in the room: a medium-sized one on my filing cabinet and two small bamboo plants. The bamboo plants are next to a small fountain, which creates background sounds of water splashing over rocks. Behind the fountain and bamboo plants is a small mirror, which has the visual effect of doubling their presence. Relaxing music is playing through my PC speakers (currently I’m listening to Enya’s new Amarantine CD, which is one of my favorites). There are a few decorations around the room: a small stuffed yellow bear, a dragon sculpture, a turtle sculpture, a couple stone gargoyles, a miniature zen rock garden, and a crossbow. I keep my office organized and uncluttered as well, which contributes to the feelings of relaxation, peace, and focus.

When I sit down at my desk, switch on the fountain, light a candle, and put on some relaxing music, it often feels like I’m about to get a massage rather than go to work. Because the environment is so peaceful and relaxing, it’s hard for me to feel stressed or overwhelmed. I look forward to going to my office because it’s a nice place to live, not just a productive place to work. I’m sure I’ll continue improving it over the years ahead, but I’m pretty happy with the results so far.

When my wife sat down at my desk after I made the initial changes, she remarked at how different it felt. In fact, she became instantly jealous. Eventually she decided to work on transforming her office too. For Christmas I gave her a fountain and some scented candles to get her started. She set them up on a corner of her desk, and even that small change gives her work area a very different feel.

If you don’t like it, change it

If you find yourself too often feeling stressed, overwhelmed, bored, unmotivated, frustrated, etc. at work, perhaps your environment is reinforcing is these negative states. Take those feelings as a signal to make some changes and create a more balanced and comfortable work area for yourself. A few simple changes you make today can serve you for years to come.

And don’t just read about it, think about it, or talk about it. Go do it! You’ll be glad you did.