How To Optimize Your Workstation for Focused Work
If you’re sitting in your workspace right now, take a look around you. How does your space make you feel? Inspired? Excited? Stressed? Depending on your environment, you may have set yourself up for productive work—or not 😨.
When I started working remotely, I realized I had no idea how to optimize my workspace for deep work and productivity.
At the office I worked in before Float, my desk was conjoined with my fellow content marketer’s desk. We saw them almost as a single space and filled them with books, pieces of paper with notes and ideas, postcards from our travels, and more.
But when I transitioned to a home office, I began wondering what my ideal desk should look like? I decided to be mindful of what makes me most productive and energized, and there were quite a few things to consider!
A little bit of a mess is fine (but not too much)
You may have heard that mess and creativity go hand in hand, or that cluttered desks are the sign of genius. This popular notion was supported by a study in 2013 that found people working in messy rooms generated ideas that were more creative than those generated by their clean-room counterparts.
More recent research, however, has found no correlation between workplace disorder and cognition. Other studies have shown that neat workspaces are better for persistence and deplete fewer mental resources than cluttered workspaces.
So what does this mean for remote workers? Paying deliberate attention to what ends up on our desks can actually make us more productive!
Build a comfortable space
Being a tad messy is fine, but you should never let things get out of hand. Keeping the clutter at a manageable level can help inspire your best ideas.
“I like having loads of weird and colorful things around me: film posters, old game inserts, trinkets, lights, and more, so I look forward to being in my space. I can’t wait to be in here; it’s great fun!” - Chris Nash, Senior DevOps Engineer
“A space that is so different from the rest of our house was important,” Chris explains. “I wanted to feel like when I walk into my office it's a different world. Almost everything is secondhand, too—stuff found down an alley or something someone was throwing out 😂. I think the whole thing cost less than 100 quid apart from my desk.”
One of the simplest things I did was turn my attention to the excessive number of post-it notes, books, and notepads cluttering my workspace. I realized they stressed me out, so I moved to 100% digital note keeping.
Productivity tools like Samsung Notes (which I use on my tablet with a stylus pen to mimic my usual handwriting process), Evernote, and Todoist can help you reclaim tons of workstation real estate.
I actually felt relieved afterward that I had more space for decorations and other things!
Fill the space with things that mean something to you
Float’s Talent Coordinator Romina Aranzola decorates her desk with things that inspire her. “I have photos of my family, myself as a kid, and Float’s best work life manifesto from the swag pack I was sent when I joined. Also, I have sticky notes everywhere to keep the important information accessible and visible, and some waratahs artwork, which is my favorite flower.”
“It’s a work in progress, but what I enjoy the most with my desk setup is being able to see the things I believe in and that make me happy.” - Romina Aranzola, Talent Coordinator
Pay attention to eye strain
Jobs that require a person to stare at a computer screen all day are hard on the eyes. It’s estimated that over 50 percent of people experience digital eye strain regardless of age. These effects can be even more pronounced when working from home.
- Fewer natural work stoppages increase overall screen time (e.g., taking breaks with colleagues or getting up from your desk for an in-person meeting).
- Remote workers work more hours than when they are at the office, and the eyes bear the brunt of that.
- Staring at a computer screen for too long engages our close-up vision, leading to nearsightedness.
- Reduced blinking may cause eyes to become dry and tired.
Migraines also typically result from eye strain, and that definitely isn’t great for focused work!
As a person with sensitive vision, I need to pay attention to the proper lighting and protect my eyes. To do that, I’ve invested in some specific workspace gear, like blue light blocking glasses and a white light lamp. I also keep a small bottle of natural tears on hand.
Float’s Talent Lead Linda Biggs also uses blue color glasses. “I find that too much screen time can trigger headaches or migraines, and the blue light is hard on your eyes. So I use glasses that block blue light, which really helps. Plus, they’re cute accessories!”
It’s also important to remember to blink and look away using the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. A timer app like AS Timer may be helpful when you’re first learning this technique.
The distance between eyes and screen is also essential. Optometrists recommend positioning computer screens between 20 to 28 inches away from your eyes. In fact, there are a whole bunch of measurements that can improve body posture while working (and relieve back pain and other issues).
Your workstation doesn’t have to be stationary
Have you ever moved from your desk to take a call someplace quieter? Or gone outside with your laptop to get some fresh air? How about working from a coffee shop or coworking space to get a new perspective?
A change of scenery can be a great way to stay productive!
“I try to make sure that I’m not stationed in one location for too long. I change work spots around (and outside of) the house to make sure I get a new perspective on things. A change of scenery is as good as a holiday.” - Christian de Witt, Senior Application Engineer
Don’t forget to organize virtually too
It’s a joke among professionals (especially marketers and salespeople) that there must be at least 20 tabs open in your browser at any given time. If that sounds like you, try using Google Chrome’s tab groups, which provide an easy way to group similar tabs together. While it doesn’t eliminate all my tabs, it does help organize quite a few of them.
The same goes for files on your computer. Put those old PNGs, PDFs, CSVs, MP4s, etc., into dedicated folders to keep them organized (or delete them forever).
Notifications and messages are also something to be mindful of. We try to minimize distractions and context switching at Float by reducing meetings, turning off Slack notifications, and letting the team know when we’re unavailable.
Reduce physical noise
Noise in the environment isn't always within our control. Whether you have children at home or construction nearby, your space may not always be as quiet as you'd like.
There are some things you can do, though, to reduce noise pollution in your workspace. If possible, place your workstation away from noisier rooms, like the living room. If space is at a premium, you can also try headphones 🎧.
“I go nowhere without my noise-canceling headphones.” - Christian de Witt, Senior Application Engineer
Continuously improve your space
I still have to figure out some things to create my ideal workspace. For example, I’m entertaining the idea of getting a standing desk—as many folks (including some at Float) say it helps with back pain, posture, and energy levels! “The space I carved out of the house is small, but I work standing up, which saves me space on a desk chair," says Chris. "The Float office budget has been amazing by allowing me to get a really awesome standing desk."
Also, contrary to the advice above, I’m still dealing with a messy collection of files on my desktop (the irony!) that I will have to tackle at some point. The same goes for my inbox—I think I would be more efficient if I were an inbox zero kind of person, but I haven’t been able to get there yet.
The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to optimizing your workstation. It takes a lot of trial and error, and sometimes life gets in the way. And that’s ok.
As long as you have a dedicated space to work and are committed to continually improving it to fit your needs, you are well on your way to maximizing productivity and living your best work life!
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